The NFL has a quest to introduce to the world not just the game of American Football, but American pro football.
This year’s International Series will play three games in London, England, one in Germany and another in Mexico City.
Over the course of four years this series will find Frankfurt and Munich, Germany as hosts of two first-ever regular season games played in Europe. The NFL wants to continue to bring the American Football game to other countries which in turn will provide an image boost for the host city.
What is unique about these games is that these are regular season games instead of preseason exhibition games. The fact that these games will count ramps up the competition a bit.
The NFL and Germany
American professional is no stranger to playing games outside the 50 states. The first was in November of 1926 when the New York Yankees took on the Los Angeles Wildcats in Toronto. Both clubs were members of the American Football League, commonly referred to as AFL1.
The first NFL team to play somewhere besides the continental United States was a preseason game between the New York Football Giants and the Ottawa Rough Riders in August of 1950 which was played at Landsdowne Park in Ottawa, Canada.
Over the decades, the NFL has played games in England, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Sweden, Spain, Ireland, Australia, West Germany, and China. England has hosted the most contests with 39 followed by Canada’s 16.
For Germany, this country has been the recipient of five NFL contests. However, each one has been an exhibition game. So this year’s version will be special since the outcome will count in the standings.
This year’s event will be played on November 13 in Munich between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Seattle Seahawks. The venue chosen is Allianz Arena, home of FC Bayern Munich. This natural grass stadium opened in 2005 and holds up to 75,000. It hosted the 2006 World Cup and is home to not only FC Bayern Munich but also the German National Team.
FC Bayern Munich is a member of the German Football Association which plays by the same rules that are identical to the rest of Europe. European Football is called “football” because it is the origin sport and is what it has always been called. In North America, this same sport is labeled “soccer.” American Football was birthed from rugby which came from soccer. All of these sports are called “football” in some form.
The first NFL game played in Germany was Aug. 11, 1990 between the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs at Olympiastadion in West Berlin. The Rams won the preseason game 19-3. Originally this contest was scheduled in Frankfurt which had a much stronger American business and military presence. West Berlin’s population consisted more of young university students and elderly citizens and so the game did not draw as well as expected.
Jim Everett was the quarterback for Los Angeles while on the other side for the Chiefs it was Steve DeBerg.
This game in Berlin set up the league for bigger things to unfold in Germany: NFL Europe.
Set up as a developmental league played in the spring, the premise was to allocate the bottom third of each NFL club to a set number of teams and allow then to gain more experience. This was not a league that hired players who weren’t on an NFL team. Every player was a rostered league player.
Originally called the “World League of American Football” (WLAF), it began with 10 franchises of which three were located in Europe. One of these teams was the Frankfurt Galaxy which was the largest city in the German state of Hesse.
This league later morphed into NFL Europe, then NFL Europa.
American Football Association of Germany
This league began in 1982 with its main office in Frankfurt. It began as the American Football Federation in 1979 but was replaced by the AFAG.
The game of American Football in Germany can be traced to the U.S. military and assorted bases. American servicemen would throw a football around during down times and eventually, that led to organizing teams. The first league was called the American Football Bundesliga which was later renamed the German Football League. Six charter clubs were formed.
This league had nominal support until NFL Europe placed the Galaxy in Frankfurt. This meant that fans of the sport could see real NFL players in game situations live.
The GFL has grown to 14 clubs in 2021 within two conferences coupled with two divisions each. A 10-game schedule is the norm while the four best teams from each conference qualify for the playoffs. Their championship game is called the “German Bowl.” Last year’s contest was number XLII, which uses Roman numerals just like the NFL.
There is also a six-team GFL2 which brings up that league’s champion to compete against the eighth-ranked playoff team and hopefully be pulled up the following year.
WLAF/ NFL Europe/ NFL Europa
In 1991, the NFL did not wish to start a farm system, but a developmental league. The NFL also wanted to globalize the sport.
But the WLAF was not your typical league to develop talent which wasn’t on any NFL roster. This league would take the bottom third of each roster and form teams using players from different clubs so that they may get more pro football experience and hopefully develop.
This league also was a training ground for new rules, referees, and assistant coaches who were now running their own rosters. Former Dallas GM Tex Schramm was the President.
WLAF began in 1991 in the spring after the NFL season had concluded. NFL clubs would allocate players to the WLAF through a draft after two weeks of tryout sessions in Orlando, Florida.
Three divisions formed that first year in 1991 with Barcelona, Spain, London, England and Frankfurt, Germany all grouped into one division. Frankfurt finished 7-3-0 and 3-7-0 those first two seasons.
The league was then placed in a hiatus for two seasons. In 1995, every American and Canadian city was dropped. The three European clubs were joined by three more cities in Europe including Amsterdam, Netherlands, Edinburgh, Scotland and another team located in Germany whose home was Dusseldorf and called Rhein Fire.
Now, there were two Germany American Football teams. In 1999, the Berlin Thunder replaced London as Germany’s third professional football team. The Barcelona team was replaced in 2004 by a fourth German city the Cologne Centurions. Then in 2006, the Scottish club was replaced by another team located in Hamburg, Germany named the Sea Devils.
The final year of the league was 2007 with a name change to NFL Europa. It was now five German teams plus Amsterdam.
The Galaxy began in 1991 and played its last game in 2007. During this duration, the club played in eight World Bowls winning four. Notable head coaches were Jack Elway and Ernie Stautner.
Rhein Fire played 13 years to which they competed in five World Bowls with two championships. The most famous head coach was Galen Hall. The Berlin Thunder operated nine seasons with four World Bowl appearances and three titles. Wes Chandler was their head coach for a short stint.
The Cologne Centurions only played four seasons with their best record a third-place finish. Hamburg Sea Devils only lasted three years but won the final World Bowl.
NFL Europe was successful in many ways. But the talent level, despite being current NFL players, just did not compare to the parent league to which fans worked out pretty quickly.
Too many dropped passes, penalties, turnovers, overthrown balls and missed tackles soon became the hallmark of the league manned by players who were trying to get better at their craft instead of making some games a comedy of errors. For the NFL owners, the league hemorrhaged money for the duration of its existence.
European fans were fussy. And the fact that in its final years the league didn’t actually represent Europe any longer and instead was basically a German league made the fanbase lose interest.
But Germany shined and embraced their American Football cousins.
Giants who were born in Germany
WR Domenik Hixon – 2006-2007; born in Neunkirchen
WR Jamaar Taylor – 2004-2005; born in Giesen
CB Terry Kinard – 1983-1989; born in Bitburg
LB Ed Reynolds – 1992; born in Stuttgart
DT Markus Kuhn — 2012-2015; born in Mannheim