Amidst rumors that the NFL is thinking about pulling the plug on NFL Europa, the World Bowl is back. NFLE’s biggest game will be played for the 15th time this weekend as the NFL’s version of the minor leagues steps to the forefront of the NFL Calendar . The Yello Strom sponsored World Bowl XV will be played on Saturday, June 23rd, at 1 PM EST at Commerzbank Arena, Frankfurt . The game will pit the defending champs and home team the Frankfurt Galaxy (7-3) against the Hamburg Sea Devils (7-3). The game will be televised by the NFL Network for the 2nd time and there is an expected crowd of close to 50,000 fans. You can expect the game will give the legions of NFL fans worldwide the opportunity to sustain their “football hunger” for a little while until minicamps and training camps get in full swing.
As a self confessed “football junkie” I enjoy watching international players and NFL Developmental players that may not have the “Draft Pedigree” learning the game and competing at a level that I believe is the closest to the NFL. No offense to the CFL and Arena Football, but you can really see the difference in an NFL stamped product with coaches and players game planning and operating like an NFL franchise. NFL Europe was originally founded in 1991 as the World League of American Football (WLAF). The WLAF was partially backed by the National Football League and, like the current NFL Europa, was a spring developmental league. Originally WLAF had 10 teams playing a 10-game regular season: six teams from the United States , three European teams, and one Canadian team. The two teams emerging from the WLAF semi-final playoffs met at the end of the season in the World Bowl. The first two World Bowl games were held at predetermined locations much like the modern Super Bowl. The original WLAF was marginally popular, with the United States and Canadian teams playing to almost empty stadiums. Attendance was slow in the mid 20,000’s and that figure was boosted by the European based teams. The WLAF continued to struggle in its early years to costs of cross continent travel and partial NFL backing, because of this the league suspended operations in 1993 prior to the season.
In 1995, the NFL decided that a developmental league was a good idea and became the full backers of a new spring league (NFL Europe). The new league was European based equipped with NFL Coaches, Players (Lower Depth Chart Types), and Systems (Game Planning, Film Study, and Scouting). The allocation of young developmental type NFL players that needed a chance to play was the key factor in the league’s rebirth. The league switched to six teams playing a 10-game format in one division with the top two teams making the World Bowl. Eleven years later the league is highly popular in Europe and has a growing fan base in the United States . Even “Soccer Loving Locals” in Europe have embraced American Football’s teams and players. The NFLE even set a record this year averaging 20,024 spectators per game this season. They attracted 600,714 fans to its 30 regular-season games to eclipse the previous record average of 18,965 from 2005. NFL Europa has franchises in Hamburg (Sea Devils – Germany ), Rhein (Fire – Germany ), Amsterdam (Admirals), Frankfurt (Galaxy – Germany ), Berlin (Thunder – Germany ), and Cologne (Centurions – Germany ).
World Bowl XV features Offensive Co-MVP Frankfurt QB J.T O’Sullivan (Chicago Bears) who posted a league-leading passer rating of 104.8 during the regular season and led the league in completions, passing yards and touchdowns. O’Sullivan threw 5 touchdown passes in two games against Hamburg this season. The Sea Devils are stocked as well with QB Casey Bramlet (Washington Redskins), who finished the season ranked third with a passer rating of 97.5 and he tied O’Sullivan for the league lead in touchdown passes. The Sea Devils also feature former Bronco and University of Oklahoma standout running back Quentin Griffin. Griffin did not play last week, but he should be ready to go on Saturday. He finished the season with 358 rushing yards and averaged 36.9 yards on 9 kickoff returns. The Galaxy are making their eighth appearance in the World Bowl and they are attempting to win their fifth title, while this is the first time for the Sea Devils. Both teams had to wait until the last week of the season to qualify for the game.
The storylines from their two games this year are: In the Week 3 meeting at Commerzbank Arena, QB J.T. O’Sullivan (Chicago Bears) threw for 223 yards and one touchdown, which was a 65-yard strike to WR Aaron Hosack as the Galaxy survived. RB Charles Anthony also found the end zone for Frankfurt . Hamburg scored through three Shane Andrus (Indianapolis Colts) field goals and an 18-yard TD pass from QB Casey Bramlet (Washington Redskins) to WR Justin Jenkins. In their 2nd game in week 9 at Hamburg , a wild game ensued. Bramlet threw a game-winning 50-yard touchdown pass to WR Marcus Maxwell ( San Francisco 49ers) with 48 seconds remaining. Galaxy RB DeCori Birmingham (New York Giants) then gave up a decisive safety after attempting an illegal forward pass out of his end zone on a kickoff return. O’Sullivan threw for 376 yards and four touchdowns in a losing effort for the Galaxy.
Notable 2007 Players
- Derrick Ross, RB Cologne (KC Chiefs) – Ross the Co-Offensive MVP was the NFLE’s leading rusher with 802 yards and four 100-yard games this season. He totaled a league-best 933 yards from scrimmage (802 rushing, 131 receiving) and scored five touchdowns as the Centurions posted a 6-4 record
- Jason Hall, DE Cologne (Carolina Panthers) – An explosive player that led NFLE in sacks with 12, which was a team record. Hall is a “High Motor” player with good size (6-2, 265). Helped the Centurions boast the No. 1 ranked defense in NFL Europa (256.1 yards per game). The Carolina Panthers’ defensive end also tied a league record by recording a sack in seven consecutive games.
- Marcus Maxwell, WR Hamburg ( San Francisco 49ers) – Maxwell has a chance to make the Niners roster with Bryant leaving. He led NFL Europa with seven touchdown receptions and finished with 32 catches for 499 yards (15.6-yard average).
- Greg Eslinger, C Cologne (Denver Broncos) – Eslinger (6-3, 288) was my number one Center in the 2006 draft. After spending a year in reserve for the Broncos, this former Rimington Award winner as the nation’s best center went to work in NFLE. Helped lead the way for Ross and gaining all league honors. Should be a great zone blocking battling player in the future.
- Adam O’Connor, OT Hamburg (Free Agent) – A converted defensive end with good size (6’7, 300), who is still learning the position. Still made all league and Brian Baldinger says O’Connor reminds him of Matt Lepsis, who made the conversion from tight end to tackle in Barcelona and is now a solid pro for the Broncos.
- Gary Gibson, DT Hamburg (Baltimore Ravens) – Formed a good run stuffing combo with Thomas Smith. Gibson was all league and has the size (6’5, 318) to make the Ravens. Has potential, but he must stay healthy in camp.
- Yello Strom World Bowl XV will reach an estimated worldwide television audience of more than 150 million in more than 120 countries. The game as stated earlier will be on NFL network with Bob Papa and Brian Baldinger calling the game. This will be Baldinger’s 11th World Bowl and he has been a big proponent of the game.
- Some notable NFL Europe Alumni include current Atlanta Falcons WR Brian Finneran and Pro Bowl players David Akers, La’Roi Glover, Dante Hall, Adam Vinatieri, Jake Delhomme, Brad Johnson (Super Bowl Champion w/ Tampa Bay) and Kurt Warner (Super Bowl Champion w/ Rams).
- Some rules that I like from NFL Europa I like are that overtime lasts for 10 minutes with the requirement that each team must have the opportunity of possession at least once. Also with soccer being the traditionally the most popular sport in Europe, the league encourages kicking with awarding 4 points to field goals of more than 50 yards.
- A great book to read for anyone that wants to learn about NFL Europe and have a reality view of the game should read “The Proving Ground : A Season on the Fringe in NFL Europe”, by Lars Anderson (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0312269757/103-6943452-8675050?adid=1GVGK1KQGD8WEBX3TE68&camp=14573&creative=327641&link%5Fcode=as1&n=283155). I enjoyed the book and it gave great insight into a day in the life of a NFL Europa team and how the players make through being away from home.
Well there is nothing left, but to enjoy World Bowl XV, so “CHEERS” to BIGPLAY’s fans in the United States and Overseas. Enjoy the game and maybe next year BIGPLAY will be able to enjoy World Bowl XVI in person.
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