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To 10 years from the closing the NFLE is still alive.

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Published on Jun 29, 2017

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On June 29, 2007, less than a week from the dispute of the World Bowl XV in Frankfurt, where the Hamburg Sea Devils had won the beautiful crystal globe struggling to 37-28, the Frankfurt Galaxy, with a short press release in the National Football League announced the closure of the NFL Europe, the league of experimental european since 1991 (including two years of pause between the 93 and the 94) had cheered the springs of the fans in europe with the closest thing to a game in the NFL that would see live.

Ten years have passed, but the memory of that league, which has certainly helped to increase the number of fans of football in the old continent, is still very alive in many that, even just once, to have come into contact with the “european version of the NFL”, as many called it the european league.

The idea to bring the football in Europe was not new. Remember the very first attempt occurred in 1938 in France, with the legend Jim Crowley and his All Stars, but also, more recently, the useless attempts of Bob Kap, and the Intercontinental Football League, who left us a legacy of none other than the Gladiators of Rome, a franchise still operating and active in our country.

The first “NFL EUROPE”

On ending of years ’80 of the last century, the idea of bringing american football in Europe is back strongly to the fore, thanks to two initiatives are complementary but totally different from each other.

In 1989, in fact, the NFL had created a committee, chaired by the former owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Tex Schramm, to explore the possibility of creating a “developmental league” in Europe. Of this committee were a part of important names such as Dan Rooney, Lamar Hunt (yes, the very one that spalleggiò Bob Kap in the creation of his IFL), Mike Lynn and even Bill Walsh.

On the 26th of August 1989, in a crowded press conference held at the Marriott Hotel in Hamburg, where we were to the result of the Italian expedition to the European Championships, we listened to Tex Schramm illustrate the present and the guidelines of the settlement of the WLAF (World League of American Football), a league formed by the players and the coach of the americans, with limited support from the part of the europeans, that he had four franchises in Europe, London, Frankfurt, Barcelona and Milan, and ten in America, including one in Montreal and one in Mexico City. The league would have started operations in 1991, with a one-year delay compared to the initial estimates, not to go immediately into competition with the football World cup in 1990, would have played in Italy.

Three days later, in Barcelona, another billionaire from texas, the former scout of the New York Jets Carroll Huntress, presented his version of the european league, the ILAF (International League of American Football), he had to see the light in the spring of 1990 (football World cup? Who cares?) with the twelve european teams are formed half from us players and the other half are european players.

From nothing to two parallel projects, then. As often happens, whoever has the most money and the shoulders are more solid the check. The WLAF, working on the script, check a television deal with ESPN thirty million dollars, while the poor ILAF, that from twelve potential deductibles passes to eight (Barcelona, Helsinki, Munich, Milan, Rome, London, Amsterdam and Birmingham), he has big problems to get any contract with the TV european, since the americans are not interested in a product of “All Europe”. The ambition of starting in the 1990's are turned off from Italy, where the CONES “commandeered” the Flaminio stadium for the World cup, leaving the team of Rome without the gaming facility, in addition to major problems in some countries to obtain a visa days for the players. In a short time the creature of the Huntress, it wraps in on itself, leaving the field open to the WLAF, which starts in 1991, as scheduled.

Three teams in Europe (London Monarchs, Frankfurt Galaxy and Barcelona Dragons. Franchise to Italian, of course jump to logistical problems), and seven in North America (Montreal Machine, Birmingham Fire, New York/New Jersey Knights, Orlando Thunder, Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks, Sacramento Surge and San Antonio Riders). The first World Bowl, held at Wembley stadium, London, where the London Monarchs beat you 21-0 with the Barcelona Dragons.

[See image gallery at www.huddle.org]

The WLAF has success in Europe, but in America fails to attract the interest hoped for, and after two seasons, the NFL decided to suspend operations to analyze the situation and to reorganize the league.

In 1995, the WLAF is back on track with a new formula that provides teams only in Europe, to take advantage of the enthusiasm generated from the first two seasons of 1991-92 and the growing success of the American Bowls, the games of preseason, some teams play in Europe in front of the stands almost always packed.
The three exemptions to existing european, are joined with the Amsterdam Admirals, Scottish Claymores and Rhein Fire, and the plans for the future include expansion to other countries such as France and Austria, while Italy is left behind, after the hole in the water of 1989.

In 1998 the league changed its name with a more appropriate “NFL Europe League”, then become “NFL Europe” in 2006.


The high running costs mean that little by little the teams outside of Germany, closed one by one, being replaced by deductibles in German territory. After the 1998 season to close the Monarchs, replaced by the Berlin Thunders, in 2004 the Cologne Centurions replace the Barcelona Dragons and the Hamburg Sea Devils take the place of the Scottish Claymores. Only to survive the Amsterdam Admirals, outside Germany, mainly because of their proximity to the German border than the other franchises, a feature that allows you to contain at least the travel costs.

In 2007, however, the NFL Europe lost a total of 30 million dollars, and the owners decide that can be enough as well. It is time for new strategies, with the establishment of the International Series began in 2007 and continues with increasing success, so much so that today there are four matches of the regular season that are played outside the United States each year. It is also time to put the brakes on the rampant habit of some franchises in NFL history to allocate their players into NFL Europe to get exemptions from the roster of their training camp for a real development of the players sent in Europe.

Despite the high costs of management and the obvious distortions occurred as the league went on and on, the WLAF/NFL Europe/NFL Europa has had a tremendous influence on the reliefs from the NFL in the first decade of the new millennium. Even today, there are numerous (especially between the coach, for obvious reasons, personal details) those who have had an experience in Europe as a player or as a coach, without the need to drag in the names of the usual suspects, the leading products of the european league: Kurt Warner, Jake Delhomme, Adam Vinatieri, Jon Kitna, Brad Johnson, etc, etc, Many of them have deeply benefited from this gym, this kind of antechamber of the NFL has made their entry into the world of pro much less traumatic.

The same can be said of the great success achieved with the programs aimed at players, coaches and referees in europe. Immediately the big intuition to reserve a couple of spots for the so-called “national players” has had a major impact on the development of many athletes who until that time had primary roles in their european nations of origin. In Italy there have been two “pioneers”, Paolo Mutti, and Sergio Vissa, who went to the roster with the Birmingham Fire of the very first WLAF, followed by Luca Bellora and Maurizio Barbotti, samples with the Barcelona Dragons in 1997 and Niccolò Cancellieri with the Berlin Thunders in 2006.

Always staying in Italy, 23 June 1996, Giuseppe Rizzello became the first referee to officiate a final of the pro, by participating in the World Bowl ’96 Glasgow. After him also Max Rossi, Antonio Pierattelli and Massimiliano Introini they had the honour of refereeing a final.
Also, thanks to the development program reserved for the coach, Giorgio Longhi, Andrea Vecchi, Simone Iori and many others coach local were able to refine their knowledge by attending the training camp of the franchises the NFL Europe.

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