"Football in Germany??? You must have confused football with 'Fußball', the German term for soccer. Right?" is how most Americans react if they hear about American Football in Germany.
Even though football will never come close to challenging soccer's popularity in Germany, the niche sport has a small but active fan base. Every game attracts between 1,000 (Berlin Adler) and 10,000 fans (Braunschweig Lions), depending on how much the American Football subculture has been integrated in different cities across Germany.
First played by American soldiers based in Germany after World War II, in 1977, a group of Americans and Germans established the first football club (Frankfurt Lions) in Frankfurt. Five years and many new clubs later, in 1982, a national football federation, the American Football Verband Deutschland (AFVD), was founded.
2010 - a great year for (American!) football in Germany.
Today, the AFVD governs more than 300 German club teams playing in professional and amateur leagues – more than in any other European country. The nation's 12 best teams play in the German Football League (GFL), which ends with the German Bowl (a mini NFL championship) each year in October. Last year's German Bowl attracted 16,000 spectators.
At the 2010 German Bowl on October 9, the Kiel Baltic Hurricanes beat the Berlin Adler 17:10 in Frankfurt. It was a sweet victory for the Kiel team as their Berlin-based rivals had beaten them the previous year. After taking place now for three years in a row in Frankfurt, future German Bowls are due to be held in the eastern German city of Magdeburg.
Women's football, or Frauenfootball, teams also exist in Germany - at the Ladies Bowl XIX on September 20, the Kobra Ladies of Berlin beat the Düsseldorf Blades 34:28 in overtime.
On a European level, the European Federation of American Football (EFAF) moreover organizes a tournament every four years. Germany won the 2010 American Football European Championship in a 26:10 victory over France in front of a home crowd of more than 8,500 spectators. The tournament, in which the national teams of Finland, Sweden, Great Britain, France, Austria and Germany fought for the European title, was held from July 24 to 31 in the same venue as the German Bowl - Frankfurt's Commerzbank Arena.
IFAF World Cup in American Football 2011 in Austria.
On a global level, the International Federation of American Football (IFAF, comprising nearly 60 federations), stages the IFAF World Cup, which is also held every four years. After the US participated in the IFAF World Cup for the first time in 2007, they won the tournament with a roster of recent collegians who had not signed a pro contract. Germany finished third place after Japan. The next IFAF World Cup will take place in 2011 in neighboring Austria.
Spending the summer in Germany getting paid to play American Football.
Even though most of the players in the German Football League are German (GFL rules only allow two American players on the field at one time), the league employs American coaches and players who are paid for playing in 12 league games, plus two games in a Europe-wide competition. The salaries are small, but the players are also provided with a car, accommodation, meals and health insurance for the season.
Most players find placements through connections with friends or coaches. Since 2000, the online platform Europlayers.com has provided interested football players from around the world the chance to play for one season for a German or other European team. By posting their profile to the site, interested coaches and agents may contact the players, offering them seasonal contracts, which in many cases have been extended.
"It's amazing how many people don't know about the opportunities to play football overseas," Roger Kelly, who is promoting the platform, says. "Europlayers has shown many players and coaches that there is more out there than small amateur leagues in the United States and Canada."
Americans playing in Germany.
Joe Sturdivant, a Defensive Back and Wide Receiver from Southern Methodist University, Texas, joined the GFL team Marburg Mercenaries in January 2010. At present, Sturdivant leads the league's topscorer list, followed by Runningback and Receiver Dusty Thornhill from McMurry University in Abilene, Texas, playing for the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns, and Damien Linson from Central Michigan University (Kiel Baltic Hurricanes).
Also, two of the stars of Super Bowl XLIII, Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner (then Amsterdam Admirals) and Steelers linebacker James Harrison (then Düsseldorf Rhein Fire), had played one season in the former NFL Europe, which was closed in 2007 after 16 years and a reported loss of $30 million per year.
NFL Europe had been set up originally as the World League of American Football in 1991 with 10 teams competing in the U.S. and Europe. In 1995, NFL Europe was transformed into a six-team, all-European league – since 2005 however, five out of six teams were based in Germany.
Germans playing in the US: Patriots' Power "Made in Germany".
The former NFL Europe also payed off in another way: In April 2009, the New England Patriots drafted Düsseldorf born Left and Right Tackle Sebastian Vollmer in the second round (58th overall) as the first player who had learned the football basics in Germany.
Vollmer, nicknamed as the "Nowitzki of American Football", did not start playing football until he was 14 years old. He then signed up with NFL Europe team Düsseldorf Rhein Fire before playing College Football at the University of Houston from 2004-2008. In 2009, he signed a four-year contract with the New England Patriots and might become the first German starter in the NFL.