Samstag, 3. Januar 2015

The "new" Frankfurt Galaxy - Like a Phoenix Rising From The Ashes

American Football in Europe has come a long way over the past 35 years. Many local teams were established in Germany, Austria, and Italy during the late 70’s and early 80’s, and during that time, the NFL sent teams over to London and Berlin to promote their sport through friendly games in front of sell-out crowds. In 1991, the World League of American Football was established as an NFL farm league with ten teams from five different countries who played for the so-called World Bowl.

Over the course of the next 16 years, the league would go through a two-year hiatus (1993-94), be renamed twice (first to NFL Europe in 1995, then to NFL Europa in 2006), and the league would be consolidated to purely European teams. By 2007, the Frankfurt Galaxy were the only NFL Europe team still remaining from the original 1991 World League of American Football. During this time span, the Galaxy attracted an average of 31,500 fans for home games in Frankfurt’s legendary Waldstadion and its successor, the Commerzbank Arena. Without a doubt, the Galaxy was the flagship organization of the NFL’s developmental league in Europe.

On June 23rd, 2007, the four-time champion Frankfurt Galaxy lost World Bowl XV in their home stadium to the Hamburg Sea Devils 37-28. After the game, most of the 48,000 attendants left Commerzbank Arena with tears in their eyes, myself included. As four-time World Bowl champions, the Galaxy had been the winningest franchise in league history, so the loss was heartbreaking for its fans and the team’s staff. Even though their 8th trip to the World Bowl wasn’t crowned by success, many hoped the Galaxy would again challenge for their 5th title the following season.

That hope quickly vanished six days later on June 29th when the NFL announced the closure of NFL Europe. Commissioner Roger Goodell shut down the developmental league on the “old continent” due to strategic reasons. The NFL chose to adjust its international strategy to focus more on meaningful regular season games outside the U.S. rather than investing millions of dollars into a farm system with only mild payoffs. I’m sure players like Kurt Warner, Adam Vinatieri or James Harrison might think otherwise. NFL Europe served its purpose to lay the groundwork for a European fan base of the All-American sport and the league moved onto the next chapter of globalizing the game, now known as the NFL International Series.

With their beloved NFL Europe teams forever gone, many American football fans in Europe – specifically in Germany – fell into a hole. Additionally, over 120 front office employees and many national players were suddenly unemployed.

The Darmstadt Diamonds, for instance, were playing Bundesliga football (GFL) only 35 km away from Frankfurt. However, NFL Europe had been light-years ahead of other European football leagues from a budget, competitive, and event organization standpoint, so the transition for fans from NFL Europe to the GFL was often difficult. Additionally, as a true sports fan you’re unlikely to switch teams easily, as was often the case for fans who grew up rooting for the “men in purple” (a common nickname for the Frankfurt Galaxy). For example, if the New York Giants were relocated to another city or completely vanished, a die-hard Giants fan wouldn’t suddenly change heart and become a Jets fan for the rest of his life.

The passion for the “Men in Purple” was so strong that a few staff members and fans of Frankfurt’s football team decided to keep the Galaxy spirit alive. Just three weeks after the closure of NFL Europe, they founded their own football club. The NFL still owned the naming rights for the Galaxy brand, so the team was named the “AFC Universe Frankfurt e.V.”, adopting the same colors as the Galaxy – purple and orange...

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You can find me on Twitter @bjoernhesse

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