F • O • O • T • B • A • L • L’s popularity meter overseas began to edge upwards in 1982 when the British Broadcasting Corporation began showing NFL games in Great Britain. As the BBC continued to show games, new fans began to adopt teams that they could root for each week.
Because of this growth in popularity, the NFL decided to play preseason games labeled as The American Bowl in London beginning in 1986. The first two teams to play football (two o’s) in Wembley Stadium were the Super Bowl XX Champion Chicago Bears and the Dallas Cowboys.
The Bears fielded a roster of personalities that was unrivaled by any other team in NFL history (and if anyone wants to nominate a team they think was their equal, go for it). Oversized, at least by 1980’s standards, defensive tackle William “The Refrigerator” Perry, Jim McMahon, Walter Payton and the rest of the team took London by storm. The Cowboys played the part of the Washington Generals (the Harlem Globetrotters old traveling opponent) as both teams made appearances in London during the week before the Bears beat the Cowboys 17-6 in the game.
Once NFL owners believed they had an untapped audience that would welcome a sport that didn’t consider the score of 3-0 to be a blowout, they decided to establish a league made up of teams based both in the U.S. and Europe (with plans for Mexico City possibly to follow).
The hopes were that the World League of American Football would play competitive games that counted in standings and further spread the sport’s audience internationally. The league would also serve to give NFL teams a place to send signed players for additional work and development before bringing them back for another training camp.
What went unspoken, with the WAFL games to be played in the spring, and with another full league’s worth of players under contract, there would be no more room for another upstart league to make trouble for the NFL. There also wouldn’t be any un-served cities clamoring for their own professional team. The NFL had finally driven the United States Football League out of business after “losing” the anti-trust suit the USFL had brought in an attempt to move their schedule to the fall (which is a story in itself).
In 1991, the inaugural season, 10 teams took the field, six in the U.S., one in Montreal, Canada and Europe represented by the Barcelona Dragons, Frankfort Galaxy and the London Monarchs, split into three divisions. At the end of the first season the three Europe based teams boasted a combined record of 24-6 while no North American team finished better than 5-5. In the first World Bowl after that season, London beat Barcelona 21-0.
all three European teams had losing seasons and, although they continued to draw fans, the overall league was losing money and NFL owners weren’t willing to continue the investment. The league shut down for two years and a new WLAF was launched in 1995 with all European teams.
The three original franchises stayed an Amsterdam, Dusseldorf (Rhein) and Edinburgh (Scotland). This attempt at European football (no “u”) lasted until the end of the 1997 season when all teams but the Rhein Fire were struggling financially.
The NFL tried twice more to establish a presence in Europe but the only country where they were ever successful was Germany. By 2005, six of the seven teams in the league were in German cities, those teams won all seven World Bowls between 1998 and 2004. The last incarnation of the attempt, NFL Europa played out the 2006 season before the NFL pulled the plug on the effort.
The NFL hasn’t surrendered in the effort to gain international attention to football (two “ll’s”). Starting in 2007 with the Miami Dolphins facing the New York Giants, the NFL has played one regular season game a year in London at Wembley Stadium. In 2012 this game will feature the St. Louis Rams as the home team (and also tentatively scheduled to be the home team in 2013 and 2014 also) against the New England Patriots.
The WLAF and NFL Europe attempts did generate a few benefits in the end. The WLAF served as the initial testing ground for sideline to helmet radios that are a generally accepted part of today’s NFL. The two-point conversion rule was used, which the NFL adopted in 1994. Instead of teams having 45 seconds between plays WLAF teams were given 35 seconds. In 1993 the NFL split the difference and ruled 40 seconds to increase the number of plays in a game.
There weren’t many, but a handful of players received enough experience and exposure playing for the WLAF and its successor leagues that never would have received additional opportunities otherwise. Kurt Warner followed up his initial success in the Arena Football League with one season playing for the Amsterdam Admirals in 1997 before signing with the St. Louis Rams in 1998.
Jon Kitna is another quarterback who used his experience in Europe to create an NFL career. Defensive tackle La’Roi Glover and kicker Adam Vinatieri also used the league as a springboard into the NFL and have successful careers.
It's difficult to say that the NFL's various European ventures were a "good try" at increasing interest in football (not futbol
) overseas. A unified vision of what the European leagues was supposed to accomplish, whether to grow as an independent entity or serve as a developmental league, was never decided upon, so the attempts failed when they tried to be both. The interest is there, especially in Germany. It remains to be seen whether the NFL can do anything with it.
Deaths This Week:
June 26, 2002 – Jay Berwanger died from lung cancer at his home in Oak Brook, Illinois.
Berwanger, as mentioned before in an the first Dropping Back column
, was an All-American halfback for the University of Chicago Maroons and in 1935 became the first winner of the Heisman Trophy. He was also the first player ever selected in an NFL draft, the first overall of all in a sense.
The Philadelphia Eagles anticipated difficulties in signing Berwanger and traded him to the Chicago Bears, who failed to come to a contract agreement with him. Berwanger never played a down in the NFL.
June 27, 1962 – Cleveland Browns safety Don Rogers died of a heart attack caused by cocaine use
Rogers was selected in the first round (No. 18) in the 1984 draft by the Browns and won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. He died the day before his wedding and eight days after basketball star Len Bias, first round pick of the Boston Celtics, died in the same way.
Notable Birthdays This Week:
June 25, 1928–Tank Younger
; Linebacker/Fullback (Rams/Steelers) 1949–1958; 1-time First-Team All-Pro;
4-time Pro Bowler; Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000
June 26, 1968–Shannon Sharpe
; Tight End (Broncos/Ravens) 1990–2003; 4-time First-Team All-Pro;
8-time Pro Bowler; Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011
June 26, 1980–Michael Vick
; Quarterback (Falcons/Eagles) 2001–2011; 4-time Pro Bowler
June 28, 1960–John Elway
; Quarterback (Broncos) 1983–1998; 9-time Pro Bowler;
Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004
June 29, 1949–Dan Dierdorf
; Right Tackle (Cardinals) 1971–1983; 3-time First-Team All-Pro; 6-time Pro Bowler;
Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996
July 1, 1953–Mike Haynes
; Defensive Back (Patriots/Raiders)1976–1989; 2-time First-Team All-Pro;
9-time Pro Bowler; Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997
The Rest of This Week’s Birthdays:
; Right End (Steelers) 1933–1940
; Right Tackle (Colts) 1955–1965
; Fullback (Chiefs) 1962–1969; 3-time Pro Bowler
; Linebacker (Bengals/Cardinals) 1968–1976
; Center (Steelers/Buccaneers/Raiders/Redskins) 1985–1999
; Defensive Tackle (Jaguars/Bills) 2001–2010; 3-time Pro Bowler
; Quarterback (Falcons/Texans) 2004–2011; 1-time Pro Bowler
; Tackle (Broncos/Raiders/Bills) 2006–2011
; Cornerback (Rams) 2009–2011
; Cornerback (Lions) 2010–2011
; Safety (Oilers/Buccaneers) 1975–1984
; Defensive End (Saints/Redskins/Falcons/Broncos) 1984–1996
; Quarterback (Jets/Dolphins) 2000–2010
; Tackle (Packers) 2000–2011; 2-time Pro Bowler
; Linebacker (Packers) 2010–2011
; Back (Duluth Eskimos/Cardinals) 1923–1929
; Back/End (Packers) 1939–1949; 3-time Pro Bowler
; Cornerback (Cardinals/Lions/Chiefs) 1955–1966; 3-time Pro Bowler
; Center (Redskins/Eagles) 1954–1964; 3-time Pro Bowler
; Linebacker (Cardinals/Eagles/Bills) 1959–1967; 2-time Pro Bowler
; Linebacker (Packers/Rams) 1958–1966; 1-time First-Team All-Pro; 1-time Pro Bowler
; Placekicker (Packers/Lions/Raiders) 1968–1978
; Left Tackle (Giants) 1966–1975
; Linebacker (Bears) 1966–1979
; Tackle (Bengals/Giants/Lions) 1971–1980
; Defensive End (Packers/Falcons/Broncos) 1990–2000
; Wide Receiver (Ravens) 2011–2011
; Tackle/Guard (Redskins/Steelers) 1957–1965; 1-time Pro Bowler
; Linebacker (Bears/Cowboys) 1958–1973; 5-time First-Team All-Pro; 6-time Pro Bowler
; Running Back (49ers/Lions/Redskins/Saints/Packers) 1964–1972
; Tight End (Raiders/Colts) 1970–1981; 4-time Pro Bowler
; Center (Vikings) 1977–1987
; Linebacker (Chargers/Raiders) 1978–1989
; Quarterback (Redskins/Raiders/Bengals/Cardinals) 1985–1994; 1-time Pro Bowler
Linebacker (Chiefs/Seahawks) 1986–1993; 1-time Pro Bowler
; Punter (Chiefs/Eagles/Jaguars/Redskins/Packers/Rams) 1990–2005; 1-time First-Team All-Pro;
1-time Pro Bowler
; Linebacker (Jets) 1993–2003
; Tight End (Dolphins/Rams/Chargers) 2002–2011
; Tackle (Lions) 2008–2011
; Linebacker (Giants) 2011–2011
; Defensive Tackle (Ravens) 2010–2011
; Tackle/Guard (Cardinals/Falcons) 1958–1967
; Running Back (Bears/Vikings) 1961–1974; 4-time Pro Bowler
; Defensive End (Falcons/Eagles) 1968–1981; 2-time First-Team All-Pro; 6-time Pro Bowler
; Tight End/Punter (Bears) 1972–1983
; Left Tackle (Steelers) 1976–1987
; Punter (Lions/Eagles) 1978–1983; 1-time Pro Bowler
; Defensive End (Bengals/Buccaneers/Seahawks) 1986–1992
; Defensive Tackle (Broncos/Colts/Eagles) 1999–2007
; Tight End (Ravens) 2010–2011
; Placekicker (Ravens/Broncos/Seahawks) 2008–2011
; Guard/Center (Chargers/Patriots) 1968–1981
; Wide Receiver (Cardinals/Eagles) 1979–1992; 2-time First-Team All-Pro; 2-time Pro Bowler
; Punter (Jets/Chiefs/Packers/Bears) 1991–2000
; Wide Receiver (Cowboys) 2006–2011; 2-time Pro Bowler
; Defensive End (Broncos/Buccaneers) 2007–2011
; Defensive Tackle (Ravens) 2010–2011
; Cornerback (Steelers/Cowboys) 1958–1965; 1-time Pro Bowler
; Defensive Tackle (Rams/Redskins) 1967–1980; 1-time Pro Bowler
; Linebacker (Redskins) 1969–1978
; Wide Receiver (Colts/Seahawks/Chargers) 1974–1983; 1-time Pro Bowler
; Cornerback (Buccaneers) 1976–1984
; Linebacker (Broncos) 1975–1983; 1-time First-Team All-Pro; 1-time Pro Bowler
; Left Tackle (Cowboys) 1975–1983; 4-time Pro Bowler
; Defensive Back (Saints/49ers/Raiders) 1980–1992; 1-time Pro Bowler
Defensive End (Packers/Colts) 1990–1997
; Defensive End (Jets/Patriots/Raiders/Jets/Browns) 1996–2007
; Tackle/Guard (Colts) 2001–2011
; Linebacker (Vikings) 2008–2011
; Tackle (Falcons) 2009–2011
; Safety (Bears) 2010–2011
; Linebacker (Eagles) 2010–2011