Turning the Dream Into
of planning and development, the World League of American Football (the forerunner to the NFL Europe League) exploded onto
the sporting scene with a unique 17-day extravaganza in Orlando, Florida that will long be
remembered by those involved.
Rather than have a host of meetings, player workouts and the inaugural draft spread over many months - as most other sports
leagues had done in the past - the World League crammed all those activities into the space of two and a half hectic weeks.League meetings were followed by player trials and workouts, and those in turn
were followed by the first World League draft as more than 1,000 World League personnel converged on Orlando from February
8-24 in 1991. The man charged with making
sure everything ran smoothly was Les Miller, the World League's special events coordinator for the Orlando
meetings and the draft. "It was a monumental
task," said Miller, a former director of scouting for the NFL's San Diego Chargers. "It was
a mind-boggling thing to put together."Everybody
affiliated with the World League was in Orlando. All three league offices (New York, Dallas
and London), all 10 franchises, all the sponsors. They were all together, face-to-face, for the first time."
First on the agenda were
a series of meetings for World League officials and owners as they attempted to introduce policies that would shape the future
of football around the world.
League president Mike Lynn also made his first state of the World League address
in Florida. Joe Bailey, the World
League's chief operating officer, said: "Decisions which were made during that time period will have a significant impact
on the future of the league."We were making
history, breaking new ground in the globalization of American football." Next came the grading of players, although much research had been carried out
on potential candidates before they even set foot in Orlando.Whereas
the annual NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis features the top 350 prospects in the country, the World League invited 710
hopefuls to Orlando - 65 for each of the 10 teams and 60 for Team Dallas, the 11th team which served as a practice squad throughout
the 1991 season. Another 40 players were added
via the Operation Discovery programme initiated to find the best amateur players in Europe.
The American players were made up of young prospects who spent
time with NFL or Canadian Football League teams, either on regular season rosters or during training camp."We started out by looking at the draft classes of 1990, '89 and '88,"
Miller explained. "Guys who made it in the NFL for a year or two, or who made it to the final cut before the season.
You'd be surprised how many players fall into that category."
Lynn, the former general manager for the Minnesota Vikings, was confident there
would be more than enough good players for the World League."Our colleges produce 10,000 football players every year," he explained. " Of those, 2,000 are high-quality
players. Of those, only 336 get drafted by the NFL, and many of them don't last. So don't tell me we'll have trouble finding
talent." Lynn would be proved right in time.
The 1991 season
produced NFL starters such as London Monarchs quarterback Stan Gelbaugh, Monarchs safety Dedrick Dodge, who won Super Bowls
with San Francisco and Denver, and San Antonio Riders quarterback Jason Garrett, who is still going strong in the NFL with
the New York Giants.
The World League received over 4,000 applications from players looking for a chance to prove themselves at a high level and
get back in the NFL. It was a tough task for Miller to weed through the hopefuls and find those talented enough to be invited
to Florida for the first draft.Miller
said: "One of the misunderstandings of this league was that we'd simply be having open tryouts for any guy off the street
who wanted to play football."But it was a tremendous
undertaking to zero in on the 66 running backs, or 44 quarterbacks, or 22 punters we signed to come to Orlando."
When the players arrived in Orlando
they were put through their paces and required to take physical exams, make themselves available for interviews with team
executives, and work out for the coaches and general managers.The draft concluded the events in Orlando and that in itself was unique. Players were drafted by position, with each of
the 10 clubs being granted first choice in one of the 10 sections.
The New York/New Jersey Knights kicked off proceedings on February 14, 1991, by grabbing tackle Caesar Rentie, a 290-pounder from the University of Oklahoma,
with the first pick in the offensive lineman draft.
The regular draft concluded 10 days later on February 24, although a supplemental draft was held on
February 28 and unearthed future gems such as Gelbaugh, Barcelona defensive end Bruce Clark, and the
Monarchs pairing of WR Andre Riley and RB David Smith. Lynn loved the positional drafts and admitted
it was another way the World League could tout itself as a groundbreaking organisation. "I have been sequestered in NFL
draft rooms," he said. "This was the most exciting draft I've ever been involved with and the kind of innovative
approach that will become the hallmark of the World League."
History would suggest the Monarchs got the best out of the inaugural World League
draft as they went on to dominate the 1991 season and win the first World Bowl.However, some would argue that football fans in Europe and around the world
were the winners as the initial Orlando meetings and draft kick-started a product that has grown in strength with each
Click on the year below to learn about that year in WLAF History
click on photos for info
The NFL has traditionally used a sudden death format for overtime. Regular
season games have a single period of overtime during which the first team to score wins the game. If neither team scores,
the game is declared a tie. In post-season games, overtime is extended indefinitely until one team scores. In NFL Europa,
however, the overtime period lasted for 10 minutes with the requirement that each team must have the opportunity of possession
at least once. This gave the format some similarities with the NCAA's overtime format. So, in NFL Europa, it was possible
for one team to score in overtime then have to kick-off to the opponent and give them a chance to either equalize or win the
game. The winner was the team with the highest score after both teams had had possession. Only two games ever remained tied
after overtime in WLAF/NFL Europa history: London Monarchs versus Birmingham Fire in Week 4 of the 1992 season, and Berlin
Thunder at Hamburg Sea Devils, on April 1, 2006. The score of both games was 17-17.
soccer being the traditionally popular sport in Europe and American football being a relative newcomer, the rules were changed
slightly to encourage a greater element of kicking which was intended to make the game more enjoyable for soccer and rugby
fans. The league did this by awarding 4 points to field goals of more than 50 yards, as opposed to 3 points in the NFL. This
had the interesting side-effect that a touchdown & PAT lead (7 points) could be equaled by one regular field goal (3 points)
as well as a long field goal (4 points).
Also, there was a requirement
that at least one player of Non-American extraction, referred to as "national" players, participate in every down
for both teams as of the 2006 season (in previous seasons one was required to play only on every down of every other series).
In addition to European players a number of Mexican and Japanese players played as national players. Up until the 2004 season
kicked conversion attempts and short field goals were attempted by national players. Since there are few European players
who have had the chance to compete at a level comparable to U.S. college football and the NFL, many, if not most, of the European
players ended up as kickers.
Among the notable national players
included Scott McCready, an English wide receiver who played some preseason games for the New England Patriots, Constantin
Ritzmann, a German defensive end who had played for the University of Tennessee, and Rob Hart, an English rugby player who
became a placekicker; he kicked barefoot.
Teams will use a common playbook for Offense (constructed by former University of Pittsburgh
coach Mike Gottfried) and a common playbook for Defense (put together by former Denver Broncos coach Joe Collier). Players
will make a base salary of $20,000 with quarterbacks recieving $25,000. Teams will play a minimum of two games on a
continent in a row to cut down on travel costs. Any college player who signs with the WLAF before the NFL draft in April,
and is selected by an NFL team, is free to sign with that team when then WLAF season is completed.
Spokane Chronicle (January 15, 1991)
The following is a list of former NFL Europa stadiums.
|Teams from NFL Europa's final season (2007)|
|Amsterdam Admirals||Amsterdam ArenA||1997-2007||51,859||1996||Amsterdam, The Netherlands|
one game in 2000,
one game in 2007
|Berlin Thunder||Olympiastadion||2004-2007||76,000||1936||Berlin, Germany|
|F. L. Jahn Sportpark||1998-2003||19,500||1951|
|Cologne Centurions||RheinEnergieStadion||2004-2007||50,374||1923||Cologne, Germany|
|Hamburg Sea Devils||HSH Nordbank Arena||2005-2007||55,989||2000||Hamburg, Germany|
|Rhein Fire||LTU Arena||2005-2007||51,500||2004||Düsseldorf, Germany|
Arena AufSchalke (2001-2005)
|Mini Estadi||2001-2003||15,276||1982||Barcelona, Spain|
|Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys||1991-1992, 1995-2000||56,000||1929|
|Crystal Palace National Sports Centre||1998||15,500||1964||London, England|
|Ashton Gate||1998 (one game)||21,500||1900||Bristol, England|
|Alexander Stadium||1998 (one game)||7,600||1976||Birmingham, England|
|Stamford Bridge||1996 (one game), 1997||42,449||1877||London, England|
|White Hart Lane||1995-1996||36,240||1899|
|Hampden Park||1998-2000, 2002 (part time),|
2001, 2003-2004 (full time)
|Murrayfield Stadium||1995-1997 (full time),|
one game in 2002
Thanks MG's Helmets for the cool helmet designs, the football database and wikipedia.org.