Weird things happen in Euro football. I’ve been coaching this game for 30 years and think I have a pretty good feel for how things are SUPPOSED to go. Logic dictates that hard work pays off, poor practices lead to poor games and losing multiple starters from an already shallow talent pool SHOULD be a major problem. But, my third season in Germany has shown me that the normal rules of football don’t always apply in Europe.
I’ll be honest. My expectations weren’t especially high when I arrived in Ravensburg in March. Sure, we had some solid returning talent, but we had lost three starting o-linemen to retirement as well as several promising receivers. The defense had their own issues with some key players retiring or playing in other countries. I’d love to say that our success was all by design…Yeah, I understood that my run-heavy offense would have to become more balanced with a rebuilding offensive line. Yes, we revamped our passing offense by bringing over a receiver coach to build a passing system that complemented my run game philosophy… but I didn’t expect this.
After we limped to an unconvincing 24-21 win, at home, against the Straubing Spiders, a newly promoted team, my worry seemed correct. Then weird things began to happen.
During our second game, we scored 54 points before the half, and added another touchdown during our first drive of the third quarter before a thunderstorm ended the game. As the OC, I should have been thrilled. I’ve never coached a 50+ game…and in only a half. But, I didn’t feel we played especially well. The opponents’ defense was often misaligned, creating huge openings. We simply took advantage of poor coverage and an over pursuing defense. Even worse, we lost two starting receivers for the season to knee injuries.
Preparations for Nuremberg the following week did nothing to ease my pessimism. Practices were awful that week. Wednesday, I had to scrap inside run and team because only three offensive linemen and three receivers showed up. Friday and Saturday’s practices were also poor.
When I got on the bus on Sunday, I was sure we were going to lose. We’d never won in Nuremburg. I had two developmental receivers starting and playing their first GFL game…as well as a 45-year-old guard starting…who hadn’t played in five years.
I had my post game speech all planned. “…you didn’t deserve to win. It isn’t enough to want it on game day, we have to prepare during the week” Much of my game plan consisted of ways to run clock and shorten the game in case we were getting blown out…but strange things happen in Europe.
We played outstanding football. Our quarterback Garrett DellaChiaie made almost perfect reads, our running back Malik Norman ran for 240 yards. The receivers caught everything and the line opened holes. We executed much better than we deserved to and dominated the game, winning 49- 29.
The game woke me to the fact that we were a good team. Not overpowering, but balanced and efficient. Numbers would be an issue though. My 45-year-old guard was lost for the season, Running back, Malik came out beat up and gimpy and another receiver would miss the next two games for his wedding. We were almost out of back up players, at every position.
We’d go to Wiesbaden the next week with just two experienced receivers, a banged up RB and six offensive linemen. We’d have to put our American safety, Javonte Alexander and RB Malik at receiver…meaning we’d have to find a German RB. Probably a good idea anyway, as it would give Malik some rest. Hopefully, we could limp past a decent Phantom team.
Strange things continued to happen. Our offense never touched the ball the entire 1st quarter. Javonte ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown. The Phantoms responded with a ten play drive, tying the game at seven. Wiesbaden kicked off to our other deep back, Michi Meyer. Same result, Michi went the distance for another touchdown. Another long drive for the Phantoms followed, but they lost possession on downs, and our offense finally took the field as the 2nd quarter began. Not for long though. The Phantoms loaded the box, focusing on stopping our running game and Malik. But Malik was at wideout, as I needed to mix personnel. A pass to the flat and Malik is gone, we’re up 21-7… We only ran 8 plays during the first half on the way to a 48-28 win.
Next came a 49-21 win at Montabaur. During our first three games we leaned heavily on our running game and Malik. Out of necessity, our focus became more pass heavy and spotlighted our other explosive American, Javonte Alexander, who was simply too fast for one opponent to cover and too shifty for one man to bring down in open field. In football, low numbers either usually makes you weaker, but strange things happen in Europe.
Our low numbers actually made us stronger. Without an explosive back, we had to throw more…announcing to the GFL2 that we could put up big numbers both on the ground and through the air. Once we got all our weapons back, we’d be a nightmare to stop. Our home rematch with Nuremberg would show this dramatically.
The Nuremberg game was the strangest, longest and most mentally exhausting game I’ve ever coached in my career. True dual threat teams are rare in the GFL 2 and with both a powerful ground and passing game, the Rams couldn’t stop our offense. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stop theirs either. Back and forth it went, more like basketball than a football game. We were up 35-34 at the half.
We’d have the ball first after the break and I was confident that we’d be able to score and give ourselves some breathing room. Nuremberg couldn’t stop us, but we COULD stop ourselves. We fumbled deep in our own territory on the first play, setting up an easy Ram score and handing them the lead.
Their lead was short lived, we responded with a touchdown on our next drive…and they responded, and we responded again. Neither defense could get a stop. When we scored, to take a 72-70 lead with two minutes to go, I was scared that I’d left too much time on the clock. Fortunately, our defense came through and a pick-six with just seconds remaining ensured a 78-70 victory.
The game was exhausting and the numbers were enormous. We played for three hours and 48 minutes, the two teams combined for over 1300 yards of total offense, Garrett threw for 392 yard. Malik ran for 278 yards. The lead changed hands TEN times during the second half alone. An ugly game in many ways but one we’ll never forget.
An annoying aspect of Euro football is the tendency to attribute offensive success to a few American import “weapons”. After the first few games, the message boards were all saying, “…They’re a one-man team, just stop Malik.” Then, when Malik was out, “…they’re a one-man team, just double cover Javonte.”
Yes, our Americans have been outstanding. I believe we have the best American QB, running back AND receiver in the GFL2 South…But, we wouldn’t be successful without the tremendous job our Germans have done.
Practice attendance improved as the wins piled up. The offensive line I was so worried about has done an excellent job protecting Garrett and getting push for our running game. Michi Mayer has scored 16 TD’s and is a big play threat every time he touches the ball. Veteran receiver Andi Lo Meo catches everything near him. Our newer receivers have been outstanding blockers. Several defensive players have filled in at running back when we needed them. I’m very proud of this team’s execution and sacrifice.
After the win against Nuremburg, we knocked off Montabaur and Wiesbaden at home, putting us at 8-0 going into the summer break. We have a three game lead with six left to play. We look to be in great shape…but strange things happen in Euro Football.