FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Tears flowed among Frankfurt Galaxy fans when NFL Europa shut down after the 2007 season.
The NFL was losing tens of millions on its European adventure. For the Frankfurt faithful, it was heartbreak.
“We had a meeting with the owner in the stadium with some fans, and a lot of tears ran out of the eyes of the fans,” said Joachim Wieczorek, one of the Galaxy's first supporters. “We knew we would miss it.”
Frankfurt has always backed American football. The Galaxy was the only team that played in every season of the NFL’s European league. It had strong fan support and won four “World Bowl” titles.
Pubs are preparing for an influx of traveling fans, the Chiefs have docked a yacht on the Main River, and league Commissioner Roger Goodell has been asked to sign the city's “Golden Book" — an honor reserved for dignitaries.
Frankfurt hosts a second game next week when the New England Patriots play the Indianapolis Colts.
The NFL ditched the league approach in favor of staging regular-season games abroad, with London as the anchor. The league started holding games in the English capital in 2007 but only came back to Germany last year when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Seattle Seahawks 21-16 at Allianz Arena in Munich.
Germany proved to be the backbone of NFL Europe — in its final season in 2007, five of the six teams were German. Fans held “power parties” — the German version of tailgating — before games. The fan base included U.S. military members stationed nearby — American troops had staged unofficial games in the 1970s.
The very first game of the NFL-backed World League of American Football in 1991 featured the London Monarchs against the Galaxy at Waldstadion, now called Deutsche Bank Park.
“The stadium was full and nobody knew the rules,” Wieczorek said. “It was a big party in the stadium.”
A helicopter landed on the field and league President Mike Lynn emerged to deliver the game ball.
Dolphins special teams coordinator Danny Crossman remembers it well. He was a defensive back for the Monarchs.
“It was very different from what I was accustomed to,” Crossman said Thursday before practice in Frankfurt. “It wasn't college football — the pageantry of college football — it wasn't the National Football League, it was a party. There were fireworks and it was all kinds of stuff going into pregame.”
The atmosphere in the European stadiums was “fabulous,” Crossman said.
“The passion that you see in rugby and football and everything else — they brought it to American football and it was very fun,” he said.
The league lasted just two seasons in its original form and later returned as NFL Europe.
Frankfurt also hosted the last game, losing in the 2007 World Bowl to the Hamburg Sea Devils 37-28 on a muddy field in front of 48,125 fans.
A week later, the league was history. Local fans then launched a team called the Frankfurt Universe, which plays in the German Football League, a soccer-style club system that develops young players.
The Galaxy exists today, in name anyway, as the Frankfurt team in the European League of Football. The NFL licensed the league to use team names from the NFL Europe days.
Wieczorek, the general manager of the Universe, is excited for the upcoming games but laments that local clubs are not involved in the NFL's events.
“The NFL comes with everything over to Europe, they will make it all by themselves and nobody from the local clubs is involved,” he said. “This is a thing that I am a little bit sad about.”
Still, the locals have been “super friendly and welcoming,” said Dolphins linebacker Jaelan Phillips.
“We actually had a tour guide yesterday, just a lady we met on the street, a German lady, and she just showed us around," Phillips said Wednesday about sightseeing with teammates. "Obviously, (she) saw we were foreigners because we stick out like a sore thumb, but yeah it’s been an incredible experience so far.”
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