Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns German Bowl winning coach Jordan Neuman already back at work

In the waning seconds of German Bowl XXXIX, with the Schwäbisch Hall  Unicorns holding on to a slim, 14-13 lead and New Yorker Lions kicker Tobias Goebel lining up to kick what should have been the game-winning field goal from 35 yards out, Unicorns 34 year old head coach Jordan Neuman  had faith.

“Our guys had faced incredible adversity all season and we had already blocked a field goal earlier in the game, so I had a feeling about this one.”

As Neuman and everyone else watched, including a huge TV and Internet audience, linebacker Devin Benton blocked Goebel’s field goal attempt Saturday night, giving the Unicorns an improbable 14-13  win in Neuman’s first year as head coach. His first thought, knowing his team had just shed years of frustration, was how deliriously happy it would make the incredibly loyal Unicorns fans. And how fitting that it was Benton who got the block. Benton who epitomized the ideal import and teammate.

“Devin has completely invested in our club and our system. He is an outstanding example of a teammate.”

This was a a hurdle so high that no one almost dared dream of overcoming it. They had reached this far in three of the last four years before this and lost. And yet, on this night, they did it.

The Unicorns, from tiny Schwäbisch Hall, a town of 35,000 in southern Germany had finally vanquished the mighty New Yorker Lions in their fourth straight try.

“This was much more than just winning a championship. To keep falling a game short year after year since 2013 was getting beyond frustrating. So for these players and fans this was a very special moment.”

Neuman would have occupied a place in the history not only of the team but also of the German Football League even without the German Bowl win. He was the coach who had taken over the reins of the team from Siegfried Gehrke, a man who had been coaching Schwäbisch Hall for 25 years. A man who had won two previous German titles and who had propelled the team from the very basement of football in Germany to the peak. But he had not been able to overcome the New Yorker Lions juggernaut.

“I have to admit, it was a daunting task, taking over from my mentor who also happened to be a legend in Germany. But I had great coaches and players. The hardest period was before we hit the field, in the off season. I wondered how we would win another game without ‘Siggy’. But once the real football started things changed.”

The Unicorns got off to a great start to the season, reeling off six straight easy wins before facing Frankfurt, their first real challenge. Winning that game was important.

“I was very proud of the team. Everyone stayed positive and met each challenge. The players and coaches were buying into the system and as the challenges and adversity mounted, they kept up their great attitude.”

Schwäbisch Hall head coach Jordan Neuman and his mentor, Siegfried Gehrke

The native of Fort Worth, Texas has bought into the system himself. A system built by Gehrke. The Unicorns do not have a single paid German player. And no European imports. They have six American imports, four on defense and two on offense and the rest are Germans from the surrounding area. Most live within roughly a 90 minute radius. They have one player who travels from Cologne, three hours away. And they practice only twice a week.

“These guys play for the love of the game, pure and simple. When I speak to German players who are interested in coming here, they get a surprise whe I tell them we do not pay. We do not recruit from other European countries. You could say everyone on this team outside the six imports, is truly homegrown.”

Gong into the championship game, despite facing a team that had not last in the post season in four years, Neuman felt good about his team’s chances.

“I felt good about the matchups. We knew that the old adage of defense wins championships was true. So that is why we stacked the deck on defense with four defensive imports. We brought in our cornerback, Raheem Wilson as our final addition and it proved to be a wise move. He was tasked with covering their best receiver. Which was not easy because they have so many great receivers And they had added former all star Evan Landi.”

The game unfolded the way Neuman had expected with his defense making big plays when they had to and his quarterback playing efficient football.

“I am so proud of Marco. He had so much pressure on him and when it really counted, he responded. On our final drive he and the offense ate up almost five valuable minutes right when we needed it.”

With just over two minutes left, the Lions took the ball over on their own 10 yard line. All Neuman was thinking about was that these guys had not punted the ball the entire game.

“I was aware of it but I also remembered that we had a tough final half of the season and we had faced elimination before, almost losing in the dying minutes to Berlin. So our players did not flinch.”

The Lions mounted a 72 yard drive, reaching the Unicorns 18 yard line with seconds on the clock. Then Benton made the play of his career blocking Goebel’s third field goal attempt of the game. And sending the Schwäbisch Hall fans and players home indescribably happy.

Neuman was tired and happy. And went right back to work.

“I think I spent 30 minutes in the locker room after the game and then back to work. Next season started pretty much right after the game. Had to hit the phones.”

Roger Kelly

Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.

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