Frankfurt Universe Took Long Road To The German Football League Top Division

The Frankfurt Universe open the German season this weekend on the road, facing the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns. This will mark the first game for the storied franchise in the top ranks of American football in Germany, since the demise of NFL Europe in 2007.

As the Frankfurt Galaxy, the team was one of the most successful franchises in NFL Europe and the older World League of American Football. They played the final, championship game in 2007 against the Hamburg Sea Devils in front of a crowd of 48,000. Although after protracted wranglings they were unable to use the name Galaxy, the Universe has kept the fan base.

According to some expert observers, this may be the most anticipated new team in GFL history. From its lowly start in 2008 in the lowest divisions of German-American football, the club has gradually built, attracting greater and greater fan interest along the way. Those former Galaxy fans stepped up the very first year in Divison 5 and have never left.

Founder of American football in Germany

Ironically, according to Klaus Rehm of the Universe, Frankfurt started the very first American football team in Germany, the Frankfurt Lowen, or Lions in English. The Lions and the Anspach Grizzlies played a four-game series in 1976 which marked the start of the game in Germany. The team then co-founded the American Football Bundesliga (precursor to today’s GFL) in 1979 together with the Grizzlies, the Munich Cowboys, Dusseldorf Panther, Berlin Bears and Bremerhaven Seahawks. Frankfurt won the first two titles but gradually declined until folding after the 1984 season. Since then, the team has had several guises over the years but none of them lasted more than a year or two. Until 2007 when the Universe was formed.

Germany - Frankfurt Lions logo

Original official logo of the Frankfurt Lions

Since the Universe’s inception in 2007, they have played through the division system gradually working their way up, always with the biggest fan support and crowds wherever they played.

In 2015, in the German second division, Frankfurt who went undefeated, was the biggest draw in American football in Germany averaging 5,500 crowds at home but an astounding 3,500 at away games.

In other words, everyone wanted to see them play.

Now finally, they have reached their goal, to play in Germany’s top division. Their plans go beyond that according to club president Michael Schwarzer:

“We had to be careful with our calculations and expectations for the upcoming season but because of the current ticket sales (we already reached the number of season tickets from last season) we are very confident to reach the same level of attendance as last year. Because of our location, last year’s impressive perfect season and the interest we have attracted from sponsors, we expect to be in the top three when it comes to budget in the whole GFL without having knowledge of any other teams budget.”

Although the team dominated the German second division, they were not able to hold onto to some key imports as quarterback Emanual Lewis opted to play in the new MLFB (which has since folded). However former NFL/CFL/Swarco Raider defensive tackle Brandon Collier has returned which gives the front seven a real boost.

Germany - Frankfurt Universe - McDade practice

Marcus McDade getting ready for 2016 season. Photo: C-Sportspics

Nevertheless head coach Markus Grahn, himself an NFL Europe veteran and former German national team head coach (2005-2007), is confident:

“Our new quarterback, Marcus McDade, is a young and very talented player, with a great upside and physical tools. We have also added linebacker Quade Chappuis, defensive backs Nate Morris and Tyler Stoddard along with receivers George Robinson and Nathan Robitaille as well as running back David Brookfield. Austrian national team players Dustin Illetschko at linebacker and Benjamin Bubik a defensive back have also joined the team.

“We have a young team but we aim to be competitive from Day 1.”

The team has taken it a step further in accommodating the players.

“To avoid cabin fever, the players will be accommodated in single apartments with their own kitchenette,” says Grahn.

Schwarzer is optimistic:

In terms of roster building our staff was very active in the offseason and did a great job of scouting in Germany and Europe and as well on the college level in the US. We were able the recruit some proven GFL veterans from top teams as well as young and highly decorated college players who will be poised to light up the GFL and make a good playoff run in the 2016 season. We aim to make Frankfurt the capital of Amercian Football in Europe again.”

Their first opponent will certainly be a test. The Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns, perennially one of the top teams in Germany, and German Bowl runner-ups the past two seasons will not take the newcomers lightly.

Still and all this is a far cry from playing in Germany’s division 5.

Whether all of this translates to victories on the field remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that the excitement has built around the team. And that they are a welcome addition to the top division in Germany.

Photo credit: C-Sportspics.

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.