German Bowl Week: Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns Italian Connection

The Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns will be facing a bitter opponent Saturday in German Bowl XXXVIII when they take on the defending champion Braunschweig New Yorker Lions. The Lions have beaten the Unicorns in the last two German title games and also in last year’s Eurobowl final.

For the Unicorns, who won back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012 and reached the final three years running, this game will go a long way to proving how good they really are. They have not been defeated so far in Germany this season and boast one of the highest scoring teams in the league.

Like the New Yorker Lions Dutch connection, Schwäbisch Hall has a foreign connection of its own. Three Italian national team players have been helping the Unicorns to their undefeated season. Although not all born in Italy, defensive back Cody Pastorino, linebacker Brian “Bruno” Michitti and Niklas “Niko” Knoblauch (Italian name Suppa) form the Italian Connection for the Unicorns.


Cody Pastorino #6 making one of his 99 tackles

Needless to say, head coach Siegfried Gehrke is happy to have them on the team.

“Niko and Brian (nicknamed Bruno, of course) have been great to have on the team. They both played in the European B championship for Italy this summer. Cody went to camp with the Italians and played in the friendly game against France, but didn’t play in the tournament because we needed him for our game vs. Frankfurt that weekend

Pastorino who is American of Italian heritage has been an important cog in the Unicorns defense for the past three years. His team-leading 99 tackles placed him in the top 20 in Germany to go along with four interceptions and two sacks.

He acquired his Italian citizenship because his great, great, great grandfather never relinquished his when he emigrated to the United States.

I received my Italian Passport in early February of this year after working on it for the past year or so. My family was originally from Finalborgo, a small town on the northwest coast about an hour from Genoa.


Brian Michitti recovering a fumble

On playing for the Italian national team:

It was an amazing experience representing Team Italia in our friendship game against France. It something different when playing for a country and not just a team. Unfortunately due to scheduling conflicts I was unable to play in the recent B group tournament. It was incredibly difficult to watch the tournament and not be able to participate, but I am hoping I will get the chance to play for Blue Team in the upcoming game against Denmark and the ultimate goal of the European Championship in 2018.

The 5’11”, 195 lb Michitti, at 33, is one of the veterans of the Unicorns. He has been with the club since 2009 and is the anchor of the secondary. A graduate of Hanover College in Indiana, Michitti was named Defensive MVP in 2011 helping the Unicorns win the German title that season.


“Niko” Knoblauch closing in

Michitti is well aware of the significance of this game:
“We are well prepared this year and from what I can see and feel we have really come together as of lately—we have our swagger back but we need to go out and perform to the best of our abilities one more time. I want to win this German Bowl as bad as any of the previous appearances, and this one has a special meaning as I feel that I am playing for my brothers from the Blue Team as well. The experience from the Blue Team was fantastic and it gave me a new shot of energy in the middle of the season.”
 At 21, Niklas Knoblauch is the youngest member of the “Italian” trio. The 5’10”, 200 lb native of Holzgerlingen, Germany who also plays on the Italian national team has dual German/Italian citizenship and was sixth on the team in tackles with 53 but also recorded 11 tackles for loss.

So with the New Yorker Lions Dutch quartet and the Italian trio playing for the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns, there would seem to be a great deal at stake.

Not only the coveted German Bowl trophy but some pretty important national bragging rights too.

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.