Road Tripping with Austria’s Swarco Raiders: Wroclaw, Poland Edition

Sean Shelton is the quarterback for Austria’s defending champion Swarco Raiders. He has kindly allowed AFI to republish his recent blog post on a road trip to Poland to play the Wroclaw Panthers.

Going on long road trips for international games are some of my favorite experiences as a Raider. The whole team and staff travel in 4 tour buses, broken up by position groups. These tour buses consist of a full kitchen, a bed for every person and two living rooms with TVs, video game consoles and surround sound. I think traveling in this manner is a unique experience that only Raiders get to have within the American Football community in Europe.

Raiders players dedicate 4 nights a week to football and play in a league where it is illegal for them to get paid, so trips like this are one way to compensate them for their hard work and there are few things better than spending hours with your teammates with nothing to do, especially when coming home from a victory.

The itinerary for our weekend game against the Polish champions, the Wroclaw Panthers, in Poland, was straight forward: leave Tirol late Friday morning, get to Wroclaw late Friday night, sleep, breakfast, meetings, go to the stadium, play, head home. Meeting at the buses on Friday morning is always exciting for guys. For veteran players maybe not as much, but we have a lot of players that have never traveled like this, so it was like Christmas morning. Everybody finds out what bus they are on and then proceeds to compare their bus with the other three to deem which one is the best (although they are all very similar). I was on the offensive line bus which was very enjoyable. It is nice to spend all day with the guys devoted to protecting me on a daily basis, even with all the gas being passed, if you know what I mean. We talked, listen to music, played video games, watch some movies, and we still were in Germany. It was about a 12 hour drive when it was all said and done, but a comfortable one at that.

Photo credit: Fotografia Architektury Maciej Lulko

Saturday was gameday and everyone treated it as such. We knew that we were going to be playing a tough team in their first game in a beautiful stadium, so we had to bring it. The Wroclaw Panthers are the defending Polish Champions and IFAF Champions League Champions and from everything that we saw on film, it looked like they reloaded for another run at the title for this season. I was very excited about going to Poland to play a game because I have heard from several imports that Polish American Football is growing in skill level and popularity. So I had high expectations and boy did the Panthers deliver.

The atmosphere was good and the Panthers were really good. They came out hot and jumped up to a 13-3 lead. It was such a good game for our young team to play in because that just usually doesn’t happen to us, and the fact that we were able to regroup and come back to a 24-20 halftime lead showed a lot of character and maturity from our youngsters. I mean, we had a 16,17 and a 18 year-old playing on the offense in the second half. We eventually came out of the game with a victory and with a lot of respect for the Wroclaw Panthers. They are on the rise, especially for only being a club since 2014. Good luck for the rest of the season and everyone be on the lookout for them in the future.

Photo credit: Dawid Szulc Photography

Now the bus ride home. This is what everybody looks forward too, maybe as much as the game itself. I am not going to give details about what happens but I am sure you can imagine the shenanigans that occurs when you have 12-16 teammates together on a luxury buses, coming home from a big win, with plenty of refrigerator space. My night consisted of being kidnapped by the defensive line/linebackers. It wasn’t so bad, they are nice guys for the most part… I could’ve done without being drug out of my bed at 2:30 in the morning but it could’ve been worse too. Simple people those DL/LBs are… I love them though.

We arrived back home at around noon on Sunday, several of us just starting to feel the extent of our bumps and bruises. Everyone pulls their stuff and themselves together to go home and rest for the next few days until we start all over again for the next weeks opponent.

I still play because of trips and games like this one. It is the essence of everything I love about football. Working hard for a game, spending a ton of time with the people you work hard with, playing a really tough game, and then celebrating a good win. It is perfect.

Read the original blog post.