Veteran coach Jim Criner was asked to take on the head coaching duties for Team Nordic in International Bowl IX at At&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas in a single game against the Team USA Under 19 Selects. The team was made up of players from four different countries, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland. Although Team Nordic lost the game 48-13 to a USA team containing some of the best high school football players in the nation, they came away with their heads held high. This is Jim’s chronicle.
By Jim Criner
One month ago I received a phone call from Lars Carlsen of Denmark about a dream come true concerning the combining of players from Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland, to be coached by the coaches from those same countries. He told me the basic format behind the idea and ask me to serve as the Head Coach. After long consideration and careful through, I accepted the position. I have traveled in the Nordic Countries and have great respect for the hard working people, attitude of the players that I have worked with, and love of the beauty in all four countries, of which I have many special memories.
Lars assigned me the responsibilities of getting the offensive and defensive playbooks together and educating the coordinators, who in turn contacted the assistants, supplied them with the playbooks, assigned their coaching positions, and we talked constantly about everyone’s responsibility and role they would play in each days practice schedule. Everyone, including players, flew in on Sunday January 7th. We had a limited staff meeting due to the hour and went over the practice schedule. However, we were short 15 players and 3 coaches, stranded by weather in England and New York. Everyone got acquainted Monday morning (8th) and a couple of players and 2 coaches came in.
The next day (Tuesday) we had to make adjustments for the traffic going from hotel to the field because it was taking 30 minutes one way providing there was not much traffic. We decided to stay at the practice field, have a snack and rest for 40 minutes, then practice again. We served a hot lunch after the second practice, then bused back to the hotel so the players could rest and clean up. This gave us good meeting time and a “walk thru” to review and teach.
Wednesday brought another nice surprise – temperatures dropped to 23 and the wind was blowing 20 to 35 MPH. This continued through Thursday with stronger winds.
That evening the remainder of the team and final coach joined the team. We now had the entire team and only 2 more days to get them caught up. Coaches and players focused and worked hard, with only one more day to do any heavy work. We utilized “walk thru” teaching 3 times per day to make sure everyone knew their assignments. Wednesday morning we were able to have some speed practice, using a “thud” tackle to protect everyone, and we had to cancel the scrimmage originally set for Wed. PM because we had to make sure everyone could get the assignments and timing down, as well as in several cases just make sure they knew the systems. Wed. was the first day of practice for the 15. The last coach to arrive was our special teams coach and we had to put time into bringing them up to the offense and defense.
Thursday was just a helmets day of practice. We went to the field for our usual morning practice, but cancelled the afternoon workout because of the weather and had longer walk thru sessions in the afternoon, gave the players a chance to get off their feet and start to recover. The wind was still “howling”, and the temperature was still in the sub 30’s.
Through this all, the players and coaches maintained a strong attitude toward getting ready for the game with a focus and commitment that was impressive.
We arrived at the Dallas Stadium by bus, went about our business of getting ready, then pre-game warm up and back to the locker room. As coaches we could see the intent look on their faces, but the nervousness was also there.
We won the toss and chose to defer and kick off. We were nervous and started slow, allowing the USA team to jumped off to a 2 TD advantage, they got another score in the second quarter and we had not scored, but were settling down
The coaches made some adjustments , talked to the players and went out for the 2nd half, and were starting on offense. With a good return on the kickoff the offense started playing with more confidence. The defense started making plays and forced punts on the next 2 possessions. The offense drove about 75 yards for their first score. The players were making plays all over the field on defense, gang tackling and matching the skill players on the USA team vs run and pass. The offense was controlling the line of scrimmage and moving the football with some consistency.
Except for a punt snap that sailed over the punter’s head and gave the USA team another score. The Nordic Players out hit the USA players, and returned the ball for a 90 yard touchdown on that kick off leaving USA players laying all over the field.
We were an entirely different team in the second half. If this team would have had a better chance to prepare it would have been a well matched game. The final score of 48-13 would not have been indicative of what actually transpired.
I was very proud of the players the way they finished and stepped up their aggressive play. It is also a real tribute to the way they learned the responsibilities of the systems in an amazingly short time while practicing in really bad weather (cold and wind). Aside from a delay of game penalty, an offside, and an illegal substitution penalty, the game moved on fairly smooth.