Why NFL Europe is dying
It is no secret that I have not exactly been a fan of NFL Europe over the past 12 years. No, that's not really true actually. I have always believed that the league has a place in the gridiron world and does a great many good things for being there, I just really have a problem with people who cannot see the wood for the trees and believe it to be something it is not.
Leaving aside the latest misguided campaign to bring the London Monarchs back (two hopes and Bob's in Vegas), NFL Europe has a real problem right now that could see the league ending at the culmination of 2003. And that problem is the 32 NFL teams. For the simple fact is that now none of them take it seriously. They say they do being politically correct, but be honest for a minute, name me an NFL coach who has allocated anyone decent to the 2003 season?
The first couple of seasons of the re-launched NFL Europe saw some fairly decent players come over the Atlantic. The Bucs sent Casey Weldon, the Vikings sent Brad Johnson, and decent passers found themselves behind center in Europe. But look at the state of the 2003 allocations. Unless you are a serious anorak, you won't have heard of any of the players who will be throwing the ball badly for 11 weeks this spring.
Tampa Bay have sent nine players to NFL Europe this year. Eight of them were signed as free agents the week before they were allocated and the ninth, Buck Gurley, was on IR for most of 2002. The words "effort" and "token" spring to mind. But this is not to knock the Bucs. Every other team has done the same. Because no coach wants to risk sending a potentially valuable player away for nearly four months to what they consider the other side of the world.
And none of those potentially valuable players want to come to Europe either. I wrote a piece for The Tampa Tribune last June in which Nick Halling made a very good comment about every back-up quarterback in the NFL being very happy where they are holding a clipboard and waiting for the starter to get hurt. What honest reason could a No.2 QB have to come to NFL Europe? They would have to learn a new offense, a new system and work with new players. Unless they absolutely play lights out, they are going to do themselves more harm than good. So they stay at home.
The No.3 QBs are kept in America because the coaches want them to learn the offense and work with other back-ups on the roster. Out of sight, out of mind. Players are scared they are going to be forgotten if they come across the Atlantic. Joe Hamilton only played for Frankfurt last year because he knew he would be No.4 on the depth chart and needed some game film to show other teams in a bid for another job in the NFL. He got hurt and now is on the gridiron dole queue.
Don't get me wrong, I want NFL Europe to succeed. Most fans now treat it as a good day out and a chance to meet other fans of their favourite sport. But no decent QB has come out of the league in four years (Kurt Warner was a one-off and more QBs have come from Arena ball than NFL Europe) and no other decent skill position player has ever come out of the spring league. The only players who do are occasional offensive lineman, defensive back-ups and special teams players. Tony Taylor was one of the best backs in the 2002 season for the Rhein Fire and just about held a job on the Bucs' practice squad in 2002.
So in a month's time, the 2003 Claymores will kick off at Hampden Park and it will keep a small contingent of fans on this side of the Atlantic happy for three months until the World Bowl is completed. But do you honestly think that much notice is going to be taken by the people who really matter in the NFL, the coaches and front office types? If you do, then I am afraid you are as deluded as those people who think Aaron Stecker is ever going to be more than a minimum salary back-up on the Buccaneers.
Paul Stewart, March 2003