This post has nothing to do with Georgia football. Or SEC football. Or NCAA D-I football. Or (thank God) the BCS/playoff debate. Or Lane Kiffin, for that matter. Or the NFL, CFL, AFL or any other kind of football one might reasonably expect a reader of this site to be interested in. But it is about football, real American football, in July. I figure that's justification enough for making it the theme of my appearance here on Dawg Sports' Open Mic Week. Besides, MaconDawg told me I had to.
A personal note before I begin: Dr. Dave asked about this earlier in the week, and I declined answering because I felt my answer had some connection with the subject of my own post.
I've been a military dependent (or "Navy brat," if you prefer) my entire life, having been born overseas and living all over the place as a kid and teenager. Growing up I had the distinct privilege of living in two foreign countries and visiting over a dozen more. Our family tried as much as possible to take in the culture of our host nation or the nations we were visiting. We rode elephants in Chiang Mai, watched a sumo tournament in Tokyo, haggled our way through the markets in Istanbul, and sped, swore and threw trash on the freeway like the locals in Naples (just kidding -- we didn't do any of that).
We've been around. Which made it sort of disconcerting when, in 2004, my dad was posted to a position at the Naval Supply Corps School in Athens, Georgia. (To our military friends the announcement always went: "Yeah, we're moving to Athens . . . Georgia.") The South, and Athens in particular, provided as much, if not more, culture shock than our previous assignment, which was Yokosuka, Japan.
Soon to be all that remains of the Navy School in Athens . . .
But like any other place we had lived, Athens afforded its own unique cultural activities to partake in. I'd never had any interest in any sport, football or otherwise, when I arrived in Athens as a sixteen year-old. In 2005 I was offered a chance to attend a Georgia home game with my dad and a friend of the family. I wavered, but ultimately, as my mother reminded me, I couldn't live in Athens, Georgia and not attend a football game there. It would be like living in Paris and never visiting the Louvre, or living in Cairo and never seeing the pyramids at Giza. I mean, it would be like living in Naples and never having your purse stolen, your car robbed, your neighborhood's water siphoned off by the mafia to be sold to an amusement park, or your house pumped full of ether so thieves could rob you blind while you slept. Basically, a major no-no for cultured travelers like us. So I agreed to attend, with the perspective that it was a "cultural experience" that I had to do if only to say that I had done it.
Long story short: I went. It was the Boise State game. I liked it. I went to another game. I went to college elsewhere, but followed the team. I discovered this site and the rest of the Dawgosphere. Went to more games. And here I am, four years later, an addict/"dedicated fan." Go Dawgs.
I decided that explanation was appropriate for this post, because the theme of "cultural experience" remains the same. Who knows? Soon my allegiance may be split between the South's finest college football program and Baden-Wuerttemberg's finest semi-pro football team . . .
The genesis for all of this was this post by MaconDawg about elite recruit Duplicate Duplicate. My response to that post pretty much explains the context for this, but I'll summarize. I discovered there was an American football club in Berlin. I discovered their team, the Alder, was part of a semi-pro German Football League. I found out there was a team, the Scorpions, in the city where I reside, Stuttgart. I found out they were playing a home game in two weeks' time, on the 4th of July. I was determined to go. MaconDawg insisted on a report and pictures. My problem of what the heck to write for my spot on Open Mic Week was solved.
This is the report, though the picture's aren't all that hot. You can deal, I suppose.
The Fourth of July in Stuttgart was warm, sunny, and not too humid. This was an excellent sign, since the weather around here has been pretty finicky. The game started at six, which gave me most of the day to worry about what would go wrong. I had attempted to assemble a group out of my six or so tenuous accquaintences here, but nothing really worked out, so my awesome and estimable sister agreed to accompany me.
Your intrepid international sports writer, reppin' the G.
Getting to the stadium was actually pretty simple: after navigating out of the forested hills where we reside to the south of Stuttgart proper, it was just a quick jaunt down the highway to Degerloch, the location of the Scorpions' home field, Gazi Stadion (pronounced with a hard "tz" in Gazi and a "Sh" in Stadion). Parking was limited but turned out to be no obstacle, thanks to my sister's keen ability to locate empty spaces.
To get to the entrance we had to walk through what looked like the remnants of a party over a finished Fussball match. (Like us Americans, the German's are smart enough to give soccer its own name -- just a transliteration of "football" using their own word for "foot" -- which leaves football, or usually American football, intact.) Tickets were ten Euro apiece (about $14 each).
Though "stadion" translates to "stadium," we weren't really in much of a stadium. If you look at the official photo below, we were on the small side -- we being home fans, away fans, everyone. A couple hundred people were there, about as many as might show up to a decently attended high school game (I went to a tiny high school so I'm using my imagination here).
Like a high school game, the attitude in the stands was pretty relaxed. Though I didn't see many kids, there were plenty of teenagers and twenty-somethings. The crowd definitely skewed young. There were some people wearing Stuttgart Scorpions shirts (my sister and I bought a pair after the game) but also just lot of people just in shorts and t-shirts, chilling with a Bier or Pepsi (our team's major sponsor). We walked past a guy in Hawai'i jersey and hat on the way to our seats; he was looking elsewhere so no kind of altercation, verbal or otherwise, took place.
There were cheerleaders, of course, though they represented the Red Poison Cheerleading squad, whose relationship vis-a-vis the Scorpions program I'm not sure of, since their website suggests they participate in cheerleading competitions and other functions. (I can respect cheerleading as a viable sport in the US, but in Germany? At least in America it maintains some sort of cultural cachet to lend it respectability, but I really wonder what would drive a German woman to participate in that kind of totally foreign and, from an objective standpoint, silly, activity.) My sister spent more time watching them than I did (not being a football fan herself and having made a selfless sacrifice in deciding to accompany me) and made some (not exactly complimentary) comparisons to high school squads she had seen.
The seating area was covered, although there was already a shade line at 6:00, which we managed to find seats above. As the game wore on, though, and the sun sank, we were staring pretty much straight into it for much of the second half and would have been pretty miserable if a cloud bank hadn't come to our rescue. (This also would not have been that big of a deal if I had not forgotten my sunglasses.)
As the game began, things proceeded pretty much as they would at any football game -- high school, college, pro -- in the U.S. There was only one tunnel to emerge from, and the two cheerleading squads had to join forces to give the players a respectable entrance to run through. The Longhorns emerged in navy blue and silver and were followed by the Scorpions in red and white. The captains met at midfield for the coin toss, and then the Longhorns kicked off to the home team.
I'm sure a complete statistical and strategic breakdown wouldn't really interest anyone, but I feel guilty that, as a person who had no interest in football whatsoever prior to about age 17, I'm still picking up plenty of X's and O's and most football strategy beyond the most basic goes right over my head. Postings like Chris' at Smart Football might as well be written in Korean, for all I can glean from them.
This is what I can say. As you might expect out of a semi-pro league, both teams were pass-first in offensive orientation. Stuttgart opened up much of the first half with a empty backfield, employing five wide receiver sets or 4 WR with a tight end. By the middle of the second quarter they had moved to one and two-back sets, which they stuck with for the duration of the game. As far as I remember, they played exclusively out of the shotgun for the duration of the game.
Likewise, the Longhorns played out of a one-back shotgun formation for most of the game. They did mix it up with a few snaps from under center -- one a QB draw for a big gain -- but like the Scorpions stuck mostly with the pass.
Defensively, Stuttgart showed a 4-3 base while Weinheim played out of the 3-4. . . . Um, yeah, that's all I've got there.
As you should have guessed from the post title, this one was a rout. The Scorpions made 22 first downs to the Longhorns' 12, and Stuttgart accumulated 370 total yards to Weinheim's 174. Though the Longhorns made 2 of their 3 fourth-down conversions, while the Scorpions were 0 for 2, they managed but a single third down conversion out of ten attempts while the Scorpions converted over half theirs, going 6 for 11.
In the end, this game really came down to the quarterback play, in a positive sense for Stuttgart and a negative sense for Weinheim.
Stuttgart's quarterback, #4 Ira Vandever, is an American expatriate, a former four-year starter at Division I-AA Drake University from 1999 to 2002, where he set school records for career total offensive yardage, career passing yardage, career completion percentage, and career touchdown passes. He found his way to Stuttgart and appears to be their star player, having already led the team to an appearance in the German Bowl, the GFL's championship game. At 5'8" and 185 lbs (according to the team's official stats) he was quite visibly smaller than most other players on the field. But he was a dynamo, going 10 for 21 for 228 yards and 4 TDs, plus tacking on an additional 84 yards on the ground. Neither QB was sacked, but there were defenders in our backfield on plenty of plays, so Vandever's agility and elusiveness in dodging the much larger rushers kept quite a few Scorpion drives alive.
Meanwhile, #7 Shawn McBrayer of the Longhorns wasn't having so great a day. Like Vandever he avoided being sacked, and also like the Stuttgart QB he was under pressure quite often, but he didn't seem to respond very well. He went 15 of 32 for a 153 yards, but threw three picks that really killed the Longhorns' offense. The first two came in the first half, both in scoring positions: the first from the Stuttgart 24, the second from the Stuttgart 14. A third interception and a lost fumble in the fourth quarter stifled any chance the Longhorns had at generating points on offense.
Stuttgart goes for the PAT after their fifth and final touchdown.
Aside from a missed PAT, it was a perfect game for the Scorpions. I'm not quite sure how it will carry them in the standings, but if they win again today against Munich they should keep themselves in playoff contention.
On the field things played out in a way that would be familiar to any American football fan, but what transpired in the stands was a little different. Unlike high school or college games, there was no band, so it was popular music that came through the loudspeakers: an unbroken stream of American pop. It was rather amusing if at times somewhat offensive (Kid Rock's desecration of "Sweet Home Alabama"; I don't even know what the song's name is) or ostensibly inappropriate ("Girls Just Want to Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper).
One of my favorite parts was when the announcer would say something (in German, of course; this is my guess) to the effect of, "O.K., crowd, remind me of the score!" This prompted the following exchange:
Announcer: "Stuttgart Scorpions?"
Crowd: "Siebenundzwanzig!" ("Twenty-seven!")
Announcer: "Weinheim Longhorns?"
Crowd: "Null!" ("Zero!")
Announcer: "Danke." ("Thanks.")
Crowd: "Bitte." ("You're welcome.")
(They did this after every score and it took me four repetitions to figure out what was going on.)
Of course the ubiquitous Wave was present for post-score celebrations (although in Stuttgart it seems customary to hold your arms out and do some spirit fingers in preparation for It).
German fans quite keenly understand the concept of cheering for a football game: cheer or clap mildly only after your own team makes a play on offense; hoot, holler, scream, roar, whistle and howl like a lunatic for as long as the opposing offense has possession. For this secondary purpose, the heckling of the opposing offense, the German fans seem to have adopted a rather unique noisemaker. While I can make no judgment on it's effectiveness on the actual players, I can attest that my sister and I, at least, were made intensely uncomfortable.
I never actually saw one of the things since most of the people using them -- both our fans and theirs -- were sitting directly behind us. But I can describe the sound: it was sort of like a deep kazoo, as if someone constructed a bugle out of its same acoustic principles. Basically, it was annoying as heck and kept our ears ringing (the people behind us were really enthusiastic) so I've posted a video below to give you an idea of what we were dealing with.
Weinheim Longhorns @ Stuttgart Scorpions, 07/04/09 (via ifmercyfalls)
It took me awhile to acclimate to the idea of real football in Germany. I've been here since last November and up until now have regarded myself as residing in a sort of arid wasteland of "footy" and such Old World nonsense. I cannot say what a boost it was to my morale to discover that there was football, real football, being played here in this foreign land. In July, no less.
Football in America really is unique to our country. They say baseball is America's sport, but it's played all over the world; it's quite big in Japan. Basketball had an American origin, but you can go all over the world and find basketball hoops of some kind set up. But football is pretty much unique to United States -- Canada seems to be the only other country in which it has caught on to a significant degree, and they even change the rules up there.
So it was fascinating to me to see football adopted, even if only on a quasi-pro level, here in the heart of Europe. And it wasn't just the sport that was adopted, it was the culture of the sport, or at least parts of it. There were cheerleaders, of course. But it went beyond that; it was fascinating to me how many English terms got carried directly over into the German game: the announcer used "interception," "turn over," "defense line," "T.O." (for time out), and others that I know I've forgotten. The Scorpions' website even has a page dedicated to explaining the concept of "tailgating." For the Germans, I suppose, it was all part of the package, a slice of exotic culture aus Amerika.
The Degerloch TV Tower, a Stuttgart landmark, is directly adjacent to the complex where Gazi Stadion resides.
So what did I take away? Mainly just the surprise and appreciation that what I had always considered such an American sport could be taken up in a foreign country. It was a great experience, to participate in something fundamentally American amidst a crowd of people who were entirely German. It wasn't a life-changing experience, but it was definitely special.
. . . Or maybe it's just that as long as I'm in Germany, I get football in July. Chew on that, suckers.