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Happy birthday to NFL Europe

Jack Bicknell has been in NFL Europe from day one.

THE NFL Europe League celebrates its birthday today, marking the 10th anniversary of the first game played between the Frankfurt Galaxy and London Monarchs on Saturday March 23, 1991.

During the first game of what was then known as the World League, London recorded a 24-11 victory. Other Week 1 action saw wins for Barcelona, Montreal, Sacramento and Orlando.

Leading Barcelona into their inaugural game a day later on Sunday March 24 was head coach Jack Bicknell, who is now preparing the Dragons for the 2001 NFL Europe League campaign.

As the Dean of NFLEL head coaches, Bicknell spoke to NFLEurope.com about the development of the league over the past 10 years.

"The standard has risen so much over these past 10 years and much of that is due to the involvement of the NFL," Bicknell said. "You can really see the difference at quarterback and offensive line. In those days the quarterbacks weren't of the calibre of the ones we have now.

"Having said that, guys like Scott Mitchell and Brad Johnson came out of those early days. There were some good quarterbacks in the first year but not every team had one. But now I have three quarterbacks from the NFL and they are all very good - I would be happy with any one of them as my starter."

La'Roi Glover was one of Bicknell's personal favourites.

Bicknell's first Dragons team was one of the league's best. They advanced to World Bowl '91 before suffering a 21-0 shutout at the hands of the Monarchs.

"It was a lot of fun in that first year and we really had a good group," Bicknell said. "I remember that first game against the New York/New Jersey Knights and it was raining about as hard as it gets. I've since realised it doesn't rain like that very often in Barcelona.

"My players were really into the games for the sake of playing football - it was more of a college environment."

As Bicknell prepares for his ninth season in charge of the Dragons, he seems as happy as ever to be out on the practice field twice a day in the Florida sun.

"Every year I have enjoyed this experience," Bicknell said. "People keep asking my why I've stayed in the same place for so long and I tell them: 'Because I've enjoyed it so much.'

"These players come in and they really want you to help them. We are here to help them achieve their goals."

Bicknell has many fond memories of his time in NFL Europe but also has some funny tales to tell. Things were not exactly perfect away from the field in 1991.

Bicknell explained: "If you couldn't roll with the punches when going to another country to play football you would have quit after the first week. "The first time we went to dinner as a team in Barcelona the first 15 guys ate all the food they had prepared for the entire squad. The guys preparing the food had no idea how much offensive linemen could eat because they had never worked with a pro football team before.

"Our first set of team shirts also had to be thrown out because someone washed them when the water was too hot and they all stuck together. "But as the years have passed you train people to understand your needs and things work well now."

Bicknell, who has won one World Bowl (1997) and appeared in two others (1991 and 1999) also took the time to discuss some of his favourite players from the past 10 years.

"Demetrius Davis was the first guy I really loved coaching," Bicknell said. "Here was a tight end who nobody wanted and no one could cover the kid. He just dominated the league as a tight end and I have amazing memories of that.

"I have also had so many good quarterbacks - Kelly Holcomb was a personal favourite of mine, as was Jon Kitna. Lawrence Phillips was also a real good kid when he was with us.

"Then we had a guy like La'Roi Glover. He came into camp and no one had ever heard of him and he never spoke to anyone - now here he is the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year with New Orleans.

"When I turn on the TV every weekend and watch an NFL game I always see three or four guys we have coached and that makes you feel good because you know you've helped them get to where they're at."

The Galaxy were also celebrating their 10th anniversary on Friday and were presented with a cake by more than 50 fans who made the trip from Germany to Tampa for NFLEL training camp.

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