The NFL Europe League's twelfth season will come to an explosive and thrilling conclusion when the Berlin Thunder (9-1) and Frankfurt Galaxy (7-3) meet in World Bowl XII in Gelesenkirchen, Germany, on Saturday evening. While the pre-game entertainment will be provided by more than 300 pirates battling on the field at Arena AufSchalke in Die Nacht der letzen Schlacht (The Night of the Last Fight), it is the Thunder and Galaxy who will provide the fireworks when the action gets underway. World Bowl XII will see the two highest-scoring teams in NFL Europe go head to head for glory and both clubs have a chance to make history in the title game. Berlin can tie for the most wins in World Bowl history (three, by Frankfurt in 1995, 1999 and 2003), if they can defeat the Galaxy in their third World Bowl appearance in the past four seasons. Frankfurt will play in a record sixth World Bowl and will be looking to emerge victorious for a fourth time. Viewers in more than 150 countries will follow the World Bowl action on television, with the game reaching an estimated audience of 200 million. In the US, FOX will air World Bowl live for the ninth straight year.
Rookie coaches looking forward to World Bowl XII showdown
While their teams have had berths in World Bowl XII booked since Week 8, it is only now - with the regular season complete - that rookie head coaches RICK LANTZ and MIKE JONES are turning their attention to this weekend's title showdown in Gelsenkirchen. Thunder head coach Lantz guided his team to a World Bowl berth in Week 7 - making Berlin the earliest qualifiers under NFL Europe's current format. And in Week 10 he saw his team match the league's all-time best record when a 41-0 victory against the Galaxy gave them a 9-1 mark for the season. 'I just wish I could have put some of those points in to the bank for World Bowl because it is going to be a different game. We have beaten them twice - now we need to go on and make it three weeks out of four. I think that we will be focused. "We are very excited to be playing for all the marbles against the Galaxy and we badly want to beat them. I am glad my players are in a position to win a championship because they deserve it. I have been very proud of the way this team has played." The Galaxy clinched their own spot in World Bowl in Week 8, prompting Jones to say: "The goal of all six teams heading into the season is to reach the championship game. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen for four teams, so we are excited to be facing Berlin in World Bowl. We are focusing on doing what we have been aiming to do since we came out of training camp - winning the World Bowl." The meeting between Lantz and Jones in World Bowls marks the fist time since 1995 that rookie head coaches have faced off in the championship game. The last rookie coaches to go head to head for the World Bowl trophy were Amsterdam's AL LUGINBILL and Frankfurt's ERNIE STAUTNER.
Third time unlucky again?
Berlin and Frankfurt know that the Thunder's regular season sweep of the Galaxy is far from being a guarantee of World Bowl success. Just the opposite. The last three times a team has played in World Bowl against opponents whom they have beaten twice in the regular season, the tables have been turned. The Thunder were victorious in 2002 and 2001, having been swept by the Rhein Fire and Barcelona Dragons in those respective years, while the Galaxy upset the Dragons in 1999 after losing twice in the regular season - including a Week 10 contest. The 1996 Scottish Claymores, who beat Frankfurt in World Bowl, are the only team in NFLEL history to post three wins over the same team in one season.
NFL Europe's top quarterbacks go head to head in World Bowl
The top two quarterbacks in the 2004 NFL Europe League season - and arguably two of the best ever to grace European shores - will go head to head for all the marbles in World Bowl XII. Berlin's ROHAN DAVEY (New England Patriots) and Frankfurt's J.T. O'SULLIVAN (New Orleans Saints) ended the regular season as the top-ranked passers in the league. Davey compiled a passer rating of 105.9, while O'Sullivan ranked second with a mark of 91.9.
Defense wins championships? Not in the NFL Europe League
The old adage that defenses win championships may be true to some extent in the NFL, but the same cannot usually be said for the NFL Europe League. In the previous 11 World Bowls, only one team has ever won the championship game while boasting the number one-ranked defense in the league (Frankfurt Galaxy 2003). That figure will not increase in 2004 as Frankfurt and Berlin go into World Bowl with the NFL Europe League's fourth and fifth-ranked defenses respectively. Berlin conceded 195 points in 2004, second-highest in NFLEL, but still made it to World Bowl with a record-equalling 9-1 record. In World Bowl history, only the 1995 Amsterdam Admirals, 2000 Scottish Claymores and 2003 Galaxy have qualified for World Bowl with the league's top-ranked defensive unit. Having a top-ranked offense, on the other hand, can result in a World Bowl victory. Berlin head into this game with NFL Europe's top-ranked offense and are the seventh club to go into the championship game rated number one offensively. The previous six clubs with the number one offense have gone 5-1 in World Bowls. Here is how the top-ranked defensive team has fared in the NFLEL/World League, and the defensive ranking of the eventual World Bowl champion.
26 NFL teams represented in NFLEL championship game
Players from a total of 26 NFL teams will compete for World Bowl glory in Germany this weekend. In a season when more than 240 NFL players were allocated to the NFL Europe League, 57 members of the two active rosters are from NFL teams. That is up on last year's figure of 47 NFL players in World Bowl XI. The Kansas City Chiefs lead the way with eight players set to star in the big game, including quarterbacks on both rosters in MARC DUNN (Berlin Thunder) and KIRK FARMER (Frankfurt Galaxy). The Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are next with six players participating in World Bowl XII, including the Thunder QB-WR combination of ROHAN DAVEY and CHAS GESSNER. The Cleveland Browns rank third with four players in the championship game, including three starters on the Galaxy defense in DE COREY JACKSON, LB MASON UNCK and safety RICKY SHARPE. Sharpe said: "We were excited when we found out we were all on the same team because the Browns allocated 12 guys this season. "To have three Browns all starting on the same defense in the World Bowl is a good feeling. It's good to be on the same field at the same time and get experience with each other."
Kleinmann to make record sixth appearance in World Bowl
German kicker RALF KLEINMANN will appear in a league record sixth World Bowl for the Frankfurt Galaxy on Saturday after making it to the final for the second year in a row since coming out of retirement in 2003. Kleinmann played in World Bowls in 1995 vs. Amsterdam, 1996 vs. Scotland, 1998 vs. Rhein, 1999 vs. Barcelona and 2003 vs. Rhein. Kleinmann, who became the third-leading scorer in NFLEL history this season by taking his career points tally to 325, is aiming to win a World Bowl ring for a record fourth time. He says: "The World Bowl ring is what you strive for all season. It makes all the hard work worthwhile. I'm lucky to have won three of them and I would love to add a fourth." Kleinmann holds World Bowl records for points scored (24), and most conversions (15).
Competing teams have enjoyed success at Arena AufSchalke
Both World Bowl teams have already enjoyed a winning feeling at Gelsenkirchen's Arena AufSchalke this season and will be hoping for a repeat performance on Saturday night. The Berlin Thunder came from behind to record a 14-10 victory over the Rhein Fire in Week 4, with QB ROHAN DAVEY throwing a 4-yard touchdown pass to FB ED IEREMIA-STANSBURY and RB ERIC McCOO scoring on a 3-yard run. In Week 9, the Frankfurt Galaxy recorded a 20-14 overtime win over the Fire with QB KIRK FARMER throwing the game-winning touchdown pass to WR DERRICK LEWIS from 32 yards out with 1:03 remaining in the sudden death period. Both clubs have a 1-1 record at Arena AufSchalke as Berlin and Frankfurt lost to the Rhein Fire on the road in 2003. Berlin and Frankfurt will feel comfortable with this year's World Bowl venue as both clubs have won league championships at the home of the Rhein Fire. The Thunder won World Bowl X at the Rheinstadion in Düsseldorf in June, 2002, when they defeated the hometown Rhein Fire 26-20. The Galaxy were also World Bowl winners at the Rheinstadion in World Bowl '99 when they defeated the Barcelona Dragons 38-24 in a game featuring current NFL star quarterback JAKE DELHOMME, who went from a World Bowl winner in Frankfurt to a Super Bowl performer with Carolina in the space of five years.
Pirate spectacular will provide explosive kickoff to World Bowl
World Bowl XII will be about much more than the battle for the NFL Europe League championship. One of the most eagerly-awaited events in the European sporting calendar will once again feature spectacle, pageantry and an explosion of colour. The even has been themed as 'Pirates Paradise' and an afternoon of special events has been planned in and around the Arena AufSchalke to mark the climax of the NFLEL's twelfth season. The program kicks off at 2:00 p.m. - a full four hours before kickoff - when the World Bowl party begins in front of the stadium. An 80-meter long pirate ship will provide the centerpiece of the entertainment. At 5:30 p.m. the pirates will cruise inside the Arena and the field will become the backdrop for hundreds of actors to stage the thrilling pre-game story of 'Die Nacht der letzen Schlacht' (The Night of the Last Fight). Ancient seaman Burk S. Miller will recount the tale of Käpt'n Kick setting free a group of cheerleaders who have been held captive by pirates. The Neue Philharmonie Westfalen orchestra will play a theme from the pirate opera 'The Flying Dutchmen' while 150 cheerleaders will perform 'What shall we do with the drunken sailor?' That will signal the beginning of a wild pirate battle featuring 300 actors, eight cannons and a pirate ship. Fighters will descend from the roof of the stadium and 30 NFL cheerleaders from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will enter the arena. The climax of the pirate pre-game show will be the successful British pop duo Right Said Fred, who will perform their hit 'You're my Mate.' As the smoke clears, a team of six 'base jumpers', representing each of the NFLEL clubs, will parachute from the stadium roof in a spectacular world record attempt.
Galaxy sign four players
The injury-hit Frankfurt Galaxy have signed four new players at the start of the World Bowl week to cover for absentees in the championship game. S CHARLES DRAKE (Rhein), DT THOMAS PITTMAN (Amsterdam), DE BUCK RASMUSSEN (Amsterdam) and Swedish LB JENS PETTERSSON (Scotland) have been reassigned to Frankfurt. The already-weakened Galaxy saw safety CHRIS BROWN suffer a sprained ankle in their Week 10 against Berlin. LB BEN MAHDAVI (Amsterdam) has been reassigned to the Berlin Thunder.
NFLEL head coaches give their verdicts on the title decider
While fans and members of the world's media will spend much of this week debating who they think will win the big game in Gelsenkirchen, NFL Europe League head coaches also have an opinion on how World Bowl XII will play out on Saturday. Amsterdam Admirals head coach BART ANDRUS feels the outcome of World Bowl XII will hinge on the performances of NFL Europe's top-rated passers `- Berlin's ROHAN DAVEY and Frankfurt's J.T. O'SULLIVAN. He says: "I think the game will come down to the play of the quarterbacks. That's probably where you would look first. That's what every Super Bowl comes down to. "And then it's about who can run the ball and I think Frankfurt probably has the edge there. It is going to be an interesting game. I'm not sure what shape Frankfurt is in defensively because they have had some injuries. However, I don't think Berlin's defense is on the same level as Frankfurt's defense when they are healthy." Scottish Claymores head coach JACK BICKNELL expects a game worthy of a championship showdown when he says: "They are two very talented teams and it will be a really good World Bowl. They are clearly the best two teams in the league. I guess a lot of it will depend on whose in the best shape injury-wise when they get to the game."
World Bowl quickie quotes
Berlin QB ROHAN DAVEY: "I expect Frankfurt to come out in World Bowl with a lot of emotion and on fire. We have beaten them twice and that has got to embarrass them as competitors. It should be a tough, hard hitting game for the championship."
Frankfurt head coach MIKE JONES: "We didn't get this far on just luck and hope. We have played some good football. Make no mistake about it, we are going to fight next week to overcome what happened in Berlin."
Berlin TE MIKE PINKARD: "We have to stay focused and stay ready. It was a great win in Week 10 but none of that matters if we don't win next week."