If you didn’t already know, american football is currently being played all over the world. There are multiple levels, age groups, and even women teams on every continent in the world, except Antarctica(but does that really count?). I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to have a short career of American football in Europe. I won’t bore you with my entire life story, but I will share my initial experience in Europe.
March 2011 I was doing what most Americans do after college, working. One afternoon I received a call from one of my previous high school coaches, Neal Calip. I remember the conversation vividly, as it changed my life forever.
“Hey Vincent, you know they looking for you?” This was the opening sentence, not a “hi” or “how are you”, but a very vague question that I had no way of answering correctly. The rest of the conversation went something like me asking him what the hell he was talking about and who was looking for me. The coach then explained the situation to me. An old college buddy of his was coaching an American football team in Switzerland and wanted me to play for him. Now I’m from Texas and mama didn’t raise no fool, so I had plenty of questions that needed to be answered: where is Switzerland? who is this college buddy? how did you get my number? how does he know about me? As you can imagine I was overwhelmed with the whole situation. Coach Calip then explained that my childhood friend Chaz Thompson was playing on the team and had recommended me to the coach. Chaz played college football at the University of Louisville at the same time I played at a small Division I-AA school named Stephen F. Austin State University (AXE EM’), and had kept in touch with me throughout the years. Apparantly he sold me to the coach and they were trying to figure out how to contact me.
After a brief Skype chat with the head coach Dwaine Wood, I awaited my plane ticket and began the steps to getting a passport. Within a week I had a brand new passport, an itinerary to Switzerland, and quit my job! Of course I did all the necessary soul-searching during this time as well. I spoke to my mother, family & friends, and prayed very hard about the decision to uproot my life and pursue whatever was awaiting for me in Europe. Being 24 years old at the time everyone told me to go for it, live my life, and enjoy the opportunity at hand! The only person who had a difference of opinion would be my at-the-time girlfriend who saw me leaving for 3 months as a disruption to her lifestyle. Two weeks after that initial phone call, I was headed to Bush International Airport in Houston, Texas with two duffel bags worth of clothes and my laptop. Twenty-one hours later, I arrived in Europe for the very fist time.
No welcoming party, no cheerleaders, no big fuss, just coach Wood waiting for me at the gate. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but a one on one ride with the head coach day one seemed a little intense. As we drove from the airport in Zürich, Switzerland to the city of Basel, coach explained to me the ins and outs of my present situation. “You will be rooming with three other Americans. I suggest you hang out with Jacob. He is a great guy and doesn’t cause any trouble at all. Be careful with Clinton he is a handful and sometimes doesn’t do things correctly here. And of course your buddy Chaz will be around but he isn’t living with you guys.” All I could think was, who is this Clinton guy and how do I avoid him! We grabbed some food at a burger joint before heading to my future home.
I arrived at my “flat” sometime in the middle of the day. I honestly can’t remember the time, but I will never forget the fact that I was dead tired from the time change and wanted to sleep so badly. My new roommates Jacob and Clinton welcomed me and we went outside to play coach with the ol’ pigskin. I was informed that the best way to beat the jet lag was to stay up during the day and be dog ass tired so I could sleep at night and get on schedule with the European time zone. Sounded reasonable to me and I was loving the sunny but not hot weather in this foreign country. We tossed the ball for a few hours and talked the usual new guy jargon: where you from, where did you play, how did you get here, this is what its like here, this is why we are all here, etc. Next thing I knew the sun was setting and I was pooped. We ate dinner and I was off to bed, damn time flies when you fly!
Next day was the real experience of Europe, why I was there in the first place, to play american football. I get fitted for some equipment and jump right in with my teammates both foreign and domestic. First thing I noticed was that I was MUCH faster than these Swiss guys. Next thing I noticed is that no one told them I was American! I didn’t really speak to anyone, just joined in the drills and did my thing. It was great making plays with my friend Chaz like we were back in Texas City as kids. I was having a great time playing the game I loved. After the practice I talked to my new teammates and the cat was out of the bag that I was indeed American and that explained so much about my skills.
I’m not tooting my horn, but I had an AMAZING season! With my arrival the Basel Gladiators went 8-2 to finish the season on the way to a Swiss Bowl loss to one of the best teams in Europe at the time, the Calanda Broncos. As a two-way player I played pretty much all game every week as the running back, kick returner, and shut down corner back. I even expanded my roles sometimes and played some safety, wide receiver, and quarterback.
In terms of football, playing in Switzerland was fun and not very difficult for me. As I stated earlier I was much better than the local players, so practice was mostly a formality (There was only two or three practices a week) before the games. The game is where money was made! Every week I had the opportunity to play against different americans from various regions of my native country. My film doesn’t lie, I held my own and consistently won my import vs import match ups. I will give credit to the Calanda Broncos’ DJ Wolfe for being by far the best player I had ever played against and thoroughly out playing my team and myself the two times we met. Also there was a great running back by the name of Chris Markey who played for the Zürich Renegades and impressed me even though his team was less than successful because of the talent he had around him.
As a very competitive person of course I only saw these “other” americans as my weekly competition, but there were ties to be made outside of the gridiron. My friend Chaz Thompson was much better than me at networking with Americans playing in Europe and kept me updating on who was playing where and doing what. I usually spoke a few polite words to my competition and left it at that. Since that first season I have been much more open to the networking process of the sport with other americans in similar situations. This networking is one of the key reasons that my overseas career continued after my time in Basel.
If you have ever played american football you know one thing: Football is Football. No matter the country, time zone, surface, etc. if you can ball, you can ball. But can you deal with the other factors outside the sport? That’s what I found out quick, fast, and in a hurry!
This post will not be the beginning of my memoirs, so I will be as specifically vague as I can be without leaving too much to the imagination. I was 24 years old, in Europe, with tons of time on my hands, I did what any red-blooded American would do on that situation: I partied like there was no tomorrow.
From my experience Swiss people worked hard so they could party even harder. Beginning every Thursday night through Sunday night there was always some party or event to attend. From club hopping in the red light district of Zürich to just hanging out at St. Jakob swimming pool, there was always something to do. Of course me basing my life on the
whole “yolo” when Drake was still Jimmy from Degrassi, I never turned down an opportunity to have a good time. Now if you think at some point I’m going to say that it all went down hill, you are dead wrong! Swiss people have a different type of responsibility than what I have come to know in my American ways. When someone said they were going to be at a place at a certain time, that’s what time they were there. When it got late and trains stopped running you could see people walking the streets being marry with everyone and never see a fight get started. Was it the American fun I was accustomed to? Hell no, but it was a safe place to experience some wonderful things and great people. If you had the chance to see the world and play the greatest sport ever invented, would you do it? I did, and if I had to do it all over again I wouldn’t change a thing.