A few days after the loss in Bergamo, the Panthers were still disgusted with the thought that the Lions would return to the Super Bowl. Nevertheless, we trudged on. There was still reason to play: plenty of it. Friday afternoon we would be headed to the capital of Deustchland to face the Berlin Adler. (Google search Adler: basically a German Eagle.) Anyways, our spirits were high as we boarded our plane. The team got its first real taste of playing "professional football:" flying to the game a day early, meals provided (Thank God it wasn't prosciutto and cheese), card games and meetings.
An 8 o'clock(ish) kickoff would allow for plenty of time to relax throughout the day. Exactly what we didn't do. Instead, our own German, Mirko Kunnel, led us to a bus tour of the city. Berlin is enormous; high rises were scattered, but its the actual amount of area Berlin covers that's incredible. History looms on every corner. The Holocaust Memorial, Reichstagg, and countless other government buildings were beyond impressive. Bullet holes still riddled the walls around each window; an ominous reminder of the battles that took place and lives that were lost. What about The Wall? Plaques and photographs mark the points where the wall once stood. Otherwise, it looks as if it never existed except for one small portion that remains roped off. My search for a sledge-hammer rental turned up unsuccessful and I resorted to merely a kick, but that wall was happy I wasn't around when it was brought down. Right. All-in-all Berlin is a beautiful, welcoming city . . . with a few pretty funny words. (Ausfahrt, Einfahrt: Entrance, Exit)
We also played a football game. However, there isn't much to tell about that. Corey Mazza, the American wide-receiver from Harvard, suffered a broken heel during the previous game. Losing his presence in the offense meant the passing game was in the hands of our Italian receivers. They played exceptional, yet Berlin's defense showed why it was the best in their league. Defensive ends rushed hard, linebackers were in throwing lanes and safeties seemed to be over the top of everything. Were we playing Canadian rules (12 men) and didn't know it? Not likely. We managed to get close to a score a few times in the first half, but missed field goals. The Adler returned the favor and the score was knotted at 0.
The second half turned sour. Berlin's size and youth proved to be a bit too much for us. They began knocking off long runs and even longer passes. Our men played hard, but the Adler were just too much. They scored 4 times, including two with less than 5 minutes remaining in the game. The final: 29-0. The offense never could muster up more than a few consecutive good plays. The post-game fireworks were the only ones our side saw all night. We did our best to forget the loss and enjoyed another night in Berlin. Headed home in the morning, the realization that it was over set in for everyone. As the bus made its final stop in Parma hugs and "thank-you's" were all but short-lived.
Final thought: The phrases "something I'll never forget" and "once in a lifetime" come to mind, but those are much too cliched for the uniqueness of this experience. I was blessed with the opportunity to play the sport I love with a group of men that play football strictly because they love the game as well. The friendships we built in less than two months were as strong as many that I've been working on for years. These guys were welcoming, funny, hard working, hard smoking, and above all else, always ready to help out a friend. I will never be able to say enough about this group, but I will promise that their spirited friendships will never be forgotten. Neither will their gelato.