Yet, it’s more than just the sport; it’s also about the human connection. During the season, these athletes have found a second home here. They’re not only part of the team but also an integral part of the local community. The players have settled into apartments in Düsseldorf, shop in the city, enjoy meals at the many restaurants supported by Fire’s sponsors, and pamper themselves at Clayton, our hotel partner’s SPA, alongside other guests. In doing so, they naturally engage in conversations with the locals. Wide Receiver Nathaniel Robitaille, now in his second season with the NRW team, explains, “We’ve had countless wonderful interactions, not only with the fans but also with other people we’ve connected with. It’s incredibly enjoyable and helps us feel truly at home in Germany.”
The fans hold a special place for their “imports,” the top players with American citizenship. Coach Tomsula reflects, “We encounter immense kindness and hospitality here. We are a unified family. I was a coach at Fire back in 2006, and I cherished the fans then. My family and I wouldn’t have considered returning to Rhein Fire if we hadn’t felt so welcomed at that time. Together with the fans and those who recognize us, we form a close-knit community, and that’s what makes the interaction between different nations so meaningful.”
General Manager Tom Aust adds, “The strong bond between our nations also characterizes our excellent relationship with the political sphere. In sports, we recognize our social responsibility, but we don’t view it as a burden; instead, we carry it in our hearts.”
U.S. Consul General a Regular Guest at Home Games
This fact is underscored by the regular presence of Consul General Pauline Kao at the home games of the team from the European League of Football.
Aust remarks, “It is an honor for us every time to welcome Consul General Kao, and we are delighted when she cheers on our team during the games. Her warmth serves as an additional inspiration for us to further deepen the already excellent relationship of German-American friendship.”
Deeply Rooted in NRW
The depth of Rhein Fire’s connection to North Rhine-Westphalia is evident in many aspects. For instance, home games, which consistently drew nearly 10,000 spectators in the past season, are held at the Duisburg Schauinsland-Reisen Arena.
Equally significant is the composition of the roster. Both the more than ten German coaches and the over 40 national players exclusively hail from North Rhine-Westphalia, underscoring their strong ties to our state.
Great Sporting Success
Following the first season with a record of seven wins and five losses in 2022, Head Coach Tomsula set the goal of contending for the title – and backed it up with actions. With a flawless record of twelve wins in twelve games, the team breezed through the preliminary rounds, defeating arch-rival Frankfurt Galaxy in the semifinals. The crowning achievement came in the final, as Fire dominated the Stuttgart Surge with a score of 53-34, claiming their first European League of Football championship. Completing an entire season undefeated was an unprecedented feat in the ELF’s history. It had only happened once in the National Football League over 50 years ago when the Miami Dolphins accomplished the same feat in 1972.
As an additional reward and a great honor, the team was also allowed to enter their name in the Golden Book of the state capital, Düsseldorf.
In the future, the leaders of Rhein Fire aim not only to further establish themselves in the country’s elite sports but also to make their presence felt in various other areas, including youth development and social engagement in North Rhine-Westphalia.