The World League of American Football, an immensely better attraction in Europe than the United States in its inaugural season, will have a distinctly European flavor Sunday in the World Bowl.
The London Monarchs and Barcelona Dragons, the best teams in the WLAF during the regular season, will play for the title before an expected crowd of more than 80,000 at London's Wembley Stadium."In my eyes this game is every bit as big as a Super Bowl," said London Coach Larry Kennan, who reached the 1984 Super Bowl as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Raiders. "Even more so, because we just put our team together three months ago and now we are on the brink of a championship."
The WLAF couldn't have asked for a better matchup. The European Division was easily the best in the league, with the Monarchs winning the division title with a 9-1 record. The Dragons earned the league's wild-card playoff berth with an 8-2 mark.
London reached the World Bowl by beating the New York-New Jersey Knights 42-26 in the semifinals, while Barcelona defeated the Birmingham Fire 10-3. The Dragons were the only team to beat the Monarchs this year, ruining London's perfect record on the last day of the season.
"I'm happy that we will have the chance to play the Dragons again," Kennan said. "They were the only team to beat us, so I think our team will have a lot of incentive to get the job done on Sunday. We don't have any excuses for losing to them the first time. They just beat us plain and simple."
London averaged 31 points a game during the season and quarterback Stan Gelbaugh was named the league's Most Valuable Offensive Player after throwing for 2,655 yards and 17 touchdowns.
The Monarchs' offensive line, nicknamed "The Nasty Boyz," allowed just 10 sacks during the regular season while the defensive line, called the "Sack Pack," averaged 5.6 sacks per game.
The Dragons, quarterbacked by former Rutgers star Scott Erney, led the WLAF with a plus-12 turnover ratio in a league where turnovers were frequent. The Barcelona defense forced six turnovers last week against Birmingham.
Erney has been impressed at the enthusiasm of the fans throughout the season, even though they knew virtually nothing about the intricacies of the game they were watching.
"I went into it with an open mind," Erney said. "I knew I was going into a country where soccer is the No. 1 sport and always will be. But they supported us tremendously. In our first game we played New York in the pouring rain and 20,000 fans were screaming their lungs out at the game. They were just as loud as 40,000 at games in the states.
"They're a different type of fan. They stay until the end of the game. They look at it as more of a form of entertainment than Americans do. They aren't nearly as knowledgeable as the American fan but they're there until the end and they support you all the way."
Even though the American public has been slow in taking to the NFL-sponsored farm system, Kennan said the opportunity to play for a championship generates the same feelings among players and coaches.
"When you get the chance to play in the top game at any level, the stakes are always high," Kennan said. "I feel the same way I did in 1984 when I was with the Raiders and we played the Redskins in the Super Bowl in Tampa. You are only thinking about one thing - victory."
League officials said Sunday's game was a sellout, which would surpass the 61,946 that witnessed the first Super Bowl between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs in 1967.