German Football League
|Current season, competition or edition:
2018 German Football League
|No. of teams||16|
|Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns|
|Most titles||New Yorker Lions (11)|
The German Football League (GFL) is the elite league for American football in Germany and was formed in 1979. Playing rules are based on those of the American NCAA. In 1999, the league switched its name from American-Football-Bundesliga to German Football League.
The GFL is partitioned into north and south conferences, each with eight teams. In each conference, every team plays against every other team of its own conference, both at home and away. Until 2011, each team also played home and away interconference games against the team from the opposing conference that finished the previous season on the same rank. However, this was abandoned with the league expansion to 16 teams. After the end of the regular season, four teams from both conferences enter the playoffs, to determine the German championship. The winner of a conference plays against the 4th place team of the other group, second against third of the other conference. The final is called the German Bowl. The lowest ranked team of each conference plays against the winner of the second division, and may be relegated if they lose.
The league had been expanded from 12 to 14 teams for the 2011 season. It further increased the number of teams to 16 in 2012.
Below the GFL sits the GFL 2, formerly the 2nd Bundesliga, which was formed in 1982. It is also divided into a northern and southern division, with eight teams in each. For the 2011 season, both the northern and the southern champions are promoted, while the runners-up of the two divisions will play the last placed team in the GFL division above for another spot in the league in 2012.
For most of its history, the GFL has been divided into a northern and southern division. Only in 1979 was it played in single division format, while, from 1986 to 1990, it was divided into four regional divisions.
As of 2010, the Munich Cowboys have played more GFL games than any other team, 335, followed by the Berlin Adler with 312, the only other team with more than 300 league games. The Cowboys have played 29 out of a possible 32 seasons at the highest level of the game in Germany, more than any other club.
The history of American football in Germany, outside the US Army bases in the country, began in 1977, when the Frankfurter Löwen were formed as the first club to play the game in Germany. At first, this team was only able to play US Army teams, lacking German opposition. The formation of the league dates back to a German TV interview with Alexander Sperber, son of a U.S. Army soldier and German mother, which created enough interest to form a number of teams and the league, referred to as German-American Football League. In March 1979, the AFBD, the American Football Federation of Germany (German: American-Football-Bund Deutschland), was formed, the first of its kind in Europe. This organisation, in 1982, was replaced by the AFVD, the American Football Association of Germany (German: American-Football-Verband Deutschland).
In 1979, the American-Football-Bundesliga, later to be renamed the German Football League, was formed, consisting of six clubs, the Frankfurter Löwen, Ansbach Grizzlies, Düsseldorf Panther, Munich Cowboys, Berliner Bären, and Bremerhaven Seahawks. Of those six, the top two teams would contest the first ever German Bowl on 10 November 1979. The first-ever league game was held on 4 August 1979, played between the Frankfurter Löwen and the Düsseldorf Panther, and ended in a victory for Frankfurt.
The league saw a split in its second and third season, with Düsseldorf and Bremerhaven leaving the competition to take part in a separate, short-lived competition, the Nordwestdeutsche Football Liga – NFL. By 1981, the Bundesliga was expanded to two regional divisions of seven clubs each. The early years of the league were dominated by two teams, Frankfurt and Ansbach, who met each other in the first three editions of the German Bowl. Of those, Frankfurt won the first two, remaining unbeaten in 1979, and Ansbach the last. The era of the Frankfurter Löwen was hereby ended and the club went defunct in the mid-1980s, while the Ansbach Grizzlies continued to be an outstanding team, playing in all of the first eight German Bowls. Unlike the first season, play-off semi finals were played in 1980 and 1981 to determine the two German Bowl contestants. From 1982, the play-offs were enlarged to include a quarter final round as well.
Ansbach vs Düsseldorf era
The 1982 season, which saw Ansbach repeat its title, remaining unbeaten all season, this time against the Cologne Crocodiles, saw an increase of clubs to fifteen, including the two break-away clubs Düsseldorf and Bremerhaven. After that, the era of the Düsseldorf Panther versus Ansbach Grizzlies rivalry began, with the two teams meeting in the next four finals. Of those, the team from Düsseldorf won the 1983, 1984 and 1986 editions, while the Grizzlies earned their third championship in 1985. With the Panthers in 1983 and 1986 and the Grizzlies in 1985, both teams were able to win the title without a loss all season. With the 1986 final, the golden era of the Ansbach Grizzlies ended and the club disappeared out of the top level all together by 1991.
League expansion 1986 to 1990
From 1986, a wild card round was introduced in the play-offs, taking the number of teams in the play-offs to twelve. The league had now expanded to 24 teams, divided into four divisions. Two of those were in the north, one in the south and the fourth one in Central Germany.
The 1987 German Bowl saw two completely new teams compete against each other, the Badener Greifs making their only appearance in the championship game to date, while the Berlin Adler won their first of, as of 2016, six national championships. Both teams went into the German Bowl without a defeat all season. In 1988, Red Barons Cologne defeated the Düsseldorf Panther in the final, while, from 1989 onwards, the Berlin Adler became the first team to win three championships in a row, all against teams from Cologne. The Adler also managed to remain unbeaten in 1989 and 1990 and only suffered one defeat in 1991, at home against the Cologne Crocodiles. After the 1990 season, the play-offs were reduced to eight teams again, dropping the wild card round, a system still in place as of 2010. The league, which had peaked at 26 clubs in four regional divisions in 1990, was reduced to the two-divisional format, with eight teams per division.
Düsseldorf Panther era
The Panther earned their fourth title in 1992, defeating the Munich Cowboys, which, in the following year, won the championship themselves, against Cologne Crocodiles, who suffered their fourth defeat in their fourth German Bowl. Munichs title in an undefeated 1993 season was to be the last occasion for the next twelve years that a team from the South would reach the final, and the last time until 2011, that a team from the South would win the championship. The Bundesliga and the German Bowl were from now on dominated by the North. After the 1993 season, still contested with 16 clubs, the number of clubs was gradually reduced further. In 1994, 14 clubs in two divisions of seven competed in the league, from 1995, the division strength was reduced to six. For the next 16 seasons, six teams per division was the set number, with occasional seasons going underway in reduced strength because of late withdrawals. Also, an inter conference round was introduced in 1994, with teams from different divisions now meeting for the first time during the regular season.
In 1994 and 1995, the Düsseldorf Panther once more won the German Bowl, with the second title won against a new force in the game in Germany, the Hamburg Blue Devils. In 1996, the Blue Devils then reversed the fortunes and defeated the Panthers in the final.
Braunschweig Lions vs Hamburg Blue Devils era
The most dominant era of any team in German football begun in 1997, when the Braunschweig Lions reached and won the German Bowl for the first time. The Lions would play in every one of the next twelve German Bowls, up until 2008, and win seven of those. Their first title, in 1997, was won against the Cologne Crocodiles, who were now five out five in German Bowl defeats. The following six seasons, the final was contested by the Lions and the Blue Devils on five occasions, with the Lions winning in 1998 and 1999, while the Blue Devils won 2001, 2002 and 2003. Only in 2000 did neither of those two win the Bowl, instead, the Cologne Crocodiles finally reversed their fortunes and won a championship in their sixth attempt. In between, in 1999, the Bundesliga was renamed to German Football League. In 2002, the league also lost its longest-serving founding member, the Munich Cowboys suffering relegation for the first time, alongside another one of the "original six", the Düsseldorf Panther, who had however missed the 1980 and 1981 seasons because of the league split.
Braunschweig lost a fifth final in a row in 2004, when the Berlin Adler won their first title in 13 years. After this, the Braunschweig Lions set a new record, winning four German Bowls straight, beating four different teams in the finals. In 2005, the Blue Devils were once more the opposition, followed by two southern teams, the Marburg Mercenaries in 2006 and the Stuttgart Scorpions in 2007, in an unbeaten season for the Lions. The seventh title for the Lions came in 2008, against the new force of the Kiel Baltic Hurricanes.
Kiel also played in the 2009 final, losing to the Berlin Adler, before finally being successful in 2010 and winning their first title against the same team.
In 2011, the league season has been expanded from 72 to 98 games because of the enlargement of the league. It also saw the end of an 18-year title drought for the south, when the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns defeated Kiel 48-44 to take out the national championship for the first time.
For the 2012 season, the Mönchengladbach Mavericks, runners-up in the northern division in 2011, were refused a licence, leaving an extra spot in the league which was awarded to the Lübeck Cougars. The Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns repeated their 2011 success and once more defeated the Kiel Baltic Hurricanes in the German Bowl, becoming the first team from the south to win back-to-back championships since the 1982 Ansbach Grizzlies.
The 2013 season saw a return to northern dominance with all four southern teams knocked out in the quarter finals and the German Bowl contested by the revived Braunschweig Lions, now as the New Yorker Lions, and the Dresden Monarchs who made their first appearance in the championship final, with the Lions winning their eighth German Bowl in a close 35-34 game with the only turnover coming with the last play when Dresden was driving down the field for a potentially game winning score.
The 2014 season began with the withdrawal of the Hamburg Blue Devils before the start of the season, leaving the northern division with only seven clubs. In the north Braunschweig won another division title with a perfect season while the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns won the southern division for a fourth consecutive time (who then went on to beat Kiel and Dresden in the Playoffs to reach the final). The 2014 German Bowl was contested by the two division champions with Braunschweig taking out their ninth title with Schwäbisch Hall only scoring a Field Goal until the fourth quarter. The Lions won their ninth German Bowl victory with the highest-ever winning margin, defeating the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns 47–9.
The 2015 season played out similar to the previous edition with both Schwäbisch Hall and Braunschweig winning their division before advancing to the final where Braunschweig prevailed once more, this time by a more narrow 41-31 margin.
Success in American football in Germany and at the German Bowl differs hugely between the clubs from the northern and the southern division, with the south, as of 2015, only winning eight German Bowls and the north the remaining 29. Similarly, southern clubs have only made 20 appearances in the Bowl, while northern clubs have appeared 54 times. After the first three German Bowls, the final was never again contested by two southern clubs. Since the end of the golden era of the Ansbach Grizzlies in 1986, southern clubs have only made nine appearances in the championship game and suffered a championship drought from 1993 to 2011. From 1993 to 2006 no southern team reached the German Bowl, with twelve consecutive finals played without southern participation. On five occasions no southern team progressed beyond the quarter finals. In 1989, 1995, 1996, 1999 and 2013 all four semi-finalists came from the northern division.
The disparity is also documented by the inter conference games held from 1994 to 2011 between the northern and southern divisions. Of the 190 games played in this era, the north won 140, almost 75 percent, the south only 48 while two were drawn:
|1994||North – South||12||9||0||3|
|1995||North – South||12||10||0||2|
|1996||North – South||9||7||0||2|
|1997||North – South||0||0||0||0|
|1998||North – South||10||8||0||2|
|1999||North – South||10||10||0||0|
|2000||North – South||9||6||0||3|
|2001||North – South||12||9||0||3|
|2002||North – South||12||9||0||3|
|2003||North – South||12||6||0||6|
|2004||North – South||10||8||0||2|
|2005||North – South||10||4||0||6|
|2006||North – South||12||8||0||4|
|2007||North – South||12||9||0||3|
|2008||North – South||12||9||1||2|
|2009||North – South||10||10||0||0|
|2010||North – South||12||10||1||1|
|2011||North – South||14||8||0||6|
|Overall||North – South||190||140||2||48|
- Awarded games not counted.
Restrictions on foreign players
As a sign of the strong influence of Americans in the game in Germany, upon formation of the Bundesliga in 1979, there was no restriction on how many foreigners a team could field. The only stipulation was, that every team had to field a minimum of three German nationals at any time. Soon, this changed, and the allowed number of foreigners on the field for a team at any given time, in this case specifically, Americans, was reduced to five.
In 1982, this number was reduced to four, in 1983 to three and, by 1986, only two were allowed on the field for a team at any given time.
In November 2010, a new Bundesspielordnung, the rule book of American football in Germany, was published. One major change was that the sport now placed citizens of European Union countries on equal footing with German nationals, meaning, restrictions on the number of these players per team on the field were now not in place anymore. However, the restrictions on non-EU nationals remained in place, unless those players could prove that they had spent at least three years playing for a youth team in the sport in Germany.
For the 2011 season, a club can sign up up to ten non-EU players, have six of those on the line-up for any given game but only two of those on the field at any given time. These restrictions are specifically in place for US, Canadian, Mexican and Japanese citizens and, on request, exemptions can be made for players from countries without established structures in the sport. This rule is designed to prevent an advantage to the wealthier clubs, who could otherwise recruit a large number of players from the traditional American football countries.
|New Yorker Lions||Braunschweig||Eintracht-Stadion||25,500|
|Cologne Crocodiles||Cologne||Sportpark Höhenberg||6,214|
|Kiel Baltic Hurricanes||Kiel||Kilia Platz||5,500|
|Hamburg Huskies||Hamburg||Stadion Hammer Park||2,000|
|Hildesheim Invaders||Hildesheim||Eintracht Homefield|
|Potsdam Royals||Potsdam||Sportpark Luftschiffhafen|
|Frankfurt Universe||Frankfurt||Frankfurter Volksbank Stadion||12,542|
|Kirchdorf Wildcats||Kirchdorf am Inn||Inn-Energie-Arena||2,500|
|Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns||Schwäbisch Hall||Optima Sportpark||2,200|
|Stuttgart Scorpions||Stuttgart||Gazi-Stadion auf der Waldau||12,000|
German Bowl participants since 1979:
|17||New Yorker Lions‡||11||6||.647||1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017|
|9||Düsseldorf Panther||6||3||.667||1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996|
|8||Berlin Adler||6||2||.750||1987, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1994, 2004, 2009, 2010|
|8||Hamburg Blue Devils||4||4||.500||1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005|
|8||Ansbach Grizzlies||3||5||.375||1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986|
|7||Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns||4||3||.571||2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017,2018|
|6||Cologne Crocodiles||1||5||.167||1982, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1997, 2000|
|5||Kiel Baltic Hurricanes||1||4||.200||2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012|
|3||Frankfurter Löwen||2||1||.667||1979, 1980, 1981|
|2||Red Barons Cologne||1||1||.500||1988, 1989|
|2||Munich Cowboys||1||1||.500||1992, 1993|
- † Bold denotes German Bowl victory.
- ‡ Known as the Braunschweig Lions from 1987 to 2010.
GFL season placings
|New Yorker Lions||2||2||1||1||1||1||1||1||2||5||4||6||6||1||1||1||1||1||1|
|Kiel Baltic Hurricanes||4||6||6||3||1||2||1||1||1||3||4||3||3||2||6|
|Hamburg Blue Devils||5||1||2||2||4||2||2||4||4||7||6|
|Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns||4||4||3||2||2||3||3||5||1||2||1||1||1||1||1||1||1||1|
|Rhein Neckar Bandits||2||4||7||7||8|
|Plattling Black Hawks||5||3||7|
|Rhein Main Razorbacks||2||3||1||1|
|GFL Champions||GFL Runners up||Divisional champion||Play-off participation|
- In 2000, the northern division consisted of only five clubs.
- In 2004 and 2005, the southern division consisted of only five clubs.
This is a list of the winners of the regional divisions of the GFL. A record 14 divisional titles were won by the New Yorker Lions, while the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns hold record for division titles in the south, nine. The Ansbach Grizzlies still have won the secondmost titles in the south, seven, despite not having competed in the league since 1990:
|1980||Frankfurter Löwen||Hanau Hawks|
|1981||Frankfurter Löwen||Ansbach Grizzlies|
|1982||Cologne Crocodiles||Ansbach Grizzlies|
|1983||Düsseldorf Panther||Ansbach Grizzlies|
|1984||Düsseldorf Panther||Ansbach Grizzlies|
|1985||Düsseldorf Panther||Ansbach Grizzlies|
|Year||North A||North B||Central||South|
|1986||Düsseldorf Panther||Berlin Adler||Badener Greifs||Ansbach Grizzlies|
|1987||Düsseldorf Panther||Berlin Adler||Badener Greifs||Noris Rams|
|Year||North A||North B||South A||South B|
|1988||Düsseldorf Panther||Berlin Adler||Bad Homburg Falken||Ansbach Grizzlies|
|1989||Red Barons Cologne||Berlin Adler||Badener Greifs||Noris Rams|
|1990||Düsseldorf Panther||Berlin Adler||Badener Greifs||Munich Cowboys|
|1991||Berlin Adler||Noris Rams|
|1992||Berlin Adler||Munich Cowboys|
|1993||Cologne Crocodiles||Munich Cowboys|
|1994||Berlin Adler||Munich Cowboys|
|1995||Düsseldorf Panther||Hanau Hawks|
|1996||Düsseldorf Panther||Noris Rams|
|1997||Hamburg Blue Devils||Hanau Hawks|
|1998||Braunschweig Lions||Stuttgart Scorpions|
|1999||Braunschweig Lions||Rüsselsheim Razorbacks|
|2000||Cologne Crocodiles||Munich Cowboys|
|2001||Hamburg Blue Devils||Munich Cowboys|
|2002||Braunschweig Lions||Rhein Main Razorbacks|
|2003||Braunschweig Lions||Rhein Main Razorbacks|
|2004||Braunschweig Lions||Marburg Mercenaries|
|2005||Braunschweig Lions||Marburg Mercenaries|
|2006||Braunschweig Lions||Marburg Mercenaries|
|2007||Braunschweig Lions||Stuttgart Scorpions|
|2008||Kiel Baltic Hurricanes||Marburg Mercenaries|
|2009||Berlin Adler||Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns|
|2010||Kiel Baltic Hurricanes||Marburg Mercenaries|
|2011||Kiel Baltic Hurricanes||Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns|
|2012||Kiel Baltic Hurricanes||Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns|
|2013||New Yorker Lions||Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns|
|2014||New Yorker Lions||Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns|
|2015||New Yorker Lions||Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns|
|2016||New Yorker Lions||Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns|
|2017||New Yorker Lions||Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns|
|2018||New Yorker Lions||Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns|
European Football League participation
Since the inception of the Eurobowl in 1986, German clubs have taken part in the competition in most seasons. In most cases, the German Bowl winner of the previous season was qualified. In some seasons more than one German club took part in the competition. On ten occasions clubs from Germany have won the Eurobowl. The participations of German clubs at the European Football League and, since 2014, in the BIG6 European Football League:
|1986||Ansbach Grizzlies||Lost QF: Birmingham Bulls (18–29)|
|1988||Berlin Adler||Lost SF: Amsterdam Crusaders (28–29)|
|1989||Red Barons Cologne||Lost SF: Legnano Frogs (15–49)|
|1990||Berlin Adler||Lost SF: Manchester Spartans (33–35)|
|1991||Berlin Adler||Lost EB: Amsterdam Crusaders (20–21)|
|1992||Berlin Adler||Lost QF: Torino Giaguari (13–35)|
|1993||Düsseldorf Panther||Lost Qual.: London Olympians (29–32)|
|1994||Munich Cowboys||Lost SF: Bergamo Lions (18–25)|
|1995||Düsseldorf Panther||Won EB: London Olympians (21–14)|
|1996||Hamburg Blue Devils||Won EB: Aix-en-Provence Argonautes (21–14)|
|Düsseldorf Panther||Lost QF: Aix-en-Provence Argonautes (27–28) a.e.t.|
|Berlin Adler||Lost QF: Legnano Frogs (13–45)|
|1997||Hamburg Blue Devils||Won EB: Phoenix Bologna (35–14)|
|1998||Hamburg Blue Devils||Won EB: La Courneuve Flash (38–19)|
|Braunschweig Lions||Lost SF: Hamburg Blue Devils (14–24)|
|1999||Braunschweig Lions||Won EB: Hamburg Blue Devils (27–23)|
|Hamburg Blue Devils||Lost EB.: Braunschweig Lions (23–27)|
|Rüsselsheim Razorbacks||Lost Qual.: Prague Panthers (21–26)|
|Cologne Crocodiles||Lost Qual.: Bergamo Lions (17–41)|
|2000||Hamburg Blue Devils||Lost EB: Bergamo Lions (20–42)|
|Cologne Crocodiles||Lost SF: Bergamo Lions (56–62) a.e.t.|
|Braunschweig Lions||Lost QF: Cologne Crocodiles (15–24)|
|2002||Braunschweig Lions||Lost EB: Bergamo Lions (20–27)|
|2003||Braunschweig Lions||Won EB: Chrysler Vikings Vienna (21–14)|
|2006||Braunschweig Lions||Knocked out in group stage|
|Hamburg Blue Devils||Knocked out in group stage|
|2007||Marburg Mercenaries||Lost EB: Dodge Vikings Vienna (19–70)|
|2008||Stuttgart Scorpions||Lost QF: Graz Giants (9–24)|
|2009||Braunschweig Lions||Lost QF: Tirol Raiders (7–35)|
|Berlin Adler||Knocked out in group stage|
|2010||Berlin Adler||Won EB: Vienna Vikings (34–31)|
|2011||Berlin Adler||Lost EB: Swarco Raiders Tirol (12-27)|
|Kiel Baltic Hurricanes||Knocked out in group stage|
|2012||Berlin Adler||Lost SF: Vienna Vikings (7–34)|
|Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns||Lost QF: Vienna Vikings (13–25)|
|2013||Berlin Adler||Lost SF: Vienna Vikings (17–41)|
|Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns||Lost QF: Calanda Broncos (28–42)|
|2014||Berlin Adler||Won EB: New Yorker Lions (20–17)|
|Kiel Baltic Hurricanes||Won EFLB: Badalona Dracs (40–0)|
|New Yorker Lions||Lost EB: Berlin Adler (17–20)|
|Dresden Monarchs||Knocked out in group stage (Big6)|
|Cologne Falcons||Knocked out in group stage (EFL)|
|Düsseldorf Panther||Knocked out in group stage (EFL)|
|2015||New Yorker Lions||Won EB: Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns (24–14)|
|Kiel Baltic Hurricanes||Won EFLB: Allgäu Comets (49–28)|
|Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns||Lost EB: New Yorker Lions (14–24)|
|Allgäu Comets||Lost EFLB: Kiel Baltic Hurricanes (28–49)|
|Berlin Adler||Knocked out in group stage (Big6)|
|Marburg Mercenaries||Knocked out in group stage (EFL)|
|2016||New Yorker Lions||Won EB: Swarco Raiders Tirol (35–21)|
|Frankfurt Universe||Won EFLB: Amsterdam Crusaders (35–21)|
|Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns||Knocked out in group stage (Big6)|
|Berlin Adler||Knocked out in group stage (Big6)|
|Kiel Baltic Hurricanes||Knocked out in group stage (EFL)|
|Hamburg Huskies||Knocked out in group stage (EFL)|
|2017||New Yorker Lions||Won EB: Frankfurt Universe (55–14)|
|Frankfurt Universe||Lost EB: New Yorker Lions (14–55)|
|Berlin Rebels||Knocked out in group stage (Big6)|
|Berlin Adler||Knocked out in group stage (EFL)|
|2018||New Yorker Lions||Won EB: Frankfurt Universe (20–19)|
|Potsdam Royals||Won EFLB: Milano Seamen (43–42)|
|Frankfurt Universe||Lost EB: New Yorker Lions (19–20)|
- Qual. = Qualifying round
- QF = Quarter finals
- SF = Semi finals
- EFLB = European Football League Bowl
- EB = Euro Bowl
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