DE Matt Sweeney finished his first NFLEL season with four sacks, but his Amsterdam Admirals failed to qualify for the 2001 World Bowl
Last summer, two Tampa Bay-Buccaneers-allocated players played central roles in the NFL Europe League's championship game, the 2000 World Bowl. Aaron Stecker, Scottish Claymores' running back, rang up 92 rushing yards and 113 total yards of offense, continuing the efforts that made him the NFLEL Offensive MVP. However, Stecker's fellow Buccaneer, cornerback Deshone Mallard of the Rhein Fire, turned in a critical fourth-quarter interception to seal the Fire's 13-10 victory.
On Saturday, Rhein and Scotland faced each other again, in the final regular-season week of the 2001 NFLEL season. The Claymores gained a measure of revenge with a 34-21 victory over the Fire, but that result, combined with Berlin's 34-28 victory over Amsterdam on Sunday, means neither team will get a chance to defend its World Bowl berth. Instead, Berlin will take on the Barcelona Dragons on Saturday, June 30.
That combination of victories also eliminated all of the Tampa Bay-allocated players from this year's World Bowl, in effect giving P Andrew Bayes, G Wilbert Brown, WR Chris Daniels, WR Eddie Hardaway, G Kendell Mack, TE Randy Palmer, CB Terrence Parrish and DE Matt Sweeney an extra week off before the Bucs open training camp.
Of course, the eight Bucs overseas were focusing more on a championship-game berth than a little R&R last weekend. The only one of Tampa Bay's eight on the first-place Dragons squad, which wrapped up the first World Bowl berth weeks ago, is Daniels, who has not played a down due to a neck injury. In addition, Bayes, Brown and Parrish of the Frankfurt Galaxy and Mack and Palmer of the Claymores had already seen their teams eliminated from competition.
Sweeney and Hardaway, however, went into the weekend with a chance to help their teams secure the second World Bowl berth opposite Barcelona. Sweeney's Admirals, who came into the final weekend with a 4-5 record, needed some help and got it on Saturday when the Claymores put out Hardaway and the Fire. Hardaway, Rhein's leading pass-catcher, recorded a season-low one reception for four yards as starting QB Phil Stambaugh left the game in the second quarter after completing just four of 14 passes and taking three sacks.
That left Rhein, the defending champs, at 5-5, a mark that Sweeney's Admirals could tie on Sunday if they beat the 5-4 Thunder and forced a three-way knot for second. Sweeney did his part early, sacking Berlin QB Jonathan Quinn for an eight-yard loss early in the second quarter, apparently stalling a drive that had reached midfield. However, a defensive holding penalty on Amsterdam on third-and-15 revived the drive and Berlin eventually finished off a nine-play, 62-yard touchdown drive that gave the visitors a 17-0 lead.
Amsterdam did manage to rally for 21 unanswered points to take a brief lead in the fourth quarter, but the type of offensive resiliency described above eventually turned the tide for the Thunder. For instance, Quinn was sacked for a nine-yard loss on Berlin's first offensive play of the game, but the very next snap resulted in an 82-yard Quinn-to-Madre Hill touchdown pass. Later, after Berlin had reclaimed the lead in the fourth quarter but had just a six-point cushion, Quinn was sacked again, setting up a third-and-ten just inside Amsterdam territory. On the next play, Quinn delivered another long scoring pass, this one a 42-yarder to WR Ahmad Merritt that sealed the Thunder's victory.
And so, as the 2001 regular season came to an end Sunday afternoon, Berlin was the only one of the three contending teams to finish with a 6-4 record, rendering a confusing string of tie-breaking procedures unnecessary. It also left the defending champion Fire – and all eight Buccaneers – on the sideline for the 2001 World Bowl.
Those Bucs who were chasing an NFLEL championship ring will now abruptly re-focus on a new goal: a spot on Tampa Bay's final roster.