Corey Smith, in Germany this spring to play for the Berlin Thunder, has managed to pick up a few scattered snippets of the native tongue. He has found one phrase particularly useful: 'Was kostet das?'
While Smith picked up this little expression for purely practical reasons, it happens to apply to his European tour in larger terms. Is it a valuable tradeoff for the young Tampa Bay Buccaneer, giving up several months of work with his coaches in Tampa to get 10 or 11 weeks of live-action playing time? Will he have a leg up when training camp rolls around, or tired legs?
Was kostet das?
What does this cost?
Smith uses the phrase when he's shopping for meals or souvenirs. He doesn't get much response when he uses the English translation, but he finds most vendors to be accommodating once he's established that first question in German.
"I have learned a few things," said Smith. Every time I go to store I say, 'How much does it cost?' and they usually don't know what I'm talking about. So I had to learn that in German. Then, after I say that, they usually talk English."
Smith has still not put his rudimentary German to much test yet, focusing more on football than sightseeing. After the Thunder, NFL Europe's only undefeated team through the first half of the season, took its first loss last Saturday, Smith became even more single-minded.
"I've just been relaxing my body," said Smith, who is living in a hotel and getting a portion of his meals through the team. "My mind's on football, especially after (last weekend's) game. I've been spending a lot of time in my room, thinking about the next game coming up."
Berlin lost to the Cologne Centurions on a last-minute play last Saturday, as Ryan van Dyke hit Carl Morris with a one-yard touchdown pass as time expired. Smith, who has been the NFLEL's sack leader for much of the season, finished the game with one tackle and, for only the second time all year, no sacks. Since many of his six sacks had come in crucial, late-game situations through the first five weeks, Smith was disappointed that he didn't come up with another big play with the game on the line last Saturday.
"They ended up on the goal line and they threw two fade routes." recalled Smith. "The first one, they called pass interference on it. On the second one, the guy jumped up and got it, and they kicked the extra point to win it. I'm not sure about that call, but there's no point in talking about it now. The game's over."
It was the first time Smith had experienced defeat since coming overseas. While it's hard to equate an NFLEL game with a contest during an NFL regular season, Smith took the loss as hard as he would in the states.
"You prepare to win every week, so when you lose you feel like you prepared for nothing," he said. "It kind of hurts, especially if you think you're a winner yourself. If you care about the sport, you're going to be mad anytime you lose.
"I don't think my game was all that good. It was one of those games where I didn't really contribute as much as I should have, like I'm used to doing. Unfortunately, I couldn't come up with the big play at the end of the game like I'm used to doing."
The Thunder is still tied for first with the Frankfurt Galaxy and still a very good bet to earn one of two berths for World Bowl XII, the NFLEL championship game. That is a goal worth pursuing in itself; in addition, many of the NFLEL's players, like Smith, are after another prize: a spot on an NFL regular-season roster. After the European season ends in mid-June, Smith will return to Florida and rest up for the Bucs' training camp, which ends in late July. Whether his NFL Europe experience puts him ahead or behind his Tampa Bay teammates remains to be seen.
"I don't feel beat up like I'll have any problem in camp, but I feel like I'll need a week or so to recover when I get back," said Smith. "I'm human, I'm not a machine, you know? But I'll be straight. If I had to go right after this, it might be a problem. I'll have plenty of time to get ready for camp.
"I'm still happy with the decision to come over here. Like I've said before, practices are good, but when you get in a game you learn a lot more about conditioning and how to do things at game speed. It's been good for me. I think I've been able to work on my technique at game speed, which is better than practice. So, yeah, it was a good idea."