Scotland and Rhein, plus a pair of Buccaneers, will fight for the right to rings such as these on Sunday, June 25
By Sunday evening, one Buccaneer will be a World Champion.
Sure, Super Bowl XXXV is still seven months away, but two Buccaneers will experience the drama of a championship game this weekend when the NFL Europe League stages World Bowl 2000 in Frankfurt, Germany.
The culmination of the eighth season of play for the NFL in Europe, World Bowl 2000 will pit the 7-3 Rhein Fire against the 6-4 Scottish Claymores in Frankfurt's Waldstadion, and it will be televised live in the United States by Fox on Sunday, June 25 at 1:00 p.m. EDT. Tampa Bay fans will have a reason to tune in as each team features a Buccaneer as one of its most crucial players. When they do, they will join a worldwide audience that reflects the league's burgeoning popularity; World Bowl 2000 will be broadcast in more than 80 countries and will reach an estimated audience of more than 200 million people.
The Fire finished with a league-best 7-3 record, thanks in part to the efforts of CB Deshone Mallard. Mallard was voted to the NFLEL's all-league team on Thursday after tying for the Rhein lead with three interceptions and adding 51 tackles and 10 passes defensed. Rhein is in its third World Bowl in the last four years, having dropped the 1997 championship game to Barcelona but returned for a victorious second try over Frankfurt in 1998. Unfortunately for the Fire, the team that finished with the league's best regular-season record has lost four of the last five World Bowls.
The Claymores were right behind the Fire at 6-4 and were led into action each week by RB Aaron Stecker, recently selected the league's offensive MVP. Stecker led his team and the league with 774 rushing yards, was also the team's leading receiver with 36 catches and was able to reach the end zone 11 times in just 10 games. The Claymores, however, were even more successful on defense, allowing a league-low 256.1 yards per game.
The Fire narrowly outscored the Claymores, 279-273, over the course of the NFLEL regular season, but Scotland limited its opponents to just 165 points while the Fire allowed 209. In their two head-to-head match-ups, Rhein won 22-10 in Week Five but the Claymores came back with a 31-24 revenge win in Week Nine. In those two contests, Stecker ran for 162 yards and two touchdowns on 45 carries and added 10 receptions for 59 yards.
Rhein and Scotland went into the league's final regular-season week with identical 6-3 records, but the Fire took the top spot with a thrilling 31-28 victory over Amsterdam while the Claymores were losing their own close game, 28-25, to Barcelona. Scottish Head Coach Jim Criner hopes his team can turn that into a motivating factor.
"If these guys have the character I think they have," said Criner, "the loss could be a positive for us. If I were one of the players on this team I would be thinking about our performance against Barcelona and making sure we didn't play like that in the World Bowl."
The final-week scores for the two championship participants were by no means a pair of flukes. The NFLEL's 2000 regular season was marked by an incredible run of close games. Of the league's 30 regular season games, three went into overtime, 10 were decided on the game's final play and 17 were determined by eight points or less.
"If the regular season is any indication of what to expect in the World Bowl, then it should be a heck of a game," said NFLEL President Bill Peterson. "This was one of the most dramatic and exciting seasons ever and now we have our two best teams competing for the title. This game should be a fitting celebration to end our season."