The Bundesliga and American Football have an unexpected, shared history. - © DFL
The Bundesliga and American Football have an unexpected, shared history. - © DFL

All the way to the NFL? Burgsmüller and the Bundesliga aces who played football


"I just didn't want to be a laughing stock," Manfred Burgsmüller - the fifth-highest Bundesliga goalscorer of all time - revealed to Der Spiegel as he discussed his career change following his retirement from football.

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Long after hanging up his boots, the Borussia Dortmund legend became the oldest professional American Football player in history at 52 when he lined up for Rhein Fire. It was a successful move, too, as he helped his side win the World Bowl on two occasions between 1996 and 2002, although he isn't the only player to have swapped Fußball for Football...

During his Bundesliga career, Burgsmüller scored 213 goals across spells with Dortmund, Rot-Weiss Essen, Nuremberg and Werder Bremen, while he even clinched the Meisterschale with the latter in 1987/88. That put him in a good position to perform in American Football, clinching 300 points via Field Goals and Touchdown Conversions. "Whenever there are people paying to watch, I can't fail," he said.

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After Burgsmüller called time on his American Football stint, Rhein Fire signed ex-Dortmund and Schalke midfielder Ingo Anderbrügge as his replacement. After two seasons, the Düsseldorf-based outfit and the 1997 UEFA Cup winner went their separate ways. Not due to a lack ability, though, with then General Manager Sammy Schmale saying, "He was a very talented kicker. He would have had a chance of making it in the NFL had he been a few years younger."

Ingo Anderbrügge (l.) training with Rhein Fire teammate Manfred Burgsmüller (r.) - Imago

Between 1999 and 2003, Axel Kruse was on the books of NFL Europe's Berlin Thunder following close to a decade in the German top flight with Hertha Berlin, Eintracht Frankfurt and VfB Stuttgart - he was also a two-time World Bowl champion.

Kruse's development into one of Europe's best kickers contributed to the Thunder turning their form around. After finishing bottom of the league in 1999 and 2000, they surprisingly made it to the World Bowl in 2001, where they faced Barcelona Dragons at the Amsterdam Arena (now the Johan Cruyff Arena). The side from the German capital had lost twice against the Catalonian team during the regular season - 21-14 and 55-35 - and Kruse believes his side's opponents were too complacent.

"Those two results perhaps convinced Barcelona that they had already won before kick-off. That was our chance to make full use of our status as outsiders," he claimed. And take advantage they did, prevailing 24-17 to secure the title.

Axel Kruse during his Berlin Thunder days - Imago

In recent years, Marcel Risse made the transition to the oval ball after having turned out for Cologne, Mainz, Bayer Leverkusen and Nuremberg in the Bundesliga. While playing for Langenfeld Longhorns in the GFL2 - the second tier of the German American Football pyramid - he was also playing for the 3. Liga's Viktoria Cologne.

How did the move come about? "I've been interested in American Football for years," Risse explained to "And given there was a team effectively on my doorstep, I decided to ask whether I could train with them."

Watch: Risse's 2016/17 Bundesliga Goal of the Season contender

Although a number of Bundesliga alumni have tried their hand in European Football, no-one has made it all the way to the NFL. However, the highest level of the sport is not unaccessible for those more accustomed to the Beautiful Game. In the 1970s and 1980s, Austria's Toni Fritsch played for the Dallas Cowboys, the San Diego Chargers, the Houston Oilers and the New Orleans Saints after leaving Rapid Vienna aged just 26. The bold switch proved to be inspired - while injury prevented him taking part in the Cowboys' 1972 Superbowl success, he featured in the 1976 showpiece, while he had the entire league's best kicking percentage in 1977, 1979 and 1980.

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Who knows what the future will bring? If nothing else, a Bundesliga player in the NFL would attract attention and headlines. In the end, though, no-one wants to be a laughing stock, and Bursgmüller and Co. proved to be anything but.

Watch: Bundesliga meets NFL - Improbable catch vs. unexpected goal

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