*Much like some of the fans in the stands, when NFL Europe kicks off its 2004 season this weekend, most of the players won't know quite what to expect.
Moving into its 12th year, NFL-E has been as much about developing interest in American football overseas as it has been about young NFL players developing their skills. And for most American players, the sight of soccer-like festivities at a football game is something a little different.
But not for Green Bay Packers cornerback Derek Combs, who is about to embark upon his second tour of duty in NFL-E, back with the Amsterdam Admirals, the same team for which he played in the spring of 2002.
Then with the Oakland Raiders, it was in Europe where Combs initially began his conversion from running back, his collegiate position at Ohio State, to cornerback.
Acquired by the Packers April 24, 2002, Combs was primarily a special teams contributor in 2003, making five tackles.
Back in NFL-E, Combs is scheduled to start at cornerback in the Admirals' season-opening game against the defending-champion Frankfurt Galaxy, and should see opportunities to return punts at some point during the season as well.
What follows is the first installment of this spring's NFL Europe Diary:*
Derek Combs: It was a long flight over to Europe from Orlando, but once we arrived in Amsterdam there were a few fans out to welcome us. That was nice to see.
This is my second time in NFL Europe and my second time playing for Amsterdam, and it's a great environment to play football. It's like being in college again, actually, because the stadiums are smaller and the fans get into it and everybody seems like they just go out there and have fun.
The last time I was here was when I was with the Oakland Raiders. When I left, I didn't think I'd ever be back in NFL-E, but it was a great experience for me, so when I was offered the chance to go back I jumped at it.
This is only my third season trying to play cornerback and I need the experience. Plus, it's nice to change things up and visit a new place once in a while.
That I'm back playing for the Admirals is kind of a coincidence. When I agreed to come to NFL-E again, I didn't get to pick my team. But a lot of the coaches are the same from when I was here the first time, and they liked me then, so I had a feeling they might try to bring me back.
More than anything, I think my first experience here helped me on special teams. I didn't really play special teams in college, so having that on-field experience was really valuable for what I was able to do last year.
The nice thing about being back is that I kind of know what to expect. It's also fun just being around the guys.
I've spent some time hanging out with Steve Josue, Tony Donald and DeAndrew Rubin (who was on the Packers' roster in training camp last year), but I know a bunch of other guys on the team, too, from college or around the league.
I've helped show some of the guys around town a little bit since we've gotten here -- restaurants or clubs that I remember from the first time I came over -- but it's not really that much of an adjustment from being home in America other than the obvious language differences.
The food takes some getting used to, too, but other than that it's not too bad.
I'm really excited to get out on the field again and start focusing in on playing corner and seeing what I can do.
We go to Frankfurt this weekend to play the Galaxy and that's probably the best environment here to play a football game. There are a lot of American military bases in the area, so there are more American fans there than at other games.
The crowd at Frankfurt really understands what's going on, and there will probably be about 50,000 fans there this weekend. It's going to be crazy loud. They play horns, blow on whistles, play all sorts of music. It's really intense, but that helps get you hyped up to play football, so it's good for us. Once the game starts you kind of tune out that noise.
Here in Amsterdam we used to get about 10,000 fans per game, and they get pretty loud too, but I've heard that the crowds are a little bigger now. This league has grown up a bit since the last time I was here, and that's cool to see.
I'm just excited to be here. I think we have a good team and we're just going to go out there and perform to the best of our ability and try to get our team to the World Bowl, just like everybody else.
Right now, that's what I'm after.
The Amsterdam Admirals-Frankfurt Galaxy game will be carried live on DirecTV, Saturday at 11 a.m. CT. NFL Network will have a delayed broadcast of the game at 7 p.m. CT. The Packers.com NFL Europe Diary will continue throughout the season.