The race to World Bowl XIII in Düsseldorf, Germany gets underway Saturday as the six teams of the NFL Europe League will kick off their latest 10-game season with three games on the docket for the weekend.
With the Packers allocating a record 18 players to the developmental league in 2005, fans of the Green and Gold will be able to choose to root for any of the six squads and still be backing a potential future Green Bay star.
Three of the players plying their wares across the Atlantic this spring (Kelvin Kight, Steve Morley, and B.J. Sander) spent time on the Packers' 53-man active roster in 2004, with Morley and Sander on the squad for the full season.
All three of this weekend's contests will take place on Saturday, April 2, with two of them available for viewing on television in the United States.
The Frankfurt Galaxy and Berlin Thunder will get the season started with a scheduled 10:00 a.m. (CT) kickoff, featured live on DirecTV. The NFL Network will have live coverage of the Rhein Fire's trip to Holland to play the Amsterdam Admirals, with an 11:00 a.m. (CT) start time.
The first ever game for NFL Europe's newest team, the Hamburg Sea Devils, will not be aired in the U.S., as the Sea Devils visit 2004's addition to the league, the Cologne Centurions.
Let's take a look at the Packers involved in the Week 1 action:
Frankfurt Galaxy at Berlin Thunder
This game is a match-up of the winners of each of the past four World Bowl titles, with defending champions Berlin looking to add to their World Bowl conquests from 2001, 2002, and 2004. The Galaxy will be out to avenge their 30-24 loss in last June's championship game and get back to their winning ways of 2003.
Frankfurt will be featuring three players allocated to NFLE by the Packers, all of them expected to start for the Galaxy at Berlin's Olympic Stadium this week.
Sam Breeden and Jamal Jones will be making up two of the three receivers in second-year head coach Mike Jones' lineup and hope to be on the receiving end of a number of passes from former third-overall pick and one-time Packer, quarterback Akili Smith. Seante Williams will be lining up at defensive end for the Galaxy on the other side of the ball.
Safety Chonn Lacey is also a member of the Galaxy, but is currently on injured reserve.
The lone Packer on the Thunder roster also finds himself on I.R. at the moment, as guard Joe Hayes was injured during the team's recently-completed training camp in Tampa.
Rhein Fire at Amsterdam Admirals
Two of the three NFL Europe teams currently in existence that date back to the 1995 re-birth of the league come together in this match-up, which also features the lone non-German team competing for the World Bowl in 2005.
The Rhein Fire feature the Packers' largest contingent on any one NFLE squad, with five players sporting the famed 'G' logo on their uniforms while in Europe.
Steve Morley, who split time throughout training camp at left guard and left tackle, will be opening the season as the starting left tackle for the Fire. Quarterback Scott McBrien will be the second-string signal-caller for Rhein, but figures to see plenty of action as head coach Pete Kuharchek plans on splitting snaps between McBrien and starter Andy Hall of the Philadelphia Eagles.
On the other side of the ball for the visitors, defensive tackle Doug Sims will be looking to clog the middle and also provide an inside pass rush as the largest player in the league in 2005. Cornerback Chris Day, who converted from wide receiver during the Packers' 2004 training camp will contribute to the cause as well.
Joe Quinn, another Green Bay-allocated offensive lineman is sidelined with an injury picked up in Tampa.
For the homestanding Admirals, linebacker John Garrett will be the lone Packer player in uniform this weekend. Wide receiver Kelvin Kight is rehabbing a leg injury and hopes to get back in the mix in the coming weeks for the Dutch outfit.
Hamburg Sea Devils at Cologne Centurions
Jack Bicknell begins his 13th season as an NFL Europe head coach, as he takes command of the Hamburg Sea Devils in their inaugural campaign. His first effort at the helm of a German-based team will take him to Cologne to face the Centurions, who kick off their second season in the league.
Three Packers players will help christen the Sea Devils franchise in its first league game, with linebackers Nick McNeil and Shawn Morgan and punter B.J. Sander all taking the field for Hamburg.
McNeil is expected to start at middle linebacker for the Sea Devils while Morgan will see reserve and special teams duty in his first professional game at any level. Sander will be seeing his first game action since the 2004 preseason for the Packers and will also serve as the holder for the Sea Devils' placement kicks.
Defensive back Art Smith is a member of the Hamburg practice squad and will not be active for Saturday's game.
For Cologne, both Packers representatives will miss the game due to injury. Safety Wendell Williams and wide receiver Mike Marker, each of whom spent time on the Green Bay practice squad in 2004, were hurt in training camp and will not open the season with the Centurions.
Packers in NFL Europe in 2005:
WR Sam Breeden (Frankfurt Galaxy) Breeden, 25, first signed with Green Bay as a non-drafted free agent April 30, but the Packers waived him Aug. 30. He made 81 catches for 1,209 yards and five touchdowns over his collegiate career, playing his final season at Northwestern Oklahoma State, after transferring from Arkansas. In 13 games in 2003, he caught 62 passes for 675 yards and six touchdowns, adding nine rushes for 46 yards. He started his college career at Butler County Community College in El Dorado, Kan., playing there for one year (1999).
CB Chris Day (Rhein Fire) Day, 23, originally signed with the Packers as a non-drafted free agent, May 6. Converted from wide receiver to cornerback by Green Bay, he was waived Aug. 30 and spent the '04 season out of football. Earned two combined letters at two school, playing his final collegiate season (2003) at Grambling State, appearing in 11 games and registering 26 receptions for 347 yards and five touchdowns. Out of football in 2002, he played at Troy State the first two seasons of his collegiate career (2000-2001). As a sophomore, he hauled in 20 receptions for 389 yards and rushed 10 times for 156 yards and a TD, while returning 17 kickoffs for 265 yards. He also competed in track at Troy State, running in the 400- and 1600-meter relays.
LB John Garrett (Amsterdam Admirals) Garrett, 23, spent his rookie training camp in Baltimore, who signed him as a non-drafted free agent April 30 and waived him Aug. 30. A pass-rushing linebacker at Baylor, he collected 10 sacks (all during his '03 senior season) and 17 tackles for loss during his collegiate career. He started five games as a freshman and held the full-time starting role each of his final three years at Baylor.
G Joe Hayes (Berlin Thunder) Hayes, 23, originally signed as a non-drafted free agent April 30, spent all of training camp and preseason in Green Bay, before he was waived Sept. 4. A four-time letter winner (2000-03) at San Jose State, he played in 33 career games with 30 starts (including all contests as a junior and senior).
WR Jamal Jones (Frankfurt Galaxy) Jones, 23, entered the NFL with the Rams April 30 as a non-drafted free agent. He spent four months and 2004 training camp in St. Louis before the Rams waived him Sept. 6. A three-year letterman at North Carolina A&T, he led the team in receiving every year after transferring from the University of North Carolina.
WR/KR Kelvin Kight (Amsterdam Admirals) Kight, 22, spent most of the 2004 campaign in Green Bay, who claimed him on waivers from St. Louis Aug. 11. Waived Sept. 5. he joined the team's practice squad, Sept. 7, where he remained through the first five regular-season contests. With Robert Ferguson hobbled by a calf/ankle injury, Kight was promoted to the 53-man roster Oct. 16 and made his NFL debut the next day at Detroit (Oct. 17), playing on special teams with occasional duty in four-receiver sets. Listed as inactive vs. Dallas (Oct. 24), at Washington (Oct. 31) and vs. Minnesota (Nov. 14), he spent three more weeks on the practice squad and the balance of the year on the practice squad/injured list with a quadriceps strain.
S Chonn Lacey (Frankfurt Galaxy) Lacey, 25, signed as a non-drafted free agent with New Orleans, April 26, 2002, then spent two weeks in training camp with the Ravens, who waived him Aug. 5, 2002. Out of the NFL since, he has spent time with Atlantic City of the National Indoor Football League and led the club with five interceptions during the '04 season. His cousin, Aaron Beasley, plays for the Atlanta Falcons.
WR Mike Marker (Cologne Centurions) Marker, 24, signed his first contract Dec. 28, 2004, joining Green Bay's practice squad. A two-sport athlete at Division III Millikin, he lettered four seasons in football and competed in track and field during the spring. On the gridiron, Marker caught 51 career passes for 1,051 yards and 11 TDs. Only two players from Millikin have played a league game for the Packers, wide receiver Jeff Query (1989-91) and linebacker Aric Anderson (1987).
QB Scott McBrien (Rhein Fire) McBrien, 25, spent the entire 2004 training camp in Green Bay before the club waived him Sept. 5 in its final round of preseason moves. Re-signed two days later, he spent the first week of the regular season on the Packers' practice squad, after originally signing as a non-drafted free agent, April 30. In three preseason games, McBrien completed six of 13 passes for 40 yards and one interception. In college, he lettered for the West Virginia Mountaineers (2000) before transferring in 2001 to Maryland, where he started two seasons (2002-03) and as a senior completed 173 of 314 passes for 2,672 yards with 19 TDs and six INTs in 12 games.
LB Nick McNeil (Hamburg Sea Devils) McNeil, 23, spent the last month of the '04 season on Green Bay's practice squad, signing Dec. 2. Originally a non-drafted free agent signed by the Steelers April 30, McNeil spent four months and 2004 training camp in Pittsburgh before the Steelers waived him Aug. 30. A four-year letterman at Western Carolina, he was a three-time All-Southern Conference selection and finished among the Cats' career top five in both sacks and tackles for loss.
LB Shawn Morgan (Hamburg Sea Devils) Morgan, 26, a 6-2, 235-pound rookie out of Fayetteville State, is the cousin of Adrian Murrell, a running back who played nine years in the NFL. Out of football since his 2002 senior season, Morgan lettered four years for Division II Fayetteville State, playing linebacker, strong safety and running back. On defense, Morgan established the Broncos' single-season school record with 22.5 tackles for loss in 2002, and set their career mark with 35.5 over his four seasons. On offense, he rushed for 114 yards on 40 career carries.
G/T Steve Morley (Rhein Fire) Morley, 23, was the No. 1 overall choice in the 2003 CFL Draft. With Mike Wahle (knee bone bruise) sidelined, Morley started the Packers' first two preseason games at left guard. Designated as inactive for all 16 games plus the playoff vs. Minnesota, Morley spent the regular season as Wahle's backup.
G Joe Quinn (Rhein Fire) Quinn, 24, is a native of Menominee, Wis., and played high-school ball at Glenwood City, Wis. A four-year letterman at Minnesota (2000-03), he earned second-team All-Big Ten honors, but didn't receive serious looks from pro scouts following knee surgery after his 2003 senior year.
P B.J. Sander (Hamburg Sea Devils) Sander, 24, is a left-footed punter who was the Packers' third-round draft pick in 2004. He spent the season learning behind veteran Bryan Barker after an inconsistent training camp performance that saw him punt 23 times for a gross average of 36.0 yards and a net average of 30.8. He booted a 54-yarder in non-league game against New Orleans Aug. 21. He was inactive for all 16 regular-season games, plus NFC Wild Card playoff contest vs. Minnesota (Jan. 9).
DT Doug Sims (Rhein Fire) Sims, 25, entered the league as a non-drafted free agent, June 4, 2001, signed by Thompson, then Seattle's vice president of football operations. Waived by the Seahawks that August, he spent the season's final four weeks on Washington's practice squad. Signed by San Diego the following February, Sims enjoyed a promising training camp before an ankle injury landed him on injured reserve, Aug. 26, 2002. Released by the Chargers exactly one year later, he'd been out of football before signing with the Packers.
DB Art Smith (Hamburg Sea Devils) Smith, 23, who spent the season's final week-plus on the Packers practice squad, is with his third organization. He originally signed as a non-drafted free agent with the Ravens, May 9, 2003, and spent much of that preseason in Baltimore before being waived. Out of football for the balance of 2003, he spent 2004 training camp with the Raiders, who waived him Aug. 31. Oakland re-signed Smith to its practice squad eight days later, but released him Oct. 19. A first-team All-Atlantic 10 selection for a conference champion as a senior in 2002, Smith returned nine kickoffs, including a 100-yard touchdown, and caught one pass for 54 yards. He picked off nine passes in two seasons at Northeastern, including seven as a junior.
DE Seante Williams (Frankfurt Galaxy) Seante Williams, 23, whose first name is pronounced shawn-TAY, was with the Packers for a month during 2004 training camp (Aug. 2-30). He spent the first four weeks of the '04 season on the Jaguars' practice squad, but had been out of football since Oct. 12. Ineligible for the NFL Draft in April, he was made available for the Supplemental Draft but when no team selected him he became a free agent. Williams played at three schools. During his 2003 senior season at Jacksonville State, he recorded 14 tackles and 21/2 sacks. As a junior, he played for Brett Favre's alma mater, Southern Mississippi, after transferring there from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College.
S Wendell Williams (Cologne Centurions) Wendell Williams, 23, originally signed with the Bengals as a non-drafted free agent, May 3. After Cincinnati waived him Aug. 30, he signed a practice-squad contract with Green Bay Oct. 19, then spent one month (Oct. 28-Nov. 30) on the team's practice squad/injured list. His cousin, Walter, also plays for the Packers.