In a city bursting with sporting success, the road has never been an easy one for the Munich Cowboys. Last year's stuttering season included a relegation-round win to keep them in the GFL (German Football League) South and did little to convince those watching on there was much potential. The signs and sounds from the Cowboys camp this year though, suggest a more optimistic message.
Head Coach James Craig has hailed the now 10-man coaching staff as the biggest improvement on last year. "I've got two young coordinators who I really trust and having such an improved coaching staff makes a big difference," he said in Wednesday's preseason press conference. Off the pitch, the club president Werner Maier is looking to secure more sponsorship, an on-going battle for growing sports teams, but stands by the fact that "careful planning has made this season financially possible." The franchise exudes a real sense of positivity and optimism that has attracted a great deal of emotional interest, even if the financial side of things remains tentative.
A side that finished their season 2-11-1 last year are keen to learn and move on. Every football team enters a rebuilding stage but the Cowboys feel they are on the upward curve of that rebuild. The arrival of go-to wide receiver Garrett Andrews has boosted the pass options on offence. "I'm excited about Garrett being on the team," said quarterback Patrick Carey, who has been in need of more targets in the air for some time. Coach Craig agrees that more wide receivers have made things "more comfortable" and has "turned a previous weakness into a strength." With a five wide receiver set up now a possibility, it's hard to disagree.
Although the statistics suggest that the Cowboys favour more of a rushing offence, running back Fabien Gaertner averaged 89 yards per game last year, Carey has been working hard over the summer. "I'm the lightest I've been since college so I feel more comfortable doing a bit more work with my feet as well as my arm." The humble quarterback had a quiet confidence about him but judging by last year's performance (2,768 yards, 23 TDs), he clearly feels at home on the pitch, in the pocket.
Defensive back Bill Doody, who is definitely more than the 88 kilos listed on the roster, arrives with a big tackle that will benefit the defensive line. The smartly dressed, positive Floridian looks to be the leader this defence needs. "I came here out of love for the game but also to win. I do see myself as a leader because of the experience I have." With the preseason, charity game against the US Eagles on April 27th, the whole team is raring to go, Doody in particular. "I can't wait to get the pads on and make a hit on someone in a different coloured jersey."
New arrivals and new interest can only mean a rise in expectation but coach Craig remained grounded after president Maier plainly stated the play-offs were the goal. "We finished strong last year, particularly across the last five games but our focus is on winning the first game. Of course the playoffs are the target but we want to take it one game, one week at a time." This approach is not that different from last year but in the wake of media hype, it shows Craig's astute management. The Cowboys last German Bowl appearance was 1993, one in which they triumphed in overtime, but despite being in the GFL South since 2008, they have yet to taste a truly extended postseason.
With last year's away form (0-6) a worry and the sides' inability to take advantage of big plays, especially after having turned over the ball, there are still issues to iron out. However, with Craig's approach, a bigger coaching staff and some new talent, there is more than enough reason to believe that this team can be successful. Even without a playoff spot though, a positive season will do plenty for the Cowboys. In the face of the ever-dominant FC Bayern Munich, Bayern's basketball team have proved that improvement merits just as much attention as success. When asked whether a successful season for the Cowboys could put American football on the map for the city, coach Craig responded with one word. "Yes." Here's to that.