Peter Vaas (2004-2005)
David Duggan (2005-2007)
John Lyons (2007)
On December 19th, 2004, Cologne joined the NFLE, as the Barcelona Dragons were effectively moved to the city. As Germany was solidifying itself as a hotbed of American Football, Cologne seemed like a logical choice. Along with Berlin and Frankfurt, Cologne would become the 3rd NFLE franchise based in Germany.
NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue introduced the franchise fittingly in front of the Roman-Germanic Museum in Cologne. Peter Vaas was introduced as head coach. A familiar face to fans, Vaas was previously head coach of the Berlin Thunder.
The 2004 Centurions finished a middling 4-6. Not bad for an ‘expansion franchise’. From the Barcelona Dragons franchise from the previous season, only two players made the roster- Marco Martos, and Cedric Cotar.
The team was plagued by special teams issues and turnovers throughout the season. It was obvious from the first game, in which the Centurions coughed up 16 points off of special teams mistakes to lose 26-25 against Rhein. The team finished dead last in net differential at -10. After dropping their first 3 contests, the Centurions went 4-3 down the stretch. Of all the teams, the Cologne’s attendance was underwhelming, with attendance clocking in at 8-10k, with 20k showing up to watch the Rhein fire during their late season rematch. Attendance sat at about 11,400 on average.
DE Felipe Claybrooks led the league with 10 sacks, as the franchise only allowed 2,647 yards on the season (1,004 rushing and 1,643 receiving)- a clear 200 yards ahead of second place defensive unit Rhein. Unfortunately the defensive mindset of bend not break didn’t translate, as the team gave up a league high 201 points on the year. The franchise finished with 14 (8 interceptions, 6 fumble recoveries), and middle of the pack on red zone defense. MLB Bobby Brooks had 2 of those interceptions to lead the team.
On offense, Ryan Van Dyke finished middle of the pack, growing as a gunslinger throughout the season. He threw for 16 TDs and 2003 yards, but also threw 14 interceptions as well. His 81 yard bomb led the league. Cologne wasn’t bad in the red zone seeing 30 attempts, scoring 16 TDs and 7 FGs. Avon Cobourne finished with 570 yards rushing and 812 overall, ranking 3rd both in rushing and total yards from scrimmage. WR Carl Morris finished 5th in receiving with 530 yards on 36 catches (4 TDs), while Reggie Newhouse squeaked in at 9th with 447 yards on 39 receptions and 3 TDs, respectively.
“It was a tremendously rewarding year for our organization and our city. For us, as a team, it was a frustrating year because I don’t think 4-6 is indicative of the talent we had on this team. We didn’t find a way to win. That’s the frustrating part.”
The Centurions invested heavily on defense in the free agent draft, spending most of their picks overall on both sides of the line. The franchise was rewarded with a 6-4 record and a 3rd place finish for their efforts.
Disappointingly however, the attendance didn’t really see an improvement, outside of 32k showing up for their contest against nearby Rhein. This propped the numbers up artificially to 14k. The highlight of the season was definitely Cologne’s pair of wins over eventual World Bowl champion Berlin, and before a 2 game skid, while being in the mix for a World Bowl berth. Interestingly, Cologne won all its close contests, but in all 4 losses was blown out by at least 12 points.
The Centurions saw improvement in key areas, but again turnovers played a key role in the franchise not taking that final step forward. In fact Cologne finished with a net differential of -16. The defense failed to create turnovers (9 total- to rank last in the league), while the offense had 25 of their own.
The defense led the way and the league in total yards allowed. They also were outstanding in the red zone, allowing just 29.6% of conversions for TDs. White led the league with 7 sacks, while Bobby Brooks led the team in tackles. No Centurion finished in the top 10 in turnovers.
RB Kory Chapman led the way for the Cologne offense doing it all, rushing, receiving, and returning. He finished second in combined net yards with 1,103- missing out on first place by only a few yards, while his 718 yards rushing also was second in the league. Cologne QB Kevin Thompson threw 8 TDs to 10 picks, but led the league with a 75 yard TD toss, and a respectable 1,561 yards.
“I think it was a good season overall, we ended at 6-4. I really believe we should be in the World Bowl, but things happen for a reason. I came over here to accomplish something and we were the number one defense that was the main thing. Tuipala and myself led in tackles this year and it was a good thing. We did well this year.”
-Centurions LB Bobby Brooks
David Duggan took over as head coach from Peter Vaas after the season. The team employed the same draft strategy as they did previously, investing heavily on the lines, but this year with a particular interest in DE. After squeaking by upstart Hamburg in the opening game of the year, the Centurions outplayed the Admirals, but missed 4 field goals and lost the next game. Turnovers doomed the franchise over the next 3 weeks, culminating in 4 consecutive losses. The team bounced back during the season though finishing with a 4-6 record, sparked primarily by Kliff Kingsbury at QB, who finished 3-3. Attendance finally saw a marked uptick, jumping up to a bit over13.5k on average for the season.
The high point of the Centurions season was a 20-13 road win over eventual World Bowl contender Amsterdam, and then smashing the Thunder the following week at home 25-7.
Fred Russell accounted for 522 yards rushing, while QB Shane Boyd set a league record with 339 yards rushing, and a league leading 7.2 yards per carry. Boyd split quarterback duties with Kliff Kingsbury on the season. Boyd finished 4th with 1,139 yards, throwing 5 TDs to 11 interceptions. Reggie Newhouse led the Cologne receiving corps with 23 catches for 363 yards and 2 TDs. – Notably his 80 yard TD catch was the league long. The offense remained the Achilles heel in the turnover department accounting for a whopping 21 turnovers.
The defense slipped a notch to a respectable 3rd place in overall yardage allowed, and red zone defense on TDs. The franchise on a positive note finally turned the corner on net difference on turnovers. The key was the defense tying for the league lead in takeaways with 23. This allowed the team to earn a net difference of +2. Phillipe Gardent led all players in the league from his linebacker position, with 70 tackles. Bryan Save led the team from his DT position with 4.5 sacks, and Kevin Curtis had 4 picks from the S position.
LB Philippe Gardent, Gabe Lindstrom P, Erik Pears G, and Bryan Save DT, all earned All-NFL Europe Honors. Gardent also tied for NFLE Defensive MVP with Tony Brown (AMS-DT).
“I was impressed all year with the way our guys held together in a tough situation, and despite some close losses everyone continued to work hard and play their hearts out. To have the chance to simply get out onto the field and get reps in live action was invaluable, and I certainly value my experience in NFL Europe.”
-Centurions QB Kliff Kingsbury
In the league’s final season, the franchise took a different approach to the draft, addressing a variety of positions. Among the most interesting selections was 5th round pick, TE Bobby Blizzard out of North Carolina.
2007 was the Centurions best year. They’d finish with a 6-4 record, as attendance held steady from its 2006 numbers at around 14,300. All things aside, it was impressive the team even made it this far, as head coach David Duggan stepped down for the week 10 contest due to health issues. Interim coach and defensive coordinator John Lyons stepped into the role for that final game. The Centurions remained in the mix for World Bowl consideration through that final week, dropping a do or die contest to the Frankfurt Galaxy, 31-14.
Both the defense and the offense had studs in 2007. RB Derrick Ross led Europa in rushing with 802, and was first in yards from scrimmage with 933. He also had 4 -100 yard rushing efforts on the season, and won a share of Europa’s Offensive MVP Honors. QB Erik Meyer threw for 1,612 yards, while TE Bobby Blizzard had 37 catches for 489 yards and 6 TDs. Among receivers, Burl Tolar had 28 catches for 394 yards and a TD.
On defense, the franchise allowed just 172 points, and 28 sacks on the year. Jason Hall had 11 sacks and was named Europa Defensive MVP. Clifton Smith had 3 picks, to pace a defensive unit that had 13 on the year.
The Centurions were honored to have 8 players named to the All-NFLE team at the end of the final season including Kevin House (CB), Derrick Ross (RB), Bobby Blizzard (TE), Chris Reis (S), Greg Eslinger (C), Kevin Vickerson (DT), Philipe Gardent (LB) and Jason Hall (DE).
The league closed up shop basically a week after the World Bowl ended and along with that the Cologne Centurions hopes of ever going to the World Bowl.
“The time is right to re-focus the NFL’s strategy on initiatives with global impact, including worldwide media coverage of our sport and the staging of live regular-season NFL games,”
Senior vice president of NFL International
Japanese QB Kentaro Namiki made NFLE history in 2004 becoming the first national QB to complete a pass on his first play of the game, hitting Werner Hippler for a 3 yard gain during the final contest of the year.
LB Philippe Gardent was the first national to lead NFLE in any statistical category. He’d also be the first named to the NFLE All World team, and be named as a defensive MVP.
Of all the European franchises since the inception of the WLAF in 1991, Cologne would be the only team not to win a World Bowl.