June 22, 2010

2002: Berlin Defeats Rhein for 2nd Consecutive NFL Europe Title

The Berlin Thunder, defending champions of NFL Europe, finished in second place with a 6-4 record in 2002. It was good enough to send them to World Bowl X against the Rhein Fire on June 22 at the Rheinstadion in Dusseldorf, Germany. The Fire had compiled a 7-3 record and had swept the season series against Berlin.

The Thunder was coached by Peter Vaas, who was in his third year with the club. QB Todd Husak led the league in passing yardage (2386) but also in interceptions (14). WR Dane Looker (pictured above), on loan from the NFL’s Rams, was the top receiver with 54 catches. RB Anthony White ranked fifth in rushing (525 yards) and third in pass receiving (38 catches). Center Ben Hamilton was an All-League performer on the offensive line, while LB Jude Waddy received recognition on defense.

Rhein was led by second-year Head Coach Pete Kuharchek and featured the third leading rusher in NFL Europe, Jamal Robertson (792 yards), who was also an All-NFL Europe selection. Other All-League players included G Al Jackson, OT Patrick Venzke, DT Brandon Miller, CB Earthwind Moreland, safety Deke Cooper, and linebackers Tim Johnson and Maugaula Tuitele.

The game, attended by 53,109 fans in what was the last event held at the 77-year-old Rheinstadion, got off to a bad start for the Fire as QB Tee Martin was intercepted by S Ontei Williams near midfield on the second play from scrimmage. The turnover resulted in a 47-yard field goal by Berlin’s Danny Boyd.

Rhein went three-and-out on its next possession and the Thunder responded with a 41-yard touchdown pass play from Husak to Looker for a 10-0 lead. Again, Martin was intercepted, this time by LB Keith Adams, who returned the pickoff to the Rhein 10 yard line. Berlin was unable to get into the end zone with three incomplete passes, and settled for a 27-yard field goal by Axel Kruse to extend the lead to 13-0.

The Fire’s offense came alive in the second quarter as Martin completed a 31-yard pass to WR Jimmy Robinson. However, the drive stalled at the Thunder 41 and a faked punt on fourth-and-eleven, in which TE/QB Darnell Dinkins took off with the snap, came up a yard short. Later in the period Rhein again tried a fake punt, this time with punter Dirk Johnson running the ball. Again, they came up short, and in this instance Berlin capitalized with a 15-yard Husak TD pass to Looker in the corner of the end zone.

Martin drove Rhein down the field near the end of the half, completing five passes for 39 yards to move into field goal range at the Berlin 18. However, the 35-yard attempt by Jason Witczak was blocked and the score stood at 20-0 at halftime.

Rhein got an early break in the third quarter when CB Earthwind Moreland intercepted a pass by Husak near midfield, but the Fire was unable to capitalize, going three-and-out and punting. On the next possession, however, Rhein’s offense was able to move the ball as Martin hit Robinson on passes of 9 and 26 yards, setting up their first score of the game on a six-yard touchdown run by RB Tony Taylor.

Berlin responded with a 45-yard field goal for a 23-7 lead, but the Fire again came back strong as the game moved into the fourth quarter. Martin completed eight passes (four of them to Robinson) on a 65-yard scoring drive that was capped by a two-yard TD throw to WR Scott Cloman. The try for a two point conversion failed.

The Thunder scored once more on a drive that featured a 16-yard pass from Husak to Looker and a 15-yard penalty on Rhein’s Brandon Miller for a late hit. Boyd kicked his third field goal of the game from 38 yards to extend the margin to 26-13.

Jamal Robertson returned the ensuing kickoff 51 yards to give the Fire good field position, but a drive that took them deep into Berlin territory came to an end when a nine-yard run by Martin on fourth down came up a yard short. Still, Rhein got the ball back and scored on a one-yard run by Martin with 20 seconds left to play.

Deke Cooper recovered the ensuing onside kick for the Fire at the Thunder 40 yard line, but there was no miracle finish. Martin was sacked by Berlin DT Cleveland Pinckney and then threw one last desperation pass that fell incomplete. By a score of 26-20, the Thunder became the only team to win consecutive NFL Europe titles.

Dane Looker caught 11 passes for 111 yards and two TDs and was the game’s MVP. He went on to play seven seasons with the Rams, catching 112 passes. Todd Husak (pictured above left), who had led Stanford to the Rose Bowl, and Tee Martin (pictured at right), whose two years as starting quarterback at Tennessee (following Peyton Manning) included a national championship season in 1998, never saw more than limited backup duty in the NFL (Martin also played in the CFL).