June 25, 2014

2000: Fire Edge Claymores in Low-Scoring World Bowl

The World Bowl, championship game of NFL Europe that was played on June 25, 2000, featured the Rhein Fire, winners of the title two years earlier, against the Scottish Claymores, champions in 1996 but coming off of two straight losing campaigns. The teams split their meetings during the regular season.

The Fire, coached by Galen Hall for the sixth year, had the developmental league’s second-rated passer in QB Danny Wuerffel, who topped the circuit with 25 touchdowns and 2042 yards while giving up just seven interceptions for a rating of 107.2. They finished at the top of the standings with a 7-3 record.

The Claymores went 6-4 under Head Coach Jim Criner, also in his sixth season at the helm. While they had the lesser record, they had RB Aaron Stecker (pictured above), the league’s MVP and leading rusher with 774 yards who also paced the team in pass receiving with 36 catches, and QB Kevin Daft had edged Wuerffel for the passing title with a 107.3 rating while tossing for 19 TDs against just three interceptions.

The game was held at the Waldstadion in Frankfurt, Germany with 35,860 fans in attendance. The Fire struck first on their initial possession of the game, driving 51 yards in 11 plays before finally being stopped at the four yard line. The series resulted in a 21-yard field goal by Manfred Burgsmuller. The Claymores responded in rapid fashion, taking just three plays to travel 75 yards. Aaron Stecker gained nine yards, Kevin Daft threw to H-back Willy Tate for 30, and then Stecker ran 36 yards for a touchdown. With Rob Hart’s extra point, Scotland held a 7-3 lead.

In the second quarter, the Claymores put together a 12-play, 52-yard series , and Hart’s field goal made it 10-3. Rhein came back with an eight-play possession that was also capped by a field goal, this one by Burgsmuller covering 23 yards. The score at halftime was 10-6.

The game settled into a defensive stalemate in the second half, with neither team scoring in the third quarter. The tough Claymore defense continued to hold, and when the Fire got the ball with 5:07 remaining on the clock, the situation appeared dire. However, Rhein then put together a 43-yard drive in eight plays that resulted in a one-yard TD carry by RB Pepe Pearson (pictured below). Burgsmuller added the extra point to give the Fire a three-point lead.

There was still time for the Claymores to come back, and Daft completed four passes as they drove into Rhein territory. But with eight seconds left, a 40-yard field goal attempt by Hart sailed wide to the left to clinch the 13-10 win for the Fire.

“It was a great feeling when I scored,” said Pepe Pearson of his game-winning touchdown. “Our offensive line did the job and I got it in the end zone.”

“I’m so proud of our team and our coaches,” said Galen Hall. “I thought it would come down to the last seconds, and it certainly did.”

QB Danny Wuerffel completed just 12 of 30 passes for 90 yards and no touchdowns while giving up two interceptions, but was sharp on the game-winning drive. For the Claymores, Aaron Stecker rushed for 92 yards on 13 carries that included a TD and Kevin Daft was successful on 16 of 29 throws for 177 yards and one interception.

Wuerffel, a former Heisman Trophy winner, was currently a free agent hoping to parlay his NFL Europe success into a NFL contract. He was signed by Green Bay, saw no action, and moved on to the Bears and Redskins, where he was reunited with his college coach, Steve Spurrier, and started four games in his last pro season.

Aaron Stecker, who had been loaned to the Claymores by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, spent four seasons with the Bucs before moving on to New Orleans for five years and finishing up with the Falcons. A career backup in the NFL, he rushed for 1526 yards, gained another 1175 yards on 166 pass receptions, and averaged 23.1 yards on 170 kickoff returns.

With the win over the Claymores, Galen Hall became the first coach in the developmental league’s history to win two championships. Both head coaches departed for the short-lived XFL in 2001, Hall with the Orlando Rage and Jim Criner coaching the Las Vegas Outlaws.

Neither team qualified for the World Bowl in 2001. Rhein went 5-5 to finish third and the Claymores sank to 4-6 and fifth place. The Fire returned to first place in ’02 but lost the Championship game to Berlin. For the Claymores, the World Bowl appearance in 2000 was the team’s last. 

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