FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — When New England takes on Indianapolis in Germany on Sunday, it may feel like a home game for the Patriots.
The names Tom Brady and Bill Belichick certainly resonate with a growing number of NFL fans in Germany. However, Sebastian Vollmer is Patriots royalty here, too. The Patriots are competing with the Kansas City Chiefs to be the most popular team in Germany, thanks in part to Vollmer’s legacy.
The offensive tackle from Duesseldorf, became a figurehead in the 2010s for a growing German audience keen to see a German player succeed in the NFL. The Patriots were the obvious choice for new fans looking for a team to support.
Vollmer spent all of his eight-year NFL career with the Patriots, winning the Super Bowl after the 2014 season. He was still with the team, though injured, for another Super Bowl win two years later. His success came as free-to-air broadcasts of NFL games were starting to catch on in Germany.
“That’s when it really started to pick up, and then obviously we did it in 2016 again, and that really helped,” Vollmer told The Associated Press. “And then the whole thing has just really exploded.”
The NFL had German players for decades earlier — all the way back to the arrival of soccer-style kickers in the 1960s and 70s — but now their home audience can better follow their careers.
In retirement, Vollmer is a regular on Germany’s booming NFL broadcasts and a Patriots ambassador. “Football has changed my life, the Patriots have changed my life,” he said. “I’m just telling my truth, the way that I think about football, the way that I think about the club, and if people like it, great. If they don’t, at least they’ve been exposed to it.”
Besides Vollmer — “Seabass” to his teammates — Belichick also worked with German fullback Jakob Johnson, now at the Las Vegas Raiders, and defensive tackle Markus Kuhn, who signed for the Patriots in 2016 but didn’t play because of injury.
“I learned that when they were saying things to me under their breath in German, it probably wasn’t complimentary,” Belichick said jokingly on Friday. “No, they were all great to coach. I loved all three of those players. It’s just that Markus, we didn’t have very long with his injury. Seabass we drafted, he had a great career with us, and Jakob came as an international player and developed into a solid NFL player. He’s had a great career.
“So, those guys are all – the three of them – very hard-working, smart, great teammates, good team players, very unselfish and honestly a pleasure to coach.”
Vollmer and Kuhn are familiar faces to German fans from their TV work, along with former Colts defensive end Björn Werner. He was a first-round pick in 2013 who played three seasons for the Colts and was released in 2016 by the Jacksonville Jaguars without playing a game. Werner moved into TV broadcasts and podcasting after his retirement.
The game in Germany on Sunday also gives other Patriots and Colts players a chance to meet up with family and friends living in Europe.
Patriots running back Ezekiel Elliott has family in Finland who can finally see him play. His grandfather Leon Huff moved to Finland to play basketball and one of his uncles played on the Finnish national team.
Colts offensive tackle Bernhard Raimann is from Austria and will bring 18 family members and friends to the game. All but one have never seen him play.
Raimann’s career trajectory shows how much international games can mean to aspiring European players. One of his fondest memories is watching the Vikings play the Steelers in London in 2013, when he was 16.
“It just meant so much to me to see the NFL live, to watch Adrian Peterson run through the gaps for a touchdown. That just meant the world to me as a young football player coming from Austria,” he said at a news conference Friday. “Being here in this spot, standing on this podium right now, it doesn’t feel real to me, to be honest. I’m just beyond excited for Sunday.”
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