As far as sports are concerned, America is known to go a little on its own. While the rest of the planet plays football, in the United States until a few years ago they didn’t even know the rules of what they called “soccer”. While half of Europe and the southern hemisphere are excited about rugby, they don’t allow any other oval ball other than American football. While India and other former British colonies love cricket, Americans take pride in their national sports which, even when popular overseas, tend to play differently from the rest of the world.
But perhaps also here lies a large part of the fascination of sports with stars and stripes. In the fact that only on American soil can they be played at those levels and therefore their championship is clearly the best, light years ahead of any other European competitor.
However, it must also be admitted that in the last twenty or thirty years, thanks also to TV, various attempts have been made to import these stars and stripes sports to Italy as well. Attempts that have paid off with baseball but which have also led to important results with American football. Not surprisingly, some great European victories also came at the beginning of the millennium.
To dedicate some space to this sector, which has seen great moments but also phases of crisis and division, let’s review the history of five historic American football teams in Italy.
The great fall
The most successful team in the young history of American football in Italy is, by detachment, that of the Lions of Bergamo. That Lombard is a company that was in fact able to win 12 Italian Superbowls and 3 consecutive Eurobowls, the final that assigns the title of European champions. A competition where, unfortunately, the German or Austrian formations have dominated for about ten years.
Founded in 1983, the franchise made its playoff debut in 1986, despite a negative regular-season record. However, it improved year after year and managed to achieve more victories than defeats in 1989. In 1991 the first semifinal game, the following year the final – lost against the Pharaonic of Milan – and finally in 1992 the first title. A crescendo of results so perfect that it is the dream of every sports manager.
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Today, unfortunately, after the winning cycle ended, training went into crisis, above all due to corporate problems. In fact, in 2011 and 2013 she decided to enroll in the Serie A2 championship, where she still managed to win an Italian Bowl to enrich her Palmares. The team plays at the Municipal Stadium of Osio Sotto, a small town about ten kilometers from the capital.
The Milanese hinterland team
Another great team of the past Italian football that now plays in the second series is the Frogs Legnano. The team was in fact among the founders of the first tournament organized in 1981 by the Italian American Football Association. With her were the Rhinos and Rams of Milan, the Jaguars of Turin, and the Eagles of Ferrara.
Founded in Gallarate in 1977 by some boys returning from the United States, according to legend, the franchise was named after the team of Texas Christian University in Fort Worth whose boys owned a t-shirt. A legend that contains an error, however, since the real name of the American team is Horned Frogs, which refers to the Texas horned lizard.
After the first period in Gallarate, with two finals lost against the Rhinos, they then moved to Busto Arsizio where they won their first Superbowl in 1984. Then the move to Legnano coincided with the team’s most fortunate period. In those years, in fact, five titles (of which three consecutive) and three lost finals arrived, as well as a Eurobowl against the Amsterdam Crusaders.
Between 2000 and 2003 the team then moved first to Milan and then back to Gallarate, before marrying, this time permanently, in Legnano. The matches are played at the Malerba field in San Vittore Olona, a village three kilometers away from the company headquarters.
John Grisham’s team
After the glories of the past, we come to the glories of the present and then to the Parma Panthers, the team that has conquered the Italian Superbowl for four seasons.
Founded in 1981, disbanded in 1994, and refounded in 2005, the team has begun to reap success in the last decade. In fact, two finals were lost against the Lions first and then precisely these four consecutive titles. The reason for this rebirth lies on the one hand in the return of some old glories, on the other in the greater attention enjoyed by American football throughout Italy and in particular in Parma. Not surprisingly, a bestseller by John Grisham released in 2007 and dedicated to the environment of the Panthers, The Professional, was also set in the Emilian city.
The novel, the second that the American writer has decided to dedicate to Italy, tells the story of an American quarterback who, after a disastrous performance in the conference final, is forced to accept the offer from Parma. And in Italy, among many passionate amateurs, he rediscovers the love for the sport.
Following this novel, Grisham was named honorary president of the Panthers and in Parma, a second-team was born that now plays in the FIDAF Series B, the Bobcats.
Dissolution and mergers
The oldest American football team in Italy is none of the ones we have presented so far (although the Frogs come close). These are in fact the Rhinos of Milan, which were founded in 1977 in Piacenza under the name of Pink Panthers. The seat and name were abandoned after a few months in favor of the current acronym.
After a few games with the formations of the various NATO bases, the Rhinos were among the founding members, in 1981, of the first national championship. A tournament over which they exercised real domination in the first years, winning the first three editions and losing only one game in three seasons.
For the fourth Scudetto, it would have been necessary to wait until 1990, when they imposed themselves in the historic derby with the Frogs. That victory, however, also coincided with the crisis of the league and the dissolution of the club. The Rhinos would be reborn only in 1994 from the merger of two other Milanese formations, the Pythons and the Pharaonic (the latter winners of the 1992 Superbowl thanks also to the grafts from the Rhinos). The new team immediately arrived at the Superbowl, but was beaten by the cousins of the Frogs and soon faced a second dissolution.
Refounded at the beginning of the 2000s, the team played in the minor leagues until they returned to the Olympus of Italian teams in 2007. Today the team plays their home games at the Vigorelli Velodrome.
The misfortune of the eternal seconds
If the first four positions of our five were assigned on the basis of titles won and history, it was more complex to decide which team to reserve the fifth place for. There are in fact various realities that, although not well-known, would have deserved space for the excellent work done over the years. Among those excluded from the last minute, it seems obligatory to point out the Elephants of Catania, a team that fought for the title on various occasions, the Jaguars of Turin, among the founders of the first championship, and the Hogs of Reggio Emilia, who they have a respectable youth sector.
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In the end, however, we decided to leave room for the Warriors of Bologna, for at least a couple of reasons. First, over the years the area of the Emilian capital has seen various teams attempting the climb to the title, from the Doves – who succeeded in 1985 – to the Phoenix di San Lazzaro. Secondly, the Warriors boast 17 plays in the playoffs and a national title achieved in 1986.
The Bolognese team, which plays at the Bernardi field in the Lunetta Gamberini park, is in fact one of the oldest and in its own way unfortunate in the peninsula. Suffice it to say that he played the final seven times but took home only one title, maintaining consistency of results over time but being beaten from time to time by the teams in vogue at that moment. So first it was blocked by the Frogs in the late 1980s, then by the Lions in the 2000s, and finally by the Panthers in the last few seasons.
In this sense, the defeats of 2008 and 2011 were burning. In the first case, the championship had just split and the Bolognese managed to win all the regular-season races, surprisingly being beaten by the Hogs in the final. In the second case, another perfect season broke in the final against the Panthers, who had already been beaten in the regular season.
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