When most college students think of what “going pro” looks like for college football players, the first thing that comes to mind is the NFL. On ESPN’s documentaries and featurettes during NFL commercial breaks, we see the classic progression – a smiling elementary student in an oversized helmet transforms into a more serious high school athlete, then into a standout middle schooler. At 21 or 22, we see this athlete standing next to Roger Goodell in the NFL Draft, and their professional story begins.
But the path to professional football is not always so linear. For some players, the road to athletic success lies beyond the NFL. For Georgetown alumni Nick Alfieri (MSB ’15) and Brent Craft (MSB ’08), their involvement in professional football came through an American football league in Germany, thousands of miles from home. It’s America’s gridiron pastime, transplanted into the very heart of European association football.
The German Football League (GFL) began in 1979 as a venue for friendly confrontations between Germans and American military personnel stationed in West Germany, forming six club teams. As Alfieri described in an interview with the Voice, the popularity of American football in Germany has steadily grown, with a growing fanbase of mostly Germans, not just American expats. Although the sport is unlikely ever to achieve the massive status of footballing powerhouses in the Bundesliga, it has generated a sizable following.
According to Alfieri, the sport is growing and the structure of the GFL is designed to encourage the participation of players from diverse backgrounds. “In America our football is such a popular sport, but in Germany it’s more of a niche sport,” Alfieri explained. “There are sixteen teams in the German football league and the structure of that is that you can only have six Americans on your roster and the rest of the team has to be European players.” Additionally, while a team can have six Americans on the roster, there can only be two on the field at any one time.
In 2014, Alfieri joined one of these groups of six Americans. Alfieri played linebacker for four years at Georgetown and stood out in his senior year, becoming the recipient of the Joe Eacobacci No. 35 Memorial Jersey in 2014. After graduating, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue careers. graduate studies at the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. A semester into his degree, however, he was contacted by a scout from a GFL team with a funny name – the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns. Alfieri left USC for Germany with the intention of playing football and producing an American football documentary there.
Brent Craft, co-producer of Alfieri, graduated from Georgetown in 2008 as one of the best football players in the league. In his senior year, he led the Hoyas in receptions and receiving yards and was ranked second in catches per game in the entire Patriot League. After his time on Hilltop, Craft pursued a career in professional football and sports film. He played a stint in the Arena Football League, then got into acting as a stuntman on NBC. Friday night lightseventually producing his first film in 2017 before serving as co-producer with Alfieri on their 2022 documentary.
This documentary—entitled unicorn city— Chronicle of Alfieri’s first year at Schwäbisch Hall. The Unicorns are the perfect underdog story: they’re GFL Championship contenders, but they’re hampered by injuries and well-funded opposition. Schwäbisch Hall is a town of about 40,000 people and the Unicorns have just one full-time employee and six paid players. The rest of the team and its coaching staff are volunteers. The teams they face for the GFL Championship come from big cities like Frankfurt and Dresden, which, unlike the Unicorns, are rife with funds from larger fanbases and lucrative corporate sponsorship deals.
The documentary describes the journey of six American players on the Unicorns. The film chronicles the players learning to live in Europe, becoming part of the culture of the town of Schwäbisch Hall and battling to beat the Brunswick Lions in the 2016 GFL Championship. kind of the New England Patriots in the GFL. No one doubts their talent, but their success has made them the league’s perennial playoff villain. The film follows the Unicorns from an injury-riddled regular season to the playoffs, culminating in a dramatic clash with the Lions in the 2016 GFL Finals.
Ultimately, the documentary provides a compelling personal story as well as an intriguing look at the rise of American football in a new market. The documentary was released on August 19 and is available on Prime Video, Apple TV, and Vudu, as well as in select theaters. For fans and athletes, unicorn city provides a window into the exciting, yet little-known world of professional American football outside of the United States
Craft hopes the film “presents a different spirit towards the sport.” Football in the United States is extremely commoditized and competitive, but the Unicorns, he continued, “retain a sense of soul that makes the game fun and keeps the atmosphere right and remembering that it’s always Sport”.
“Personally, I wouldn’t mind if it spilled over into the sports world,” he added.
Alfieri echoed that sentiment. “Playing football in America in high school and college – it becomes such a chore, it’s such a job – and when I got there and saw the passion that those German guys had – it It’s such a pure passion that it almost took me back to playing football when I was young,” he said.
“I just play for the purity of the sport, the camaraderie and the teamwork.”