Originally Posted by ESPN
In a small apartment in a working-class neighborhood in Berlin, as Andreas Werner watched his son Bjoern take his first steps, he was already imagining the damage this big kid might someday do on the soccer pitch. Andreas' 3-year-old, Pascal, was already showing a flair for the game. Why would Bjoern be any different?
Andreas and his wife, Martina, were barely aware that in 1991 the NFL had just come to Germany in the form of the World League of American Football's Frankfurt Galaxy. They could have never imagined that this was blazing a path that would one day make their son a millionaire. Martina was a cleaning lady. Andreas was a bricklayer for 15 years, then a low-level clerk for the postal service. That was what mattered: hard work. That, and sports.
"What was important to me and my wife," Andreas says, "was that sports be played in the family, that they do something sports-related and sensible to keep them off the streets. Sports provides the means whereby you can develop and master inner resolve and resources and benefit from the world around you."
Whether that sport was tennis, handball, boxing, karate -- no matter. Just play. That said, sooner or later, Andreas presumed that his boys would come back to the beautiful game, the game in which Andreas was a star club player for 35 years.
"We were a soccer family," Bjoern says. "My dad played soccer, watched it like people in America watch football every weekend, you know what I'm saying? Both my brothers played soccer, everyone. I mean, I love soccer; I played it, too."
There was just one problem: Bjoern -- bigger and heavier and a head taller than all the other kids -- wasn't built like a soccer player. "Soccer is hard on your ankles, you know?" he says. "Even at a young age, I was getting a lot of sprained ankles. Then one time, I broke my foot."
He was only 10 years old, but the injury, Bjoern says, marked a turning point. For a year and a half, he had to stop playing soccer and even table tennis, at which he'd been a standout for a club team. Then, at about the time he was fully healed, a pal who belonged to Berlin Eagle (an American-football club) made a suggestion. "You can throw the ball," the kid said, "you can catch it, you're real athletic. Why don't you join the flag football team?"