FRANKFURT, Germany – The atmosphere at Frankfurt Stadium on Sunday was stunning.
I cannot emphasize this enough – the 50,144 fans there created one of the best atmospheres I've experienced. And I'm going to remember this for a long, long time:
(John Denver's Country Roads is, as I understand it, a frequently-sung song during Oktoberfest in Germany.)
The NFL hit a home run staging two games in Frankfurt this season, and the fans – a mix of mostly Germans, Europeans and Americans making the trip abroad – were electric. And everywhere you went in Frankfurt, you saw football fans not of Eintracht Frankfurt, Paris Saint-Germain, Arsenal, AC Milan, etc. You saw fans of the Colts, Patriots, Green Bay Packers, Cincinnati Bengals, San Francisco 49ers, etc.
Patrick Mahomes' face was plastered all over the main train station, and folks wearing a collage of NFL jerseys milled around – plenty of Patriots, of course, but just about every team was represented with some piece of apparel. A bustling lunch spot had an NFL special burger on its menu. Ex-Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler took the microphone at an NFL event in the city center and immediately began talking about his Super Bowl-sealing interception of Russell Wilson while a group of European Seattle Seahawks fans stood awkwardly.
And while this was a Patriots home game, Colts fans were all over Frankfurt. Some made the trip from the United States, while others travelled in from all over Europe for the game. At "Colts Haus" – the pub takeover the Colts had on Friday and Saturday – I met a die-hard Colts fan, Lucas, from the Netherlands, who became a supporter after studying abroad in central Indiana. And good thing Lucas got there early – it was one-in, one-out, with Colts fans from quite literally all over packing the bar and cheering as Owner and CEO Jim Irsay fired up the crowd and Hall of Fame Edgerrin James delivered some remarks.
Colts Haus Pub Party hosted at the official headquarters for Indianapolis Colts fans in Frankfurt, Germany. Owner & CEO Jim Irsay, Hall of Fame running back Edgerrin James, Blue and Colts cheerleaders make an appearance with activities and entertainment planned throughout the weekend.
On Saturday, I met Andre, a longtime Colts season ticket member from Manchester, England who now resides in Carmel. When he met the man who eventually would become his father in law, he was asked: Who's your favorite football club.
Manchester United, of course, Andre responded. His father-in-law asked again: No, who's your favorite football club.
Once again, Andre said Manchester United.
His father in law responded: No, it's the Colts.
He's been a true-blue Colts fan ever since and a season ticket member for the last dozen years.
George Eghator, one of the NFL's top influencers abroad, attended media availabilities and asked smart questions. (George also happens to be a die-hard Colts fan who's literally lost sleep over the team, since primetime games kick off well after midnight in the United Kingdom). Media from Germany and all over Europe pinged insightful questions to head coach Shane Steichen and several Colts players.
This game, coming on the heels of last week's Chiefs-Dolphins thriller at Frankfurt Stadium, was a big deal around this part of Germany. It felt different than when massive European soccer clubs come to the United States to play pre-season friendlies – sure, those games can sell a hundred thousand tickets at the Big House in Ann Arbor. And sure, American media knows the sport much like European media knows football (that's a compliment to both groups).
But those games don't matter. The result of Real Madrid playing Manchester City in July doesn't mean anything.
The result of the Colts beating the Patriots had a major impact on the NFL landscape. The Colts are still in the thick of the AFC playoff race. The Patriots might be careening toward a top-five pick in next year's NFL Draft.
And even in the NFL's lowest-scoring game of 2023, the crowd at Frankfurt Stadium was outstanding. The NFL is scheduled to host at least one home game in Germany annually through 2025 and views the country as a major opportunity for growth.
After spending the last few days in Frankfurt, it's easy to see why the NFL views Germany that way.
"We just appreciate all the support that we can get," safety Julian Blackmon said. "It's beautiful to see the game growing outside of the U.S., that's what I mentioned earlier. And this is very important for us, you know? We want it to continue to grow."
The Colts celebrate after a win over the New England Patriots in Week 10 at Frankfurt Stadium