When most students think about what “going pro” looks like for college football players, the first thing that comes to mind is the NFL. On ESPN documentaries and featurettes during NFL commercial breaks, we see the classic progression—a smiling elementary schooler in an oversized helmet grows into a more serious high school athlete, and then a college standout. By age 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 isn’t always so linear. For some players, the road to athletic success lies beyond the NFL. For Georgetown alums Nick Alfieri (MSB ’15) and Brent Craft (MSB ’08), their involvement in professional football has come through an American football league in Germany, thousands of miles away from home. This is the gridiron pastime of the United States, transplanted to the very heart of European association football.
The German Football League (GFL) started in 1979 as a place for friendly matchups between Germans and U.S. 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 grown steadily, with an increasingly large fanbase made up primarily of Germans, not just American expats. While the sport will probably never attain the massive status of soccer powerhouses in the Bundesliga, it has generated a sizable viewership.
According to Alfieri, the sport is growing, and the structure of the GFL is designed to encourage participation by players from a range of backgrounds. “In America, our football is such a popular sport, but in Germany, it’s more of a niche sport,” Alfieri described. “There’s sixteen teams in the German football league and the structure of it is you can only have six Americans on your roster and the rest of the team has to be European players.” Moreover, while a team can have six Americans on the roster, there can only be two on the field at the same time.
In 2014, Alfieri became part of one of those groups of six Americans. Alfieri played linebacker for four years at Georgetown and was a standout his senior year, becoming the 2014 Joe Eacobacci No. 35 Memorial Jersey Recipient. After finishing his degree, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a graduate degree from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. A semester into his degree, however, he was contacted by a recruiter from a GFL team with a funny name—the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns. Alfieri left USC for Germany with the intent to both play football and produce a documentary about American football there.
Brent Craft, Alfieri’s co-producer, graduated from Georgetown in 2008 as one of the best football players in the league. In his senior year, he led the Hoyas in both receptions and receiving yards and was ranked second in catches per game across the whole Patriot League. After his time on the Hilltop, Craft pursued a career in professional football and sports filmmaking. He played a stint in the Arena Football League, then got into film as a stuntman on NBC’s Friday Night Lights, eventually producing his first film in 2017 before serving as a co-producer with Alfieri on their 2022 documentary.
That documentary—titled Unicorn Town—chronicles Alfieri’s first year in Schwäbisch Hall. The Unicorns are the perfect underdog story: They’re contenders for the GFL championship, but they’re hampered by injuries and a well-financed opposition. Schwäbisch Hall is a city of about 40,000 people, and the Unicorns have only one full-time staff worker and six paid players. The rest of the team and its coaching staff are volunteers. The teams they face for the GFL championship are from large cities like Frankfurt and Dresden, who, unlike the Unicorns, are flush with funds from larger fan bases 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 Schwäbisch Hall’s town culture, and struggling to beat the Brunswick Lions in the 2016 GFL championship. The Lions, from a fairly large city, are something of a New England Patriots in the GFL. Nobody 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 into the playoffs, culminating in a dramatic matchup with the Lions in the 2016 GFL final.
Ultimately, the documentary provides a compelling personal story as well as an intriguing look at American football’s rise in a new market. The documentary was released on Aug. 19 and is available on Prime Video, Apple TV, and Vudu, as well as in select theaters. For fans and athletes alike, Unicorn Town provides a window into the exciting, but little known, world of professional American football outside the U.S.
Craft hopes the film “showcases a different spirit towards the sport.” Football in the U.S. is extremely commoditized and competitive, but the Unicorns, he continued, “retain a sense of soul that keeps the game fun and keeps the atmosphere right and remembers that it is still sport.”
“I personally wouldn’t mind if this spreads throughout the sports world,” he added.
Alfieri echoed this sentiment. “Playing football in America in high school and college—it becomes such a grind, it’s such a job—and when I got over there and I saw the passion that these German guys had—it’s such a pure passion it almost brought me back to playing football as a young kid,” he said.
“Just playing for the purity of the sport and the camaraderie and the teamwork.”