The tears were hard to see in the pouring rain, but the wistful sound of his voice was loud and clear. Surrounded by his teammates after the SWARCO Raiders Austrian Bowl victory and the first "double" in team history WR Andreas Pröller thanked them for all the special moments and experiences he was able to share with them. Next DE Mario Rinner joined him and recalled the 16 years he spent with the Tyroleans. With the fitting rallying cry "history" Pröller and Rinner broke the huddle.
It was the last huddle in the 2011 SWARCO Raiders season. For Pröller, Rinner and WR Jakob Dieplinger it was the last huddle in their careers with Europe's best football team.
The trio will hang up their cleats this summer. But before leaving football's active stage they want to play a successful American Football World Championships in their home country of Austria (July 8-16).
The farewell from the SWARCO Raiders came with mixed emotions. "I had so many great years with the SWARCO Raiders," explained Pröller. "I was there for all the major championships. It started with the 1997 juniors national title. I was there for the 2006 and 2011 Austrian Bowls and won three Eurobowls."
"I had 15 wonderful years that I will never forget," said Dieplinger. "I will always look back at my career with joy. Winning the double this season definitely was the highlight of my time with the team."
Rinner also likes to look back at all the championships – one in particular. "I have one personal highlight," he pointed out. "I'm talking about our very first Austrian Bowl title in 2004. We were always the underdog. There were always bigger teams in Austria. That all changed with that game. From there everything went straight up."
When Pröller (1994), Rinner and Dieplinger (both 1996) put on shoulder pads for the very first time the structure of the SWARCO Raiders organization wasn't near what it is today. "Back then we didn't have any youth programs. Most of the players were over 30 years old, twice as old as me," Pröller said smiling. His brother brought football to his attention. Rinner was a BMX rider before he chose football as his new adventure ride. Dieplinger followed in his brother's footsteps, who they put their stamp on the Tyroleans from day one.
Since then the SWARCO Raiders grew continuously – athletically and economically. Explaining the rise of his team, Rinner hit the spot, saying, "I grew up with the SWARCO Raiders and the SWARCO Raiders grew up during my time with them."
Long since the Tyrolean football team is the poster child for American football in Europe. That is illustrated by the path the trio takes on after their active careers. For years all three are more than just SWARCO Raiders players. Rinner and Dieplinger coach the youth and also work as the team's sports directors. Pröller became the team's strength and conditioning coach last year.
He will keep serving in this capacity. One man's joy is another man's sorrow. "Now I will be much harder on the guys than last year," Pröller smiled. "Since I'm not playing anymore I can boss around."
Rinner and Dieplinger also will stay on at the sidelines. This summer Dieplinger will go to a US college to finetune his coaching skills. Rinner will stay in Tyrol as a member of the coaching staff and the front office. "Now is the time to give all our young and talented players the chance to prove themselves," said Rinner. "We are at the top of the mountain and now we throw them into ice-cold water. Hopefully we will win many more championships with them."
Though if there is one thing Pröller, Rinner and Dieplinger learned when they said goodbye to playing for the SWARCO Raiders, it's that titles are not everything. In the future, when they look back at their active career the medals and trophies will be just accessories to emotional moments they experienced.
"There are so many highlights in an athlete's life," Pröller looked back one last time. "It doesn't always have to be a win. It can be a good tackle or a great catch. It is the sum of the experiences you were able to make. Having been a part of this team is something I will never forget for the rest of my life."