“You need every single person”

Lufthansa Cargo employee Franz Wilhelm shows his team spirit away from office too

Joe Flacco is 6 ft 6 in tall and weighs 245 lbs. He is a quarterback with the Baltimore Ravens. He is 28 years old and earns more than 20 million dollars a year. Franz Wilhelm is just over 5 ft 10 in tall and weighs 185 lbs. He is a wide receiver with the Starnberg Argonauts. He is 20 years old and has bought his own helmet, shoulder pads and football boots. Wilhelm earns his money at Lufthansa Cargo. He is training in Munich to become a forwarding and logistics clerk.

Franz Wilhelm doesn’t know if Flacco is happy. Wilhelm himself feels on top of the world, due in no small part to his enthusiasm for American football. This despite the fact that he’s not playing in the legendary NFL (American football league in the US), but “only” the second German Football League, and has to pay for the pleasure of this. Still, Franz Wilhelm has made it into the Frankfurt Universe programme for nothing. The Universe, founded by fans of the legendary Frankfurt Galaxy professional American football team, is hosting the Starnberg Argonauts this Sunday. On page 5 of the programme, it states that Wilhelm wears the number 41 and is what is known as a wide receiver – put simply, a catcher. He is meant to pluck the passes from the quarterback (playmaker) out of the sky and fight his way as far as possible downfield towards his opponents’ end zone.

The game is due to kick off at 3 p.m. The bus from Starnberg pulls up just after 1 p.m. Flacco might well have arrived by plane. But Lufthansa Cargo employee Wilhelm boarded the bus in Starnberg at 6:30 a.m. this Sunday morning with his 36 teammates. A flight would have been too expensive, as would an overnight stay in Frankfurt. Wilhelm is one of the last to alight. His gym bag hangs over his shoulder. He is holding his helmet in one hand, as well as the shoulder pads which always make an American footballer look more powerfully built than the rest of us. He carries a net with balls in his other hand. This is traditionally the job of the youngest member of the team. At 20 years of age, Wilhelm is no longer the youngest. But he still likes to act as ball boy: “Someone has to carry the balls.” He sounds more self-assured than bashful saying this.

It is his first proper season with the senior players. He was only involved in three games last year as he went travelling after finishing school and took a 2-month Spanish course in Costa Rica. He thinks that having a second foreign language in addition to English will benefit him at Lufthansa Cargo.

The 20-year-old is hoping to forge ahead this year. This won’t be easy as his team has just been promoted to the second league. Still, Ludwig Kastenmaier, Association President and all-rounder, is convinced that Franz Wilhelm will pursue his vision. “He works hard, he’s ambitious and he’s quick to spot new plays”, says Kastenmaier, who
has known Wilhelm since his early games in the youth team. Wilhelm first donned shoulder pads and a helmet and entered the fray at 15 years of age. A friend had taken him along to training at the time. He enjoyed it right from the off, mainly because football is a team sport. As he says, “you need every single player to be successful as a team.” Franz Wilhelm sees clear parallels between this and his work
at Lufthansa Cargo.

As Wilhelm notes, American football is also a contact sport. This is a nice way of describing the furious struggle for the oval ball. If ten or more players pile in, the crunch can be heard up in the stands. “That’s all part of the game”, says Franz Wilhelm nonchalantly. It takes 16 minutes for him to get dressed. Five foam pads are inserted into a kind of girdle. There are pads for each thigh and hip and one for the tailbone. Two knee pads are then inserted in the actual playing shorts. After that,
he puts on his socks, shoes, shoulder corset and finally his helmet. Wilhelm has invested 350 euros in that alone.

Because of this, he has also escaped largely uninjured in his American football career to date. He stresses that he hasn’t missed a single day due to injury during his apprenticeship at Lufthansa. Wilhelm is also learning how to swallow defeat, with the game against the Frankfurt Universe ending in a 6:26 loss. Newbies don’t have it easy.