Local football standouts will battle teams from Canada, Europe and Japan in a four-team tournament.
By BOB PUTNAM
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 23, 2001
As soon as Patrick Steenberge arrived at Tampa International Airport on Wednesday, he started thinking about flights coming from Montreal, Tokyo and Frankfurt for Super Bowl week and started to panic.
"I thought to myself, "My god, I'm responsible for most of these people,"' Steenberge said.
Such is life for Steenberge, organizer of the Global Junior Championship V, a four-team international football tournament that is, more or less, a high school version of the Super Bowl.
The tournament will be at Clearwater High, with semifinal games Wednesday as Japan plays Canada at 4 p.m. and Europe plays USA at 7. The consolation and championship games are Saturday.
"This is an international event with a local focus," said Steenberge, who has held the event in the host city for the Super Bowl the past four years. "That's what I envisioned when I started this thing. Now it looks like my crazy idea is starting to work."
The local focus involves the United States team.
Though the team represents a country, the players represent a county. The roster is drawn from players who were in the Palms/Pinellas all-star game in December.
Why the local all-stars in an international event?
"Logistics," Steenberge said. "We couldn't have teams staying all over the place, so we centered on one area. There is so much going on in Tampa, this gives us a showcase across the bridge. Plus, if we had a true USA all-star team, the games would probably be lopsided."
Seminole coach Sam Roper, who is coaching the USA team, would probably like to have a few more all-stars. His pool of players has been narrowed. Northeast's Andrew Harris and Mawase Falana and Gibbs' Mike Lynche and Cedric King have recently committed to play collegiate football and decided not to play.
"It would have been nice to get players from other counties involved, but we'll still have a good team," Roper said.
The birth of what has become Steenberge's baby goes back to the early '90s, when he already was something of a football ambassador. Steenberge, a former Notre Dame quarterback who played behind Joe Theismann in 1970 and '71, was taking American teams overseas. He said the competition among foreign countries was strong, but he didn't know if anyone had noticed.
"The interest and development in football was booming everywhere I went," Steenberge said. "But every time I talked to American coaches, they just kind of shrugged their shoulders about it. They didn't know football was being played overseas."
That gave Steenberge an idea. Instead of taking American teams elsewhere, why not bring international teams here? But Steenberge said he wanted a really big stage.
"So I thought, what better place than the Super Bowl?" he said.
Nice idea, but to get Steenberge's tournament to coincide with the biggest game of the year took an awful lot of convincing five years ago when he approached NFL officials.
"They said, "Don't ask for hotels, Super Bowl tickets or money,' " Steenberge said. "I said, "Well, what else is there after that?' Truth is, I just wanted their blessing."
Steenberge has found ways to cut expenses. For instance, instead of paying for hotel rooms, international teams stay with host families. This week, Palm Harbor University students host European players, East Lake hosts Canadians and Countryside hosts the Japanese.
"Not only do these young players have the opportunity to shine under the spotlight of the Super Bowl, they also get to become part of the local community," Steenberge said.
While most American players already have signed with colleges, this is the chance for international players to be recruited, which is a big draw for this tournament. One success story from the Global Championships is Constantin Ritzmann, a three-time MVP from Germany who is now a sophomore defensive end at Tennessee.
Jonathan Williams hopes to be the next success story. A quarterback for Canada, Williams played in last year's game in Atlanta and said he hopes to use this game as a way to catch the recruiters' eyes.
"This tournament has opened up a lot of doors for me," Williams said. "It's something you can put on a resume and then you also get to throw in the whole Super Bowl atmosphere, which is neat."
Steenberge will have more to worry about in the next few years. He plans to expand the tournament from four teams to eight, maybe even 16.
"There is a lot of interest," he said. "I have several countries already asking about it. I couldn't have imagined that when I started this. But this just shows what kind of power football, the NFL and the Super Bowl have all over the world."