Meeting Munich: Blake Barnes is Munich’s ‘Cap’ Rooney
The Munich Cowboys may have suffered a heavy 59-14 defeat to the Dresden Monarchs in the first round of the German Football League (GFL) playoffs, but this season has still been a remarkable one. Jonathan Harding caught up with stand-in quarterback Blake Barnes before the playoff game to discuss exactly that.
“I’ve discovered a new-found love for the game,” said Munich Cowboys quarterback Blake Barnes on a wet, Saturday morning in a busy Café Schwabing. Barnes looks a little tired as he recalls the season just passed, but he never loses his grin about what has happened in this season. The offensive coordinator was thrust into the pocket after a long-term injury to starting QB Patrick Carey midway through the regular season. Since then, the seasoned pro has hardly looked back throwing 28 TDs for 2,435 yards (an astounding average of 221.4 yards per game) and has lead the Cowboys into the playoffs after they finished the regular season 9-4-1.
Barnes’s story is remarkable. Having made it to the University of Georgia – a school where every starting QB that has attended has gone on to play at least one year in the NFL – Barnes was perfectly placed to be the starting quarterback after gaining experience in his first few years. “One of the reasons I wanted to play at Georgia was because I knew I would play soon. I knew I would red-shirt one year and in my freshman year I learned a lot. In my sophomore year, I was getting ready to compete, I was well prepared and in the best shape I’d ever been.” That same year, Georgia signed Matt Stafford and in the first week of spring practice, Barnes stepped back innocently in the pocket before turning and falling in pain. He had dislocated his kneecap and torn his medial collateral ligament. Three days later, Barnes broke the thumb on his throwing hand and Stafford was the number one draft pick in 2009, signing for the Detroit Lions.
Barnes was not to be deterred though and moved to Delta State, a division two school in Mississippi. “I knew I wasn’t going to play (at Georgia). I wanted to play my senior season and Ii was a system that catered to my abilities. There was even an opportunity to continue my season after college if I had a good season.” Barnes got down there and broke his arm in the first game of the season.
Most would have taken this as a sign to change careers or stop playing, but Barnes didn’t. After spells in the CFL (Canadian Football League), Barnes returned to complete his degree at Georgia before he got a call from a friend in Connecticut telling him about football in Europe. Barnes registered himself on the Euro Players website on Monday, got an offer on Tuesday and flew to Paris on the Friday to become the quarterback of Les Flash. A week later in his first game, he threw for 5 touchdowns in a 37-8 win.
Barnes’s sensational story didn’t stop there either. He left Paris for Switzerland to join the Calanda Broncos before another knee injury hampered him once more. “I took a bit of a holiday after the season and ended up meeting and talking to a team in Rome who were interested in a coach. So I went down there and coached the junior team. After the last knee injury, I thought I was done and would never play again.”
And at that moment, fate struck. The defensive coordinator during Barnes’s time at the Calanda Broncos was Coach James Craig and having stayed in touch, Craig called Barnes two years later to see if he was interested in taking up the quarterback role at the Cowboys. Barnes wasn’t keen on returning to the field at the time but when he did leave Rome, he called Craig back. By that time the quarterback position had been filled, but was an opening as an offensive coordinator and so Barnes’ European adventure continued as he moved to Munich.
Up until the moment Carey got injured, Barnes hadn’t considered getting back on the field. “It’s something I knew I could still play even after the last couple of years where I was just coaching but due to knee injuries, amongst other things, I thought it was better not to. “ Barnes smiles before adding, “But, it’s been a blast and I’ve really, really enjoyed it.”
The disappointment of not making it further in the playoffs must have brought him down from that high. Barnes’ interception issue (15 INTs in 11 regular games) resurfaced (two in the game vs. Dresden, both of which were converted into scores) and he wasn’t able to execute his no-huddle offence or make as many smart decisions as he had against Stuttgart on the final day of the season.
The quarterback, as most Cowboys’ fans will, points out the progression of the team is the most valid lesson from the season. “The coach kind of set the foundations for this last year, building the team and getting them ready. A lot of players have said to me, they’ve just finished their best season. There are a lot of youngsters playing but they realise the ability is there.”
As midday strolls around and Barnes drains the last of his coffee, our conversation comes to an end. As he gets up, fiddling with his cap, we talk about his feelings and expectations for next year. I instantly thought of the fictional battle between Jack ‘Cap’ Rooney (played by Dennis Quaid) and ‘Steamin’ Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx) in Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday. Although the roles are reversed and Carey holds none of Beamen’s youthful arrogance, there is certainly a feeling that the old pro has shown there’s life in his arm yet. He smiles wryly, almost as if he had never stopped smiling throughout, and said, “We’ll see.”