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Hill had an NFL-caliber arm but few opportunities to showcase it while playing in run-heavy high school and college offenses. That changed during Hill's first NFL off-season in 2003 when he was allocated by Minnesota to play for the Amsterdam Admirals.

"We threw the heck out of the ball," Hill recalled Wednesday in a telephone interview. "That became very beneficial for me. And there's no substitute for game experience. You could get that over there."

Not anymore.

The one-year anniversary of NFL Europa's demise passed quietly last Sunday but the effects will be felt for seasons to come. Without another developmental league taking its place, there will be fewer rags-to-riches stories of players who could find NFL success if given the chance to hone skills that weren't developed in college. That includes Hill, who is now competing with Alex Smith to start in San Francisco.

Yes, a college free agent (Hill) could best the 2005 draft's top overall pick (Smith). J.T. O'Sullivan, another NFL Europa alumnus, also is in the mix to start.

"I was pretty disappointed when the league folded," said Hill, who was the 2003 NFL Europa passing leader. "I thought it was very good for young, third-string quarterbacks just to have the chance to play. If nothing else, maybe it could line you up for other jobs if your team wasn't waiting around for you to get back. Fortunately, the team that sent me there had the intention of keeping me around for a little while."

Unfortunately for NFL Europa, NFL team owner support gradually faded in a 16-year undertaking that had two missions: Grooming talent and expanding football's popularity overseas. Following yet another round of financial losses (reportedly $30 million for the 2007 NFL Europa season alone), the NFL pulled the plug and shifted its focus toward promoting regular-season games internationally.

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"I just think the point came where owners were seeing a light at the end of the tunnel and probably thought it was a train coming," said John Beake, who was NFL Europa's managing director.

Besides the fiscal issues, the overall quality of NFL Europa players had dwindled even though dozens remain on NFL rosters. The addition of four NFL franchises since the 1991 birth of NFL Europa (then called the World League of American Football) had greatly thinned the talent pool.

NFL teams then increasingly kept top developmental prospects in their own off-season workout programs. Sent to NFL Europa in their stead were players essentially considered training camp fodder.

The NFL has long enjoyed the luxury of having college football serve as its gratis minor-league system. Still, Hall of Fame coach and retired Buffalo Bills general manager Marv Levy believes NFL Europa will be missed.

"All sources for developing players are valuable," Levy said. "The draft is the primary way percentage-wise, but it's not the only way you're going to do it."

The NFL Europa success stories are notable. Quarterbacks, especially Kurt Warner -- who directed St. Louis to a Super Bowl title after NFL Europa and Arena League stints -- receive the most acclaim.

But NFL Europa has produced talent across the board. Adam Vinatieri -- regarded as the most clutch kicker in Super Bowl history -- parlayed a 1996 stint with Amsterdam into a New England Patriots roster spot. Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo also spent time with the Admirals in 2001 en route to becoming a 2008 Pro Bowl special teams player.

"(NFL Europa) is definitely going to be missed by the young guys who are not drafted or are late picks," Ayanbadejo said. "You could go there and establish yourself."

NFL Europa's passing will immediately influence how NFL teams approach the preseason. Clubs had received exemptions for players allocated to NFL Europa, allowing for larger training camp rosters that saved wear and tear on veterans. The NFL has now limited its preseason rosters to 80 players. That will have a trickle-down effect on how starters are used in practices and preseason games.

"One of the club executives told (NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell) that no team is going to open camp with 80 healthy players," Beake said. "Things like that are going to start to surface and have to be looked at."


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Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: July 4, 2008

Baltimore Ravens News

News » Absence of NFL Europa being felt

Absence of NFL Europa being felt

Absence of NFL Europa being felt
San Francisco quarterback Shaun Hill spent Wednesday afternoon preparing his boat for some off-season fishing.

He might still be afloat this fall were it not for the sunken vessel otherwise known as NFL Europa.

PHOTOS: NFL Europa alumni

League MVPs, Super Bowl champs and perennial Pro Bowl players enjoyed the benefits of NFL Europa.
  • Click for photos
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