By Alyssa Haduck
LOS ANGELES — Super Bowl week brought with it an announcement that the 2022 NFL season would feature the league’s first regular-season game staged in Munich. While this is new territory for the league, it is familiar ground for a player who will be on the sidelines of Super Bowl LVI on Sunday.
Before Italian-born Max Pircher joined the Los Angeles Rams via the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program, he played for the Hildesheim Invaders, an American football team in the German Football League.
“They have crazy fans there,” he said. “When they make it to Munich, it’s going to be really cool. I think that stadium is going to be sold out, 100%.”
The NFL’s expansion into Germany is the latest in the league’s international growth. In December 2021, it launched an initiative to match 18 teams with 26 international markets for fan engagement and commercialization. Four teams have been assigned to Germany: the Carolina Panthers, the Kansas City Chiefs, the New England Patriots and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Rams add OL Max Pircher to 90-man roster via International Player Pathway Program
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) May 4, 2021
The NFL International Player Pathway Program, established in 2017, recruits a small group of international athletes to try out for a position on an NFL practice squad with the opportunity of making a team’s active roster. The Italian is the first from his country to participate in the program.
Pircher played soccer and handball as a youth, but only began participating in football after being introduced to the sport by one of his high school teachers.
Despite his late start in the game, the 6-foot-7, 300-pound offensive lineman found early success, attracting the attention of the NFL’s international scouts and earning a spot in the league’s 2021 International Player Pathway Program.
Pircher, 22, had never been to the United States before joining the Rams. He said he has enjoyed Los Angeles from the day he arrived, thanks in part to teammates and coaches who have helped him not only adjust to life in America, but also the NFL’s elevated style of play.
Rams offensive line coach Kevin Carberry said Pircher has taken the challenge in stride.
“I’m really proud of Max’s growth and development,” Carberry said. “Everything we’ve given him, he’s run with it. During the season, when we have pads on, we would try to get some one-on-one reps, and he stepped in there and did some good things, so he’s coming along. I’m really proud of his progress.”
While Pircher will not see game action on Sunday, he knows his family and friends will still be watching from Italy. And through his inclusion in the Super Bowl, Pircher aims to pass forward the support he is receiving this weekend to Italian football players who aspire to play at the highest level of the game.
“It’s a big honor to do it,” he said. “The most important thing is that people back home can see that there is a way to make it if they work hard. They don’t play for nothing.”
Alyssa Haduck is a sports media graduate student at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @Alyssa_Haduck.