A Star is Born

June 22, 1997

Rhein Fire 24

Barcelona Dragons 38

Estadi Olimpic de Montjuic, Barcelona, Spain

Jon Kitna ripped the Fire defense apart in World Bowl '97.
photo: photo-stock.co.uk

Having a big game in the World Bowl can do wonders for a player's career and that was the case for Barcelona quarterback Jon Kitna, who passed for a record 402 yards and 2 touchdowns to help the Dragons defeat the Rhein Fire.

Kitna - allocated to Jack Bicknell's club by the Seattle Seahawks - was the star of the 1997 season and it was only fitting that his spell in Europe should end with a stellar performance in the championship game.

And Kitna produced the best passing display in World Bowl history as he lit up the Fire defense all night long. That performance helped his cause with the Seahawks and just over a year later, Kitna was staking a claim for the starting job in Seattle.

By 1999, Kitna had won the starting quarterback's job and became one of the most efficient passers in the AFC. When he looks back on that Sunday evening in June, Kitna has fond memories and knows just what the World League - now NFL Europe - did for his career.

"I just remember how excited everybody was when we won the World Bowl," Kitna said. "My teammates and I were so pleased to share it with everybody in Barcelona. It was nice to see everybody enjoy the win.

"That was a great time for my wife and I over there in Europe. The people were great to us and it was great to see different parts of the world and that experience will be something I'll never forget."

While Kitna will long remember his time in Europe, Dragons fans will never forget the way he seemed to pass the ball with consummate ease in the biggest game of his World League career.

The Fire - led by quarterback T.J. Rubley, who actually won the Offensive Player of the Year award ahead of Kitna - made the brighter start to the game and took an early lead on Manfred Burgsmuller's 31-yard field goal.

World Bowl 91
Spanish linebacker Ivan Imbernon enjoys World Bowl victory.
photo: photo-stock.co.uk

Barcelona's response was quick and immediate and they ended the first quarter with a 14-3 lead. Terry Wilburn scored on a 13-yard touchdown run and things got worse for the Fire when safety Carlos Brooks intercepted Rubley and returned the ball 16 yards for the touchdown.

Rubley began and ended the second quarter with touchdown runs of 3 and 1 yards. Unfortunately for the Fire, those scores sandwiched a pretty successful period for the Dragons.

After Rubley's first run reduced Barcelona's lead to 14-10, Mexican national wide receiver Marco Martos caught a long bomb from Kitna and scored on a 66-yard touchdown. Kitna was in a groove at this stage and gave the Dragons a 28-10 lead on a 40-yard touchdown pass to Alfonzo Browning.

Rubley's second scoring run gave Fire hope as they went into the break trailing 28-17. Barcelona soon extended their lead after the break when Wilburn scored on a 4-yard run with just over two minutes left in the third period.

Rubley, restricted to just 157 passing yards, dragged the Fire back into contention with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Sean Foster but Kitna had no plans to sit on his lead.

The Seattle-allocated passer continued to air it out as he launched a single-handed assault on the record books. Thanks to the passing of Kitna, the Dragons moved into scoring range midway through the fourth quarter and Jesus Angoy put an exclamation point on the victory with a 34-yard field goal. The former FC Barcelona soccer goalkeeper received a huge ovation from the Spanish fans for landing the kick.

Kitna, who narrowly missed out to Rubley in the Offensive MVP voting, was named the game's Most Valuable Player and was ready to head back to Seattle and take up the challenge of becoming the Seahawks' starting quarterback. As he showed throughout that 1997 season and the World Bowl, Kitna was up to the challenge.

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