Interview: McCrea - NY Jets, Finland & 2 Suitcases

Charles McCrea is already a known 'face' on TDEU. Earlier, Charles shared his Euro-American Challenge experience, and also got TDEU Approved. Now, we sat down with Charles to share his story and views on football in Europe. He played in Austria and Finland, and 2013 is his third season with the Helsinki 69ers.

New York Jets
After finishing college I started playing Arena football, I went to Alaska. New York Jets, Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks were there looking at some of our linemen. My coach introduced me to the scouts, and, right there - it was a life changing experience.

In 2009. New York Jets coaches introduced me to a team in Europe - Seinajoki Crocodiles. We had a great season, however, I ended up getting injured. I had an NFL contract with the Jets and unfortunately, I couldn't pass the physical because of the injury. After rehab, I came back to Finland, where I started playing for the Helsinki Roosters. That season I was named the MVP.

Once I got to the NFL I was pumped up and ready to show what I can do. It's a league where business is very serious. At that time I was ready to play, however I wasn't used to the 100 yard field since I was playing Arena before. In the meantime I went to Europe, and just a week before I was supposed to leave - I got badly injured, however I didn't take it seriously and I had to play the championship game, I couldn't leave my teammates. I just put a knee bracelet on and kept playing. Even now, I don't regret my decision.

The day after the championship in Finland, I had to get on the plane and get to New York and tell the Jets that my leg is torn up. It was very difficult for me knowing that I won't pass the physical. 

I had tremendous support from my family. Once I started with the rehab, Helsinki Roosters didn't care if I was hurt or not, they wanted me back. I'm grateful they gave me a chance. 

Photo source: Facebook
Cultural shock & 2 suitcases
Crocodiles are probably one of the rare teams in EU who have a lot of the stuff you need for practice. Town is small, atmosphere is amazing! I'd compare them to the Green Bay Packers. 

That season was the 1st season in EU for all the Americans who came to play for the Crocodiles. When I arrived at the airport, it was a cultural shock. I know I'm not in Miami.. I had shorts on, T-shirt, backpack.. I walked outside - it was SO cold, although the sun was shining! I did my research, I knew it's cold in Finland. However for me, spring and summertime in The States is shorts and a t-shirt. Not in Finland. Looking at the buildings, cars - everything was so different than what I was used to seeing in The States.

Finland has a strong fan base football wise. I didn't have to explain football is not rugby. We had kids approach us ask for autographs, people knew we were football players. People would stare at us, especially when you can tell the difference between the European and American black guy.

Being a college student - it's easy to pack everything in 2 suitcases. I was prepared for the travel since I was travelling so much - all the combines, Arena football [Texas, Alaska..] - I was basically already living on 2 suitcases. Some players tend to bring A LOT. Me, I bring a lot of shoes. 

My former roommate/teammate arrived with 3 suitcases with nothing but clothes. He came for the last part of the season, he was supposed to be there for 2 months. He had to leave a bag and it was shipped to him. This year he will play in Germany, and luckily, he's ready now (laughs).

Photo source: Facebook
Teaching The Basics
My dad is a football coach, and growing up in a football family, the first thing I do is watch peoples techniques. Guys in Finland are like sponge, they want to learn, they would ask for extra time, or ask for an additional practice. 

We had a young runningback in Seinajoki, Eli, who was doing the army and coming to practice while traveling between the cities. He was putting in a lot of work, we taught him how to read, how to make one-step-cuts, turns etc. Same thing in Helsinki, with our RB and DBs. We had a DB who went to college right after my 1st season with them.

The Pressure Of Being An Import
Some teams across EU think that imports are supposed to win the championship. They would base all the plays on their imports. And, they don't understand it's a team concept, you're as good as the players around you. If you coach the imports the same way as you coach the other guys - then you have a team, there are no individuals. If I'm messing up, I want my coach to tell me. If I'm not corrected I'll keep doing the same thing.

We have to make adjustments to how they live and play. A lot of American coaches do make the mistake of of trying to 'live and die' when it comes to their imports. You should use someone else as well, give everyone a chance. All imports are not good imports, all coaches are not good coaches, and, when you do find someone good, stick with the person. Same with the imports - if they are with a good team, they will want to come back, and make that team their home.

Photo source: Facebook
Football & Emotions
My Finland experience has been better than my Austrian experience, I can't lie about it. In Finland, we were hanging out off the field, and one of the guys told me that I deserve everything that comes to me, and how much they appreciate the help. They gave me 100 euro on the side, for me it was wow, since they do pay me to play football, and they still tried to give me even more. I was kinda speechless just to see how much they're trying to make my stay there comfortable. 

In Seinajoki, we started a tradition. We'd go to McDonalds every Monday. My teammates would be like "When you play big, you get a Big Mac". Every week they'd get me a Big Mac. 

Some of the things you don't even see until you're back in The States and when you start telling your EU story. My father played a big part on me going to play in EU. He'd tell me: "Son, sometimes people are not destined to play in the NFL, when something else is calling them - go and try!". Now, I could care less about playing in the NFL. I love Europe, and seeing football grow.

The Most Embarrassing Moments
Oh wow! Once, we were going out, and there was this water puddle and there was some ice on the ground. And, I didn't see the ice. Everyone was walking around it, but to me, it was just a black spot. I slipped! I had a white shirt, and I went wooosh in this muddy water and rolled down the street! My teammates still give me a hard time about it. They'd say: "We see you passing by these 300 pounds guys on the field, and you can't pass the little thing such as the ice."

One time in a game, again, I just slipped. I was running and boom, fell straight on my face and slide. TV cameras were there, they went in right there on me.

In Austria, right in the middle of the game, note that the game was live on Eurosport, we were doing the kickoff, right after I scored a TD, I CRAMPED! And fell down. I was going in the slow motion, trying not to fall, both of my legs were like locked. - He's going down! He's going down! AND DOWN GOES MCCREA! On national TV!!! QB from Austria, Chris Gunn put it up on Youtube! [Play the video under, of course we had Charles send us the link! And, a special thanks to Chris from everyone over at TDEU!]

Off Field
I'm working on some things outside the field. One is McCrea Sports - doing football apparel and uniforms. We're doing pretty good. And, we want to start a scouting service for U19 group and down. I think that football can be improved that way when kids from EU can get some experience in USA. We'd go around, scout the kids, and rank based on what coaches in USA are looking for.

When in USA I coach, and some of these kids are all-american. It's very fulfilling when you see it right in front of yours. I want to do the same thing in Europe.

In Finland, we see around 62% of the kids going to USA to play football and coming back. They are an impact. In Finland, Sweden, France, Germany, Austria.. They take their football seriously. In Serbia as well!  

Photo source: Facebook
Linemen! Work! Teams take big guys very easily. They have to be coached properly, it's not just bringing the biggest men you can find. I had a QB who stopped playing because of it. 

Hustle! A lot of the players don't finish the plays! There was this guy who played for the Chicago Bears before. He'd be chasing me until the whistle blows, cause he knew there will be that one time I might not do something right, and he'll be there.

You don't see guys finishing plays in Europe. Now, it is changing. In Austria, they're hustling. In Finland it's slowly changing. Not a lot of people understand "Finish the play". If I'm running and get hit, maybe if I gave it more effort, I'd break that tackle. That's called finishing the play! 

Even in the NFL - Ravens and 49ers they're finishing their plays! That's why they're in the SB. In EU - Calanda Broncos, Raiders, Vikings, Adler - they have a defense that gets the ball! 

TDEU Traditional Q - Kickers
Kickers are smooth, they are members of a football team but yet they don't walk around with bruises. 

Our kicker is the best player on the team. You don't want to mess with his head, you don't want to upset him. Kicker can win you a game. Our kicker has his own seat on the bus, he gets 1st on the bus. 

When Berlin Adler won the Eurobowl against Vienna Vikings - it was Adler's kicker who scored the winning field goal.

Coming to Europe was an eye-opener. Every American comes here thinking how they'll tear it up. I take it play by play. When you get hit for the first time in EU, you'd be like - This is for real! Even the Euro-American challenge, I was on the Euro team, and I think, if we had a more season QB, we'd beat the American Team. Next year we will for sure!

Mia Bajin