MUNICH—Aaron Donkor is a big deal this week, a German born-and-raised football player who is back in his home country with the Seahawks. There are also several well-known Seahawks Legends in Munich this week.
But those Seahawks current and past might not be the biggest deal when it comes to football around these parts, at least not for fans old enough to have watched when Germany was home to multiple NFL Europe teams.
For those fans, the biggest star in Germany with the Seahawks this week might be the team's director of legends & player engagement, Mario Bailey.
Seattle sports fans of course know Bailey as a local kid turned All-American receiver who helped the University of Washington win a national title in 1991. But in this country, Bailey is known for his six seasons as a star receiver for the Frankfurt Galaxy from 1995-2000.
"Mario was the absolute No. 1 fan magnet," said Werner Hippler, a tight end from Germany who was teammates with Bailey for four seasons. "What he did on the field was unbelievable—he was just unstoppable in this league and still is the leader for most of the receiving records in NFL Europe. He was an absolute team leader, and even in tough situations he got the team together and made sure our minds and hearts were at the right place and we all stood together as a big family.
"He was a very dedicated and strong player who always found a way to win and get open in situations you never expected. If you had Mario on your team, you didn't have to worry about losing. He was a winner and the other players looked up sohim."
What made Bailey so popular with the Galaxy wasn't just his on-field production, but also the relationship he formed with fans, which is why he was still getting recognized by some fans while out in Munich this week.
"He not only performed on the field, he made the Fans in Frankfurt feel like home, and dedicated more time than everyone else to sign autographs and thank the fans for coming to the games, and they loved him for it," Hippler said.
Markus Arnold, a German football fan who works for the new version of the Frankfurt Galaxy in the European League of Football, called Bailey "The best receiver in the history of NFL Europe… Mario Bailey was the heart of Frankfurt's offense for six years."
And those were some successful offenses, helping the Galaxy to four league championship games and two titles in Bailey's six seasons.
What makes Bailey's legendary status in Germany most interesting, however, is the fact that he initially never wanted to come here. After all, NFL Europe was a developmental league for the NFL, which is where Bailey really wanted to be.
"I remember I didn't want to go," Bailey said. "The Houston Oilers, sent me after the '94 season to get some more work and get some playing time, and I did not want to go. My first year we had a ball. I thought, 'Why am I in Germany?' but we ended up winning the championship. We had fun. I had fun being around the guys; I had fun in Europe. I didn't like the food at first, but other than that, it just became a great time."
Bailey never stopped chasing his NFL goal, and had some close calls, including one stint in Seahawks training camp, and another potential signing with Seattle that didn't materialize because of a broken arm, but he also came to see the positives of his time in Germany.
"I ended up staying for a total of six seasons," he said. "We went to the championship four out of my first five years, we won two and lost two. The fans were better than any fans I had ever experienced. I've been at the University of Washington and winning the national championship, but those (German) fans were learning football, so while they were learning and our team was good, it was just one of those experiences. It's a lifetime experience you never ever forget—them learning football, and we're starting to win so much that they could complain and tell you what you weren't doing good. Before they didn't know what a real play was, but by the time I left there, they were football people and they knew exactly what was going on the entire game. It was a great time."
Bailey still gets back to Germany somewhat regularly, in part to see friends and former teammates, but also to visit his son, Jalen, who is 20 and lives in Germany, and who also makes trips to Seattle to see Bailey.
Bailey downplays his fame in Germany, saying he became a fan-favorite, "because I was there too long," and because he played on winning teams. But regardless of the reasons for his own fame here, Bailey does have as much admiration for German football fans as they had for him.
"They were there partying at eight in the morning until midnight," he said of the Frankfurt gameday experience. "I had never ever seen anything like that. It's one thing to tailgate, but they take tailgating to a whole 'nother level. They were having fun, and I didn't probably realize it until my second, third year and I actually went and seen what was going on before the game and after the game, but some of those fans have reached, out and it's been 20 something years since I've been there."
And even though it has been more than 20 years since he played here, Bailey still has plenty of fans in Germany as he returns with a different team.
"He's still a star (in Germany)," said Donkor. "He's still the man."
It was an all-day party at the Seahawks Haus, AKA Augustiner Stammhaus, on November 11, 2022. The day featured games, prizes, visits from Seahawks Legends Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill, plenty of bier, and more. Visit Seahawks.com/Germany for more events taking place in Munich throughout the weekend.