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Archive for March, 2009

Sunday in Pancevo

Having our Kraljevo game rescheduled turned out be a blessing in disguise for our team.  Our guys participated in valuable reps and gained great confidence in their abilities over the weekend thanks to our “extra” practice time.

We had a good and efficient early practice Sunday morning with the team.  We ended practice just shy of 12 pm, which gave a couple members of our team time to shower and eat lunch before heading north 2 hours to Pancevo to watch the Pancevo Panthers (team we scrimmaged a month ago) host the Klek Knights.  This game gave us the opportunity to scout 2 of our next 3 opponents.

It also gave us an opportunity to buy some strawberries on our drive…

A lady selling strawberries on the side of the road
A lady selling strawberries on the side of the road

Both teams endured a strong east to west wind and Klek led 13-12 at halftime.  The second half was entirely Klek as they capitalized on some of Pancevo’s mistakes and finished drives strong in the red zone.  The final was 40-19 in favor of Klek.

Below are more pictures of our Sunday adventure.  Our team can’t wait to get on the field next weekend for our second game of the season.

U.S. Steel Serbia
U.S. Steel Serbia; in between Kragujevac and Pancevo

The "Help Trans" vehicle at the game
The “Help Trans” vehicle at the game

Some action from the game
Some action from the game

Wild Boars in attendance
Wild Boars in attendance

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Our game against the Kraljevo Royal Crowns has been rescheduled for next weekend.  Originally slated to take place today, an unfortunate string of rain and field security issues forced the Royal Crowns to postpone the game.

Games here in our Serbian league are set-up a little differently than in America.  Each game is scheduled for a weekend (Saturday or Sunday) before the season begins.  It is the home team’s responsibility to secure a field (sometimes harder to secure than you would think), referees, and pay all game fees.  Once things are secured, the home team will relay the game information to the visiting team.  So, game time, day, and location are usually not decided until the week of the game.  It is an interesting organizational technique, however, it is starting to make more sense considering that things in Europe are always very unexpected.

Our EFAF Challenge Cup games are the only games that have secure dates, times, and locations.

In other news, it is beginning to feel like spring here in Kragujevac.  The past couple of days have been full of sunshine and rising temperatures, closing in on 60 degrees today.  Although rain is still on the cusp for the next couple of days, it makes a huge difference when it is 60 degrees and raining as opposed to 40 degrees and raining.  The weather has injected some life into the city as cafes are setting up their outside tables and chairs, dog walking numbers have tripled in the past couple of days,  and general physical activity of the people has increased, as witnessed yesterday in the city park.  Hooray for spring!

With another week to wait before our Kraljevo game, more practice time can be dedicated to getting better on the beautiful Kolonija Field

With another week to wait before our Kraljevo game, more practice time can be dedicated to getting better on the beautiful Kolonija Field this weekend (Yes, those small objects in the distance are Stan and China)

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Yesterday was the 10-year anniversary of the NATO bombing on Serbia. The bombings lasted from March 24, 1999 until June 11, 1999.  NATO’s apparent mission was to create a vote for independence concerning Kosovo, an area in southwestern Serbia.  In Kosovo, fighting had been going on and off since 1996 between Yugoslav troops and the Kosovo Liberation Army (predominately comprised of Albanians).  At the time, the capital of Yugoslavia was Belgrade, which is now the present day capital of Serbia.

Yugoslav Army headquarters building in Belgrade that was bombed in 1999.  I took this picture 2 weeks ago.
Yugoslav Army headquarters building.  It was bombed in 1999.  Picture was taken 2 weeks ago while walking around Belgrade

To backtrack a bit, Slobodan Milošević, the President of Yugoslavia, was at the root of the ongoing problem between Kosovo and Yugoslavia.  He had retracted the autonomy of the province in 1990 and in doing so had stripped it of Albanian ties to the area.  This move built up resistance that later flared up in 1996.

By 1999, after talks dissolved between the NATO and Serbia concerning the Rambouillet Accords the next step was uninvited force by NATO.  The Rambouillet Accords asked for Kosovo’s autonomy within Yugoslavia as well as a right of passage for NATO throughout all of Yugoslavia.  The Serbs said the demands were too drastic and the accords did not pass.  NATO began bombing on March 24th, without approval by the United Nations Security Council.

The main discrepancy about this whole situation is the refuge of the Albanian people thanks to visual representations of their flight and violence against them.

It is difficult to pinpoint why the Albanians fled Kosovo, an area located in southwestern Serbia bordering Albania, becoming refugees. Their refuge is afforded to many different reasons.  Therefore, many theories exist:

  • Serb terrorists forced Albanians out of Kosovo through “ethnic cleansing” measures (Western government belief)
  • NATO bombings created hysteria amongst Albanians and Serbs alike, causing both to flee their familiar areas within Serbia
  • Fleeing occurred as response to anti-Albanian sectors that rose in an attempt to combat NATO bombings
  • Manipulation by military and intelligence agencies (mostly Western) that smeared Serbs as war criminals through staged flights of Albanians aided by the use of the media

I remember when this whole situation was going on back in 1999. To be quite honest, at the time, I had no idea our reason for involvement or much of what was going on. The U.S. media created this picture of correctness in our involvement.  Much like the rest of America, it was easy to be naive to the situation and believe the news we receive from the media.  Anytime the phrase “ethnic cleansing” is thrown around the first thing that pops into anyone’s head is the Holocaust.  Of course, humanitarian action is requested when genocide is happening.

Was this an ongoing genocide in need of military aide (to help Albanians return to their homes)?  Was this an attempt to disfigure Yugoslavia?  Was our involvement the first step in created a NATO stronghold within Yugoslavia?  Was Milošević the target?

Close-up of building across from the Army headquaters in downtown Belgrade
Building across from the Army headquarters

My research is not too deep in this area.  I have read some reports online as well as interviews of historians and people involved in the situation.  It has become obvious that nothing has been cleared up since 1999.  As with war, the motives of all parties will be questioned for eternity.  However, there were immediate outcomes.

Yes, the stability of Yugoslavia was weakened and disbanded.  Yes, Kosovo finally declared for independence in February 2008.  Milošević was overthrown in 2000.  NATO’s military intelligence was unsound, and as a result they resorted to bombing the nation’s infrastructure.  Thus, the economy of Serbia became severely weak.

Much like the attack on America in 2001, native Serbs remember the bombings like it happened yesterday.  Laza, our Defensive Coordinator, spoke about it with me a couple of times.  He said, “You would hear sirens all the time, everyday.”  “I remember going to meet friends at the movies on the 24th.  The bombing started and we ended up sleeping on the floor at our relative’s house” Laza said.  Laza also commented on fear of the unknown, as bombs were dropping all over Serbia without rhyme or reason.

Much of Serbia is still attempting to dig itself out of the terrible financial hole it found itself in after June of 1999.  For instance, Kragujevac is just now building many new apartments, high-rise buildings, and a new luxury 3-floor mall.  I believe the currency has changed multiple times and most families have only once source of income from a lone family member.  Physical reminders of the bombings are still evident in Belgrade and even right down the street from my apartment, where an old military building remains demolished.

The memories of the Serbian people tell an ongoing story of the fear, trauma, resolve, while posing many questions.  These, to go along with the physical remnants of the situation have given me a far greater tale concerning the NATO bombings on Serbia.

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View as you enter the fortress
View as you enter the fortress

With a bye week after our win against the Blue Dragons, Stan and I took the opportunity to head north to Belgrade with our Defensive Coordinator Laza. It was a spur of the moment decision and we gladly found ourselves at the Kalemegdan Fortress in the Stari Grad area of Belgrade.

The fortress is at the heart of the history of Belgrade, as it is believed the first inhabitants of the city were living only within its walls. That information would date the fortress back to 3rd century BC.

"Don't push me cause I'm close to the edge..."
“Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge…”

Geographically, the fortress sits atop a hill where the Sava River meets the Danube River. Thus, the fortress played a role in numerous historical power battles among the Romans, Goths, Huns, Slavs, and Turks.

Met Gus, an American historical writer
Met Gus, an American historical writer

Luckily for us we met up with another American named Gus. He is a historical writer who connects unique and odd historical facts. He described his writing to have a “cult” following. Gus is also old school as he is traveling in the Balkans for 3 months without technology for the most part — no cell phone, laptop, or camera. He writes down his observations in a small steno notebook and stays in contact through a lone yahoo.com e-mail address. Gus filled us in on some interesting facts about Kalemegdan including the 144 battles that were fought there over time. An outrageous amount of bloodshed.

One of the other events we planned to attend in Belgrade was a meeting of the Belgrade Foreign Visitor’s Club. After we invited Gus for the event later in the night, we came across 2 American students from the University of Michigan MBA program, Will and Priya. They have 2 projects in Serbia and Bosnia and were glad to be befriended by us. We extended and invite to them as well. Afternoon tally: 1 fortress & 3 Americans.

At night we met up with the BFVC at an Irish pub. I met tons of interesting people including one of the organizers of the club, Elliot. He is from Sacramento and the son of a diplomat, having spent some time abroad a child. Why is he in Belgrade? Well, he said he was slaving away at work in D.C. and wanted to enjoy life more — so he took off abroad and landed in Belgrade. He teaches English and French and has been in Belgrade for 2 years now.

Gus, Will, and Priya all attended.  At the pub I met a couple from South Africa, an Irish guy name Jonathan who heads the club with Elliot, a Mexican man who now resides in Belgrade after his marriage to a Serbian woman, and some other Serbian people with United States connections via family or personal experience abroad.

Our spur of the moment decision turned out to be a great one. We got to enjoy the company of new people and extend our friend network in Serbia.

Representing the Wild Boars

More of the fortress:

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Last night we traveled to Belgrade for the Wild Boars first ever night game. Our opponent, the Belgrade Blue Dragons, are a fierce rival and much improved team from last year having signed 8 new players for the 2009 season. Their quarterback is American – John Russell from Northern State (Div. II). The Blue Dragons are a fixture within the league because they have the most money out of any team and aid in supporting the maintenance of the league. Also, there newly appointed offensive coordinator was a coach on the Wild Boars championship team from 2006.

Before leaving Kragujevac, we stopped by the grave of Veljko Makojević, a former coach and player who passed away last July. It was an emotional start to a long emotional and exciting night.

After a slow offensive start that included some bad snaps and dropped balls, we went ahead 6-0 on a TD run by our RB Alf. He ran up the middle, juked to the right, then broke two tackles including jumping over a would be tackler on his way to the endzone. We were without our field-goal kicker for the game, so we forced to go for 2 after every score. This would be the only scoring of the first quarter.

The Blue Dragons took the lead 7-6 on a QB sneak on a long drive in the second quarter. Stan hit our 6′-5” slot WR Nikola Tomic twice on our next drive on scrambles to set-up a 5-yard touchdown run by Alf. Alf connected on the 2-point conversion and we went up 14-7 at the half.

We kicked off to start the 3rd quarter. Our defense was playing pretty well so far, but we gave up a long touchdown pass and the Blue Dragons tied the score 14-14. We answered once again, as Alf scored from 9 yards out on a run to our right side. We missed the 2-pt conversion, but retook the lead 20-14.

After a long third quarter which involved many discussions by the referees over their calls, we moved into the 4th quarter. One of our defensive lineman received a personal foul call midway through the 4th. On the next play, the Blue Dragons connected on yet another long pass as their receiver out jumped our corner in the endzone. The score was tied at 20 as we blocked their extra-point attempt. However, we were called for being offsides and the Blue Dragons connected on their next attempt, taking the lead 21-20.

After swapping possessions, our defense tackled well and forced the Blue Dragons to a three-and-out. Our offense got the ball back with just over 4 minutes to go on our own 25-yard line. Stan called a methodical drive with numerous short passes, screens, and runs. We moved the ball to the Blue Dragons 30-yard line and were facing a 4th and 15. Stan then threw me a beautiful ball in the pocket between the corner and safety down to the 1-yard line with 40 seconds left. A play later, Stan ran the ball in for the go ahead score. Alf topped off our winning drive with his second 2-pt. conversion of the night.

With 13 seconds left on the clock, the Blue Dragons threw a couple of incompletions and it was all over.

We got the victory but numerous mistakes were made on offense and defense. These mistakes killed us on offense – as we piled up 478 yards on 55 plays, but only 28 points. We were in the redzone three times and came out with zero points. As a team we have much to improve on.

In all, Alf had 12 rushes for 138 yards, 7 receptions for 97 yards, and 3 rushing TD’s. Stan threw for 259 yards on 17-34 passing. On defense we held them to just under 300 total yards.

It was great to be a part of something special last night.  Our team overcame so much adversity and played like true champions.  It was a wonderful night in Belgrade for the Wild Boars.

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The Metro

The Metro

This past week we had the glorious experience of purchasing a washer/dryer combo for our apartment.  Stan moved into our apartment in early February on the condition that the owner would bring a washer in the near future.  As of February 17th, the day I arrived, the washer still had not been dropped off.  As of March 1st, still no washer.  As of March 4th, we were both out of underwear and socks (yes, this is a terrible thing).  So, our team worked out a deal — we would buy the washer and not pay a month of rent.  Boom!  Deal!

Dolph Lundgren...He's all over Eastern Europe

Dolph Lundgren…Even he’s at the METRO!

On Monday we traveled to METRO.  METRO is basically the Sam’s Club of Serbia.  The store is huge.  They sell in bulk.  You need a membership card to enter.

With a little prodding (and financial stimulus, right Stan?) we picked up a washer/dryer combo.  This is huge for us.  Our apartment doesn’t have a patio, as the owners turned it into an additional bathroom.  With a lack of airflow and patience we felt a dryer to be a necessity.  And how cool is it?  I mean, less space, does two things, seems too good to be true.

A definite Amen for clean clothes.

Our new baby - Success!

Great success!!!

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Lunch Option #1

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One of today’s lunch options at the University cafeteria.  I believe it was pulled right from the Adriatic Sea, cooked on its way from the coast inland, and dropped right on top of this bowl.  I took option #2.

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