At Tales From Sport, we believe in giving athletes the platform to tell their stories first-hand. Of course, sports fans will always have their own opinion on a player’s greatest moment, but does that player feel the same? Or is there another, more personal moment that stands above all others?
In this series, we ask professional athletes from various sports one simple question, What do you consider the greatest moment of your career?
Sean Shelton, the current Quarterback of Raiders Tirol in the European League Of Football, joins us in this edition to share his answer.
The term legend may be thrown around quite often in the world of sports, but there is simply no other word that suits Sean Shelton better within European American Football.
After three years at William Jewell Cardinals, an NCAA Division II school, Shelton left his home country, the United States, and touched down in Europe in 2014. Since crossing the Atlantic ocean, the Palm Harbor-raised quarterback has represented the Templiers d’Élancourt in France, Helsinki Roosters and Turku Trojans in Finland and, most famously, Raiders Tirol in Austria.
No matter where Shelton went during his European adventure, success and accolades were sure to follow. He has won five Austrian Football League Championships, three Central European Football League crowns, a Finnish Maple League title, a European Club Team Competition trophy and a European Super Final winners medal so far. If that was not overwhelmingly impressive enough, Shelton has also individually been named the Austrian Football League MVP twice, the Austrian Bowl MVP twice, the Central European Football League MVP, a Vaahteraliiga All-Star accolade and the Division Elite Import MVP.
With a resume like that, it is no wonder some fans consider Shelton the greatest import EuroBall has ever seen.
‘My Greatest Moment in Sport’ by Sean Shelton
As I took my normal seat on our team bus, top right across from Adrian Platzgummer, everything felt routine. The bus ride conversations, the Autobahn heading east, the opponent, the yoghurt breakfast my wife always prepares for me, everything. However, this trip was anything from ordinary. Sure, we were travelling to our 10th straight Austrian Bowl as a club (fifth straight personally), but this time was different. This time we had the chance to achieve something very few teams accomplish. Something that a team of mine had never completed in my 20-year career. We had the opportunity to go undefeated.
We arrived at our hotel in Sankt Pölten in the afternoon for our evening kickoff time. We travelled on the same day, which I prefer because sleeping in your own bed the night before the game is almost always the best for me; this time was an exception. This time I really could not turn it off. I was nervous. Not about the game itself, we were playing the Vikings for the 4th time in 2019, and we won the previous three games. It was more about the significance of the game. I could not get over that the whole season led to this point. A point that if you won, we would be a team that will go down in the lore of Raider’s history forever, but if we failed, it would almost be that every game, including the two prior championships, meant nothing. So we needed to finish, or what was a magnificent season would only be remembered as a missed opportunity.
This was the first time in my career that one game had such drastic ramifications. The pre-game meal was great, and the team camaraderie even greater. It is funny, we were on the verge of becoming the best raiders team in recent memory, but this was not even the most talented Raiders team I have ever played on. We were not the best, but we were the greatest. We gave everything for each other like no team I had been on or even seen before. A team that thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company. Being around them calmed me, and after a great dinner, we headed to the stadium.
People say teams should act like they have been there before. Well, we didn’t have to act. The 2019 Raiders were an incredibly experienced group with many championship games under our belts. Just the prior season, we were able to pull off going 3-0 in championship games, and the 2018 Austrian Bowl was against the same team opposing us tonight (the same team we had beaten five out of the last six games at this point). However, I do think, in the back of everyone’s mind, we all knew what this game meant, but no one dared to show it. The pre-game routine was unchanged, and essentially so was the pre-game address of the team.
We took the field and tried to accomplish this once-in-a-career task. The game did not start well for us, especially me personally. After throwing what should have been an interception and fumbling on a strip sack that ended up being returned for a touchdown, we were down but not in unfamiliar territory. We did not blow out everyone we played. In fact, this was not even the first Championship game that didn’t go as planned. Against Calanda, we were down ten with four minutes left in the game, but we figured it out, and everyone on our sideline knew we would also figure this out. We just needed to keep it close going into halftime, and we did just that after two massive TDs from Sandro Platzgummer and Patrick Donahue.
The halftime score was 21-28. In the locker room, there were no hype-up speeches, no Hollywood movie moments. Just a group of friends that knew precisely what they needed to do. The defence required stops and the offence needed points. It is not rocket science. The offence was uncharacteristically sloppy in the first half. We had so many penalties that it was challenging to keep drives alive. We were surviving off of big plays, which is not a sustainable way to play offence. The defence was making just as many mistakes in the secondary. The reassuring part was that everything was immediately fixable. We just need to play one half of Raiders Football and have a couple of things bounce our way, and that is exactly what happened.
After our first possession stalled in the third quarter, we called a QB punt. This is where I punt and try to pin the opposing team back deep in their own territory. It was something we did not have to do often, but again, penalties will cause that. I honestly am not a great punter. I have improved during my time with the Raiders, but I don’t think my ‘close your eyes and kick the ball as high as you can’ technique will be taught at clinics any time soon. Although maybe it should because this time, the ball bounced right off the back of a Vikings defender and into the arms of Fabian Abfalter on their 4-yard line. Finally, our break. The next play tied up the game, and I knew we would win at that point. The defence played their part by getting a stop on the next Vikings possession, and Sandro breaking a long TD run on the possession after was just nails in the coffin for me.
This is how confident we were as a team. I knew, without a doubt, we would win despite the score being 28-28 early in the third quarter of a championship game. In fact, with four minutes left in the Calanda game down ten, I knew we would win that game too. I actually looked at Adrian Platzgummer and said, “it is going to be crazy when we win this game”. He laughed and replied, ‘I know”. I am unsure if the correct word is confident or delusional, but I could feel it either way.
The rest of the game was exciting and compelling, but I honestly do not really remember it. I remember a play here and there, but I remember my feelings during the 4th quarter far more. Even as the game continued, I felt this overwhelming sense of pride and excitement about what we were minutes from achieving. This was all on the inside, of course. Although I believe my feelings were in the majority on our sideline, everyone stayed locked in until the final whistle. And there it was, a failed onside kick by the Vikings that led to the finest offensive play call there is. Take a knee. I got under centre, took the snap, took a step back, and completed the greatest season I have ever been a part of.
I turned around and immediately gave the ball to the white hat like I always do before turning back to my guys and being met with the best embraces you could ask for. I mean, bear hugs from some of the strongest people I know. Celebrating with your teammates after a championship is one of the best feelings in the world. Knowing everything that goes into being that successful, all the film, game-planning, training, and sacrifices, makes it so very satisfying when it pays off. On a personal note, my parents have attended every Austrian Bowl I have competed in, including this one. So, after going to give my family hugs and kisses and the several customary interviews, I finally can join my guys in the locker room.
The scene I am about to describe might surprise you, but it did not surprise me. As I walked in, I got tossed a beer, toasted everyone in sight, sat down and took a gulp, just like everyone else. There was no going crazy, no over-the-top celebration. Just a group of very satisfied men, drinking, laughing and storytelling together because, after all, teams should act like they have been there before.
I was so proud. I am so proud of what we did that year. 16-0… Crazy
A huge thank you to Sean for contributing to our website. It truly does mean a lot to all of us here. We are honoured that he would share such a personal tale of achieving greatness.
Follow him on Instagram, Twitter and check him out at the Raiders Tirol in the European League Of Football!