I grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago in a family of die hard Bears fans. During football season, every sunday was either at home or at relatives sitting in a comfortable living room with pop and hors d'eurves, or fighting the bitter cold and sometimes snow at Soldier Field in downtown Chicago watching the Bears give their sundays best. The highlight was in 1985 when Mike Ditka's Bears, with NFL record breaking running back Walter Payton, won the Super Bowl. That was my first year in College, representing Chicago in another state.
Directly after that Super Bowl win, my interest in football was replaced with my study of graphic design, and the fun of attending a Big 10 University. Purdue had a fantastic football team, and the games were pretty fun. Especially going to the games with the guys in my fraternity, where the pre-game and post-game parties heavily overshadowed the actual game. But the more I got into design, and going to parties, the less interest I had in following football.
In 1988 after my 3rd year of design school, I spent the summer backpacking through Europe. It was the best vacation I've had in my whole life. Every couple of days I would be in a new city, meeting people from all over the world, sightseeing during the day, and sitting in pubs at night. After 3 months of traveling, I went back to college with the mindset that I would head back to Europe as soon as I graduated. And that's what I did.
2 weeks after graduation, I reduced my belongings down to one suitcase, containing a few items of clothes, some basics for living, as well as my newly finished design portfolio and a carry on bag, then flew to Germany. I knew a couple of people whom I had met previously while traveling, who were happy to help me out at first by letting me stay for a couple of days at a time. I also had some relatives in Dortmund. My grandmother was actually born in Dortmund in 1917, but emigrated to the US with her family when she was a little girl. The relatives were my grandmothers cousins, who treated me like family and were very "gastfreundlich". It was good to visit, but then realized that Dortmund wasn't that exciting of a city to stay. So I headed up to Hamburg, where a drawing professor of mine from college had some friends. I had heard that there was a lot of media in hamburg, so I figured there must be a lot of design opportunities there too.
It was June 1990 when I got to hamburg, the World Cup had just started, and it was impossible not to get pulled into the fever of it all. I watched every Germany game, and quickly realized that the germans, and I mean ALL germans, were completely crazy about their national soccer team! I was new there, trying to adapt to these new surroundings and therefore became also completely caught up in the Nationalmanschaft. Between games, I managed to find a place to stay, sharing a flat together with Karola, a language student. And a student job in an import/export company who sold light bulbs.
After a few months of working as the "Chief Stock Logistic Carton Manager" (the guy who packed the light bulbs), and teaching english once a week, I got the itch to start designing again. Shortly thereafter I got a tip to interview at an ad agency. I did so and got a job right away as a junior art director. I could barely speak german, but my portfolio was strong enough to get me the position. In the beginning I never understood my briefings, and faked my way through, until I finally had a grasp of the language and felt confident with it. It was then that I quit the agency to start working on my own. I wanted to do more design than advertising, so I started working freelance for agencies, and doing design jobs direct for clients.
It was around this time that I met my wife Uli, whom after having fun and traveling with, eventually I married and had to great kids. Then suddenly I was a dad, raising kids, and trying to bring home the bacon. there wasn't much room for anything else. We kept good contact with my family in Chicago and it didn't take long before Uli and the kids all became Bears fans! Suddenly I lived in a house full of Bears fans again. The kids both then joined the Hamburg Blue Devils and suddenly football was in my life again.
When my older son's flag team won the national championship in 2011, I designed a t-shirt for all of them and had it made. They were all so excited and grateful, that I did the same thing again the following year when the Rookie team won every game that season. Then i was asked to design a t-shirt for the O-line, which I gladly did. It was then that I realized that german football fans are not surrounded by football all the time, like the football fans in the USA. During the fall in America, you can't walk 5 steps without seeing something football related, whether it's a advertisement for the next game, or a big screen TV hanging in a restaurant showing it. This just isn't the case in Germany. And the fans are so intensely excited about football, but there's barely anyone who takes them seriously. That's when I decided that I would take all the learnings I've gathered over the years in designing brands for other people and use it to make my very own american football brand for germans. This way I could have fun designing t-shirts, and give the german fans some fun, football stuff they could wear.
I spent a year thinking about it, then as a test designed 3 shirts, had them produced and tried selling them at a my son's games. The people really liked them and bought them all up. I made some more and did it at the next game. Same thing happened. I then made some more designs, had the website built, found a partner who knew a thing or two about business, and Tackle Jack came alive.