THE search for the World League's first group of national players was a far-reaching affair that saw talented hopefuls scooped up from all four corners of the globe.
The man charged with the project that became known as Operation Discovery was former Denver Broncos head coach John Ralston, and he did an outstanding job of finding previously unheralded players who went on to become stars of the league.
Each of the 10 World League teams was due to carry four non-American players throughout the 1991 campaign and that meant Ralston went in search of 40 players with very little football experience.
Ralston began the search in determined mood and said: "I will go wherever the road takes me to find players. Whether it's Africa, Australia, Europe or the Far East, there are no boundaries in our search for world-class athletes. We're looking for a few good men that we can take and teach our game."
The search for home-grown amateur talent did indeed see Ralston travel all around the world and he was successful in finding previously undiscovered players.
The inaugural Operation Discovery class of 1991 featured players from Russia, Belgium, Sweden, Australia, England, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Mexico and Norway
Two of the men to be discovered in England were running back Victor Ebubedike and kicker Phil Alexander. Both proved to be real finds and were regular contributors as the London Monarchs marched to World Bowl glory in 1991.
Alexander kicked 8 of 13 field goals and added 37 extra points to be voted kicker and Operation Discovery player on the All-World League First Team.
Ebubedike rushed for 64 yards and 1 touchdown on 12 carries and chipped in with 16 special teams tackles to be named the Operation Discovery player on the All-World League Second Team.
The London-born rusher, who later played under the name Victor Muhammad, went on to spend six seasons with the Monarchs before retiring after the 1998 campaign having compiled career figures of 116 carries for 416 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Alexander also kicked for the Monarchs in 1992 and added another nine field goals to finish with a career total of 110 points.
Not all players Ralston encountered during his search for Operation Discovery talent were so quick to adapt to American football.
During one scouting tour of former East Germany, Ralston signed six track and field athletes who had never played the sport before.
"They'd never seen a football before," Ralston said. "I handed them a football and you would have thought it was a three-week-old baby. They didn't know what to do with it."
During his travels and during a period when he coached the Moscow Bears amateur team, Ralston discovered many athletes who excited him and some of them ended up in the World League. Russians Vladimir Georgiev and Oleg Sapego spent the 1991 season with the Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks.
Ralston's Moscow team featured a member of the Russian bobsled team, a wrestler, a javelin thrower and two decathletes. Naturally, the javelin thrower played quarterback.
Ralston visted some off-the-road places during his search for worldwide talent, and he recalls one time when in a small Russian fishing village on the Black Sea he felt cut off from the rest of civilisation.
"I remember wanting to make a phone call back to the States and I couldn't get through," Ralston said. "It was a little lonely all right.
"But the important thing was that I was promoting the game of American football and that helps you overcome the hardships."
Thanks to the efforts of Ralston and his Operation Discovery team, national players are now an integral part of today's NFL Europe League and look set to be so for many years to come. (2000)