The Redskins signed offensive lineman Andreas Knappe to their practice squad Monday, a transaction that received about as much attention in these parts as Tuesday’s note that Washington released practice squad quarterback Joel Stave. Which is to say, almost none at all. In Knappe’s native Denmark, however, the undrafted rookie’s latest NFL opportunity was big news, and it came at an opportune time.
Claus Elming, who runs the Danish NFL news website Gul klud, which translates to “yellow flag,” said Tuesday that his story about Knappe signing with the Redskins was already his second-most read of the year behind one from April about the 6-foot-9, 325-pound lineman signing with the Falcons as an undrafted free agent. In fact, six of the 15 most-read articles in the five-year history of Gul klud are about Knappe, including several that rank above news about Danish legend Morten Andersen, who became the first kicker since 1991 to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame earlier this year. On Wednesday, Elming appeared on Denmark’s version of “Good Morning America” to explain the intricacies of the NFL practice squad and Knappe’s chances of making the Redskins’ active roster as a 26-year-old rookie.
Elming and Andersen, the NFL’s all-time leading scorer, are perhaps the two people most responsible for increasing the popularity of American football in Denmark over the past 30 years. Elming fell in love with the NFL as an exchange student in Minnesota in 1985 and founded an American football club in Denmark upon returning home. He played wide receiver and coached in the Danish American Football Federation and later announced NFL games on Danish television for 14 seasons until his station lost the broadcast rights in 2012.
Knappe, a national champion archer and accomplished team handball player growing up in the 40,000-person town of Silkeborg, was an NFL fan long before he first started playing football as an 18-year-old. He remembers watching Elming — who came to be known as the John Madden of Denmark — call NFL games, and while the Brett Favre-led Packers and Peyton Manning-led Colts were among the most popular teams in Denmark at the time, Knappe’s favorite team was the Redskins.
“When I started watching football, I really liked Sean Taylor,” Knappe said in a phone interview Wednesday after his first practice with his new team. “I also really liked Brian Orakpo when he was here, too. Back then I played defense and I didn’t know much about offense. I was following the defensive players more. I saw some players that were really cool and then I liked the team because of them.”
Knappe also loved watching former Redskins linebacker London Fletcher. When he first started playing nine-man football in a small league in Silkeborg, he practiced in Fletcher’s No. 59 Redskins jersey. After Knappe was invited to join the Triangle Razorbacks of the Danish American Football Federation in 2012, he chose to wear No. 59, partly because of Fletcher, but also to honor his father, Benno, who died of cancer at age 59 the previous year.
“There was a dual meaning to that number,” said Knappe, who helped lead the Razorbacks to a win over the Sollerod Gold Diggers in the 2012 Mermaid Bowl, Denmark’s Super Bowl.
By that point, Knappe’s dreams of competing in archery at the Olympics had been replaced by visions of playing college football in the United States. He posted a video to the recruiting site Next College Student Athlete and eventually received scholarship offers from Fordham and U-Conn. Two of Knappe’s teammates on the Razorbacks, Alex Molina and Alex Polito, had played at U-Conn. and put in a good word with the Huskies’ coaching staff. Knappe chose U-Conn. and began his collegiate career as a defensive lineman.
When former Huskies coach Paul Pasqualoni was fired after an 0-4 start to the 2013 season, he recommended Knappe switch to the offensive line. It was good advice. Knappe started the final seven games of his redshirt sophomore season at right tackle. He was voted a team captain as a junior and started 25 games at right tackle over his final two seasons in Storrs. Knappe wasn’t selected in the NFL draft, but the Falcons signed him as a free agent on April 29, six years to the day after his father died.
“I definitely think my father is watching over me. It’s probably the reason why things have worked out the way they have,” Knappe told ESPN’s Vaughn McClure in May.
After being released by Atlanta toward the end of the preseason, Knappe spent the next two months working out and watching NFL games, just as he did as a kid.
“I watched the Thursday night game, I watched all the games I could on Sunday and then I watched ‘Monday Night Football’ as well, just to see if there was something I could pick up, or learn from someone, trying to improve my game somehow,” said Knappe, a Boston Bruins fan who enjoys playing video games in his free time. “I stayed in shape, stayed positive. My agent told me to just stay in shape and stay ready because you never know when it’s going to happen.”
Knappe worked out for the Colts in September, but it didn’t lead to a job. He impressed the Redskins enough during his workout Monday to be offered a contract. Lars Carlsen, who has coached American football since 1995 and oversees development of the sport in Denmark, said Knappe’s signing couldn’t have come at a better time.
“For the state of Denmark, now we’re finally getting another player in the NFL,” Carlsen, who was coaching Denmark’s under-17 national team at a tournament less than an hour from Knappe’s home town, said Tuesday. “Not to take anything away from Morten Andersen — he’s the Hall of Famer, he’s a great man, he’s done great stuff for Denmark — but to get someone who’s not a kicker, I believe will help us tremendously in our recruiting process of getting more kids out and playing American football. Hopefully our kids will see that, while I might not be the first to be picked, I can make it through hard work. It’s a big boost.”
Knappe, who is living in a hotel room for the time being, said he tries not to think too much about carrying the NFL torch for an entire country. There hasn’t been a Danish player in the league since Andersen retired in 2007.
“I feel like if you do, it could become super overwhelming,” said Knappe, who has sought advice from Andersen over the years. “Obviously I’m super proud. If I can even inspire one kid to go for his dream in the biggest way, then I’m super proud and super happy if I’ve been any influence to that. It’s definitely something that I think is super cool and I’m super excited about, but it’s also something that I don’t necessarily think about too much because I feel like there’s plenty on my plate already.”
Elming, who first met Knappe last year, made plans with about 40 other Danish NFL fans weeks ago to attend the Redskins-Giants game at FedEx Field on Thanksgiving and the Ravens-Texans game on “Monday Night Football” four days later. Elming is hosting the finale of Denmark’s version of “Dancing With The Stars” that Friday, delaying his arrival to D.C. by a couple of days.
“It’s going to be doubly unfortunate if Andreas is on the team,” he said.
Elming won’t be surprised in the least if that happens.
“His first words to me [Monday] after he signed the contract was, ‘I’ve got to get back to work,’ ” Elming said. “That’s his whole mind-set. He knows that this is the first baby step to where he wants to go. Slowly, but steadily, he’s going to win over people. … I’m sure, with his work ethic and the way he conducts himself, he’s going to be an asset to the Redskins. He’s huge, not just physically, but also in the minds of the Danish NFL fans. He lives up to it. He is truly the Great Dane.”
“He’s a good man,” Carlsen said. “A good representative of American football, one of the most kind and humble people I’ve met. I couldn’t be happier or think of anyone better to represent our country. It’s an exciting time for us right now. We told our players, ‘One of you guys could be the next Andreas 10 years from now, eight years from now.’ It feels great to be able to stand up there and say that.”
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