New flag foot­ball league brings out for­mer NFL stars

Lodi News-Sentinel - - Sports - By Josh Dubow

SAN JOSE — Ter­rell Owens and Chad John­son ran pass pat­terns with big smiles on their faces vis­i­ble through­out the sta­dium.

Michael Vick was fling­ing touch­down passes the way he did in his peak as an NFL star.

In­stead of an old-timers day, this was more of a throw­back night with those three for­mer stars head­lin­ing line­ups with sev­eral for­mer NFL play­ers for the de­but event of the Amer­i­can Flag Foot­ball League in hopes of show­ing that this sport played mostly by kids could have a fu­ture as a pro­fes­sional league.

“I’ve played flag foot­ball since I was a kid,” John­son said. “The only dif­fer­ence about play­ing here and play­ing other places, here was much faster be­cause the level of tal­ent. Ob­vi­ously ev­ery­one has played be­fore. It was ex­tremely fast.”

The Amer­i­can Flag Foot­ball League played the game Tues­day in San Jose in ad­vance of plans by founder Jeff Lewis to launch a spring league in 2018. In front of a crowd of sev­eral hun­dred peo­ple, Team Vick pre­vailed over Team Owens 64-41 be­hind Vick’s eight TD passes and 547 yards pass­ing.

“It’s some­thing dif­fer­ent,” said Vick, who was at­tracted to the sport by watch­ing his daugh­ter play flag foot­ball. “My play­ing days are over but I can play now and not get hit, not get tack­led. I think that’s pretty cool.”

The game fea­tured other no­table for­mer NFL play­ers such as Justin Forsett, Kerry Rhodes, Steve Smith and Nick Collins; lesser-known play­ers look­ing for a break such as game MVP Evan Ro­driguez who is hop­ing NFL teams might give him an­other look af­ter his nine catches for 210 yards and four TDs; and for­mer Cor­nell lacrosse player Max Seibald, who was the top col­le­giate player in the coun­try in 2009.

“I think it def­i­nitely would help the league to have some guys with house­hold names,” Owens said. “But this game is purely made from speed. Just like any other game, there’s a lot of skill in­volved.”

Lewis knows mar­quee names will draw fans in ini­tially. But Lewis wants most of the teams to be filled from a pool of scores of younger play­ers who have been re­cently cut or never made NFL ros­ters rather than out-of-shape old-timers.

“You could trot 45 and 50-year-old foot­ball play­ers out and it would be nice to see peo­ple you re­mem­ber but it’s not go­ing to be great,” Lewis said. “We want it to re­ally be com­pellingly high qual­ity. The play­ers who played who have played pre­vi­ously are go­ing to be play­ing be­cause they’re world­class ath­letes.”

Lewis got the idea to start this league a few years ago while watch­ing his son play flag foot­ball and won­dered what it would be like with elite ath­letes in­stead of 8 or 9-year olds. He views flag foot­ball, which is played by more than 2 mil­lion kids each year as tak­ing the game of foot­ball with the speed and re­lata­bil­ity to the play­ers who ex­ist in sports such as soc­cer and bas­ket­ball, where play­ers aren’t hid­den by hel­mets.

The league plans to play up the in­ter­ac­tion with fans by hav­ing play­ers use so­cial me­dia dur­ing games and not pe­nal­iz­ing over-thetop cel­e­bra­tions, which ap­pealed to play­ers such as John­son.

“The at­mos­phere was re­ally dope,” John­son said. “Be­ing able to in­ter­act with the fans, be­ing able to have your phone on the side­lines, be­ing able to tweet while the game is go­ing on, which I got fined for be­fore, it’s dope. I re­ally think this is go­ing to hit the ground, hit the ground run­ning and be ex­tremely big at some point.”

Mak­ing it look like foot­ball and not some gim­mick was para­mount for Lewis. Ex­cept for a few wrin­kles such as the cen­ter be­ing an el­i­gi­ble re­ceiver which led to for­mer Pitts­burgh quar­ter­back Den­nis Dixon catch­ing a 60-yard TD from Vick on a wheel route af­ter snap­ping the ball, it looked like sevenon-seven foot­ball.

The rules of the game are fairly sim­ple. Teams get a first down by cross­ing ei­ther 25-yard line or mid­field. No block­ing or kick­ing is al­lowed, with a “throw off” to start each half and fol­low­ing scores — with losers walk­ing to the other side af­ter touch­downs.

Teams are al­lowed one lat­eral per play, there are no “north­south” hand­offs and fum­bles are dead at the spot. Touch­downs are worth six points, with a one-point bonus for plays longer than 50 yards, and teams are al­lowed to go for one, two or three points af­ter TDs de­pend­ing on where they line up.

Teams can’t rush the quar­ter­back for two sec­onds af­ter the snap and the QB must get rid of the ball within four sec­onds. The quar­ter­back can’t run un­less he is rushed and teams get three blitzes per quar­ter.

Lewis be­lieves the sim­plic­ity and safety of the game com­pared to tackle foot­ball could make it more mar­ketable in for­eign coun­tries where Amer­i­can foot­ball hasn’t taken hold and he be­lieves the sport also has a bright fu­ture as a po­ten­tial Di­vi­sion I col­lege sport for women.

While con­cus­sions are a ma­jor con­cern for tackle foot­ball, Lewis knows sell­ing only safety won’t help draw in fans.

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