Grabbing on to youthful dreams of football

AT PLAY

Adult flag league lets players enjoy sport, skip the pain of being tackled

November 08, 2006|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,special to the sun

For a group of 20 — For a group of 20- and 30-something football fans in Anne Arundel County, Sunday isn't a day for sitting on the sidelines, let alone on the sofa in front of the tube.

They're chasing each other down a field at Broadneck High School in competitive games of flag football, a milder - or at least less painful - version of the sport they played in their youths.

Only after finishing their game in the eight-on-eight league - run by the Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks - do they collapse on the couch to watch the Ravens or Redskins.

Flag football uses eight players, as opposed to 11 in tackle. And, rather than tackling each other, players simply yank the flags from the waists or hips of players on the other team. No fumbles are allowed; a ball that hits the ground stops play. And while tackle football makes players gain 10 yards for a first down, this league makes teams gain 20 yards, which inevitably leads to more passing.

The Diablos, one of the eight teams in the league, uses a small playbook that's strapped to the wrist. Coach Brian Paskill likes the option play. That's when the quarterback keeps the ball, runs parallel to the line of scrimmage and makes a last-second decision to pitch the ball to a team-mate or run the ball himself.

The Diablos also rely on what they call the "quarterback option," where the quarterback does the aforementioned play, and the "Gator option," where the quarterback can throw the ball laterally or pull back and throw a long pass.

"We script the first six plays of the half," Paskill said. "We have three receivers with a wristband with plays, the blocking back has a wristband with plays, and the center and quarterback have a wristband with the plays."

Paskill, of Odenton, played football while growing up in Delaware but not when he transferred to DeMatha High outside of Washington.

He learned about flag football last year, when a couple of guys who lived in his neighborhood went out to play a pickup game of tackle football. They all had so much fun that someone suggested putting a team together to play flag football, since adult football leagues are hard to find.

"We're in our second season, and it's been great so far," Paskill said. "The guys I have now are great. They'd rather just win and contribute."

The Diablos have a 6-3 record in the flag football league.

Paskill said the team practices everything on Saturdays because of the precision needed to make it all work on game day.

The Wolf Pack doesn't need to practice so diligently because the team has been playing together in flag football leagues for 10 years. Coach Kevin Sypniewski played football at the former Andover High School in Anne Arundel County. The flag football league gives him the chance to remain involved.

"To me, the eight-on-eight league is more about speed and athleticism," he said. "Flag football seems to be ... more of a quick game."

The Wolf Pack believes strongly in playing good defense. It has posted six shutouts in the nine-game regular season that wrapped up last weekend. Playoffs start this weekend.

"It's fun, and I work with a lot of the guys" in the police department, Sypniewski said. "We can release some aggression and have fun."

The Wolf Pack doesn't have as much in its playbook as the Diablos. Sypniewski prefers keeping it simple; the team relies heavily on option plays and short passes.

It's not football the way they played growing up, but for people in this eight-team league, this is just fine.

"I think, for my team, it's more about guys who have team camaraderie and are still feeling like the glory days when they were at the best of their ability," Paskill said. "Some of them still think they are ... [and are] just having fun."

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