The Cleveland Rockers won their first gay flag football tournament, storming the playoff field at the Sunshine Cup last weekend and beating the Houston Hurricanes in the final, 26-6. It was the first tournament championship for the Rockers, who first appeared in 2010.
The tournament was a bit cooler than expected, with strong wind and a high of 60 during the playoffs. That didn't put a damper on anything as some big plays -- and the hot tub at the host hotel -- heated everyone up just fine.
The Rockers have come a long way, winning all of their playoff games by at least two touchdowns and dominating them all from the kick-off. They were the lowest-seeded team ever to win a gay flag football tournament, coming into the playoffs ranked No. 7.
They've always had some talented players, but they've added various elements that make this team formidable headed into the rest of 2013. At the top of the list, they have a new quarterback: Adam Johnson, who played in several tournaments for Washington DC teams. Johnson brings mobility, a good arm and an ability to find the open receiver. He was named one of the tournament co-MVPs.
Other players on the team responded to the elevated level of play. Cornerback and receiver Matt Wetzel had his best tournament yet, recording multiple interceptions and touchdowns. Receiver Chris Davis has always been on the cusp of a breakout tournament; This was it, as he showcased fantastic moves and great speed. And newcomer Diego Valle adds speed and height at the rusher position -- He was the team's MVP of the championship game.
The team also has a new physical attitude. While they're still full of laughs and smiles, they're following the model that every Gay Bowl champion has used for almost 10 years: Use those big muscles and get physical.
While it's not equivalent to winning the Gay Bowl, new team captain Philip Long told me they know they have work to do and are committed to continuing their improvement. If they continue to play the way they executed in the playoffs of the Sunshine Cup, Cleveland will become a permanent top-10 team in the National Gay Flag Football League and will have a legitimate shot at a Gay Bowl championship in the near future.
The two teams from Washington DC -- Outsiders and Assassins -- finished tied for third. Both teams went undefeated in pool play but lost in the semifinals. The talent on these two teams is among the best in the NGFFL; If they can put it all together, they can use this strong finish to catapult themselves to the top of the country.
In the B Bracket, the South Florida Cat 5 Cyclones knocked off the Michigan Panthers on the final play of the game to claim the trophy.
I was also personally impressed with the Jacksonville Surge. They're dangerously close to breaking into the next echelon of teams. They have some strong players who made some of the biggest catches of the tournament. I'll be waiting to see their big break-out game in the near future.
This was also my first tournament as a full-time official. I had a blast. Refereeing this tournament gave me a new perspective to the game. I thought the officials did a great job with the games, and I heard that over and over. I was also impressed with how the players conducted themselves toward the officials. I heard a couple complaints or arguments; But to hear only a couple in nine games was impressive.