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Gay Bowl XI notes: Rain-out, referees, second teams, Hall of Fame, poetry

Gay Bowl XI was held in Houston Oct. 7-9, the second time it took place in Texas. These are just a few thoughts from a super dry...then super wet weekend.

Championships. The final day of the tournament was rained and thundered out. Seventeen games were scheduled to take place on Sunday, so a bunch of ties were the final result of the tournament. With inches of water covering the “fields” and lightning raining down around the park, the referees made the right call: There was simply no way to hold the games and doing so would have been a serious safety risk. Anyone second-guessing the decision to not play these games should rethink their position; I was scared just sitting in my car driving to the fields. The right decision was made based on the deeply unfortunate circumstances.

NAGAAA had the same issue in the 2010 Gay World Series when the finals were rained out in the middle of the games. They decided to award co-champion status. I think people could live with that if two teams were left standing; But with the semifinals unplayed, you simply can’t name four teams – almost 20% of the field – co-champions.

Instead of champions this year we have a fourway tie for first place. That’s a real accomplishment for four very strong teams that played a great tournmant. I know the teams from San Diego and Phoenix were all very hungry for their first championship; A first-place tie is a strong, if not satisfying, consolation.

There is talk of trying to hold the semifinal and finals in other cities over the next year. I just don’t see how that works. The Gay Bowl, like the Gay Softball World Series, is in one place during one week. You can’t instead hold the final two rounds in Palm Springs in January or Ft. Lauderdale in February, like some have suggested. It belittles the months of preparation that goes into a championship run. Plus, there's just no way to assemble those exact teams and those exact circumstances at another time. These would be great matchups, and if the teams wanted to play those games it’d be awesome to watch! It simply wouldn’t be the Gay Bowl championship.

Some people said this all makes Los Angeles the defending champions again. No. Aboslutely not. You can’t be the defending champs when you lost the last game you played. Los Angeles’ championship defense ended with a loss to the New York Warriors Saturday afternoon.

Sadly, there is no 2011 Gay Bowl champion. It will make winning in 2012 that much sweeter for the team that’s able to do it.

So how would the playoffs had ended? From what I saw, the San Diego Bolts were the best team in the tournament. They have a fantastic quarterback and an equally good defense that allowed two touchdowns in five games. Amazing. In perfect conditions on a perfect field, my money would have been on the Bolts.

But Sunday wasn’t a perfect field and it was far from perfect conditions. It was wet and muddy with rain falling all day. While the Bolts were the best team, and while the Phoenix Hellraisers have a fantastic offense, on that particular day and those particular fields, my money would have been on the New York Warriors. Like no other team in the tournament, their game plan and style of play is designed for those conditions. Plus, with the other three teams from the dry, sunny, warm Southwest, the Warriors were far more experienced in those conditions.

Hall of Fame. A heartfelt congratulations to the three new inductees to the NGFFL Hall of Fame: San Diego's Ivan Solis, Atlanta's Thurman Williams, and Los Angeles' Demond Adams (in picture above). The induction to the Hall of Fame is the highest honor an individual can accomplish in the NGFFL, and I am so proud to call all three of these great men my friend.

Rise of the second teams. One of the aspects of the tournament I’ll most remember is the play of the second teams. San Diego Toros finished tied for first; The DC Admirals finished tied with the team the city had dubbed their “A” team, the Generals; Houston Child Please and Denver Summit 2, both in the tournament for the first time, really impressed me with their play and finished well ahead of where they were seeded.

Officiating. I again heard lots of snide comments about the officiating this year. I’ve got news for you, folks: No one lost a game this year or any other year because of the refs. The officiating contributes about 5% to the outcome of a game. The other 95% is passes, runs, rushes, flag-grabbing, slips, trips, broken coverage, interceptions, fumbles, blocking, cheering and clock management. When a team can honestly say it executed every aspect of that 95% to perfection, then I could accept them blaming the refs for a loss; But of course, the team that executed every aspect of the game for 60 minutes wouldn’t lose.

The referees are part-time weekend warriors, like you and me. I miss flags, you drop passes, they miss calls. Players and captains seem to hold the referees to a higher standard than they hold their own players. If their wide receiver drops a pass, he may get a scowl or a quick bark. If a referee misses a call, he gets an ear full on the field, hears about it at the party that night, the party the next night, and in emails for days or weeks to come.

The NGFFL community, and in truth every sports league and team across the country, does not treat its referees with the respect they deserve. I was part of the problem for years, so I get it. Collectively, we’ve got to do a better job of appreciating these men and women a little more…and pointing the fingers at them a little less.

Thank you. So many people deserve thank-yous. The people of Houston who gave so generously of their time to organize the tournament; The partners like MillerCoors and other local businesses who made it possible financially; The NGFFL Board members who continue to serve the community.

A wonderful lesson. Chris Whitlow, the Atlanta QB who has the third-longest consecutive Gay Bowls streak (10) behind Jim and me, shared something wonderful with me on Saturday night. He said he used to hate me. He wanted to beat me on the field, he hadn’t been able to beat me, and that translated into hatred off the field. But he said over the years he’s learned that you can hate someone – everyone – while you’re playing the game, but you can also really like them right after the final whistle blows.

A wise man once told me that football is practice for life. I couldn’t think of a more perfect example than Chris’ story. I thank him so much for sharing it with me.

Parting thoughts. This has been a long year for me and a lot of other people in regards to gay football. When I woke up Sunday morning and saw the rain, I thought it was almost poetic that God would damped the final day of the most tumultuous year in NGFFL history (not knowing at the time that it would actually wash away a whole day).

This was the first time I lost a game in the Gay Bowl since 2005. I had won 5 straight championships and 35 straight games in the tournament before my team’s loss to the team I established, the New York Warriors. After the 2009 tournament I thought I had played my last game, but I wanted to see just how far I could take this streak that I find hard to believe will ever be broken. I am deeply satisfied that it was my old team, the Warriors, under Wade Davis’ leadership, that finally ended the streak. Again, poetic.

I don’t know whether I’ll play in the tournament again. I’m just not sure I have the energy to go through it all again. Luckily I don’t have to think about it now, as I always put off thinking about next year until February. I’ve played 53 games in this tournament with a 48-5 record. I am so proud to have been part of the inaugural class, with Jim, of the NGFFL Hall of Fame. I’ve won seven championships. There just aren't any goals left to reach, and I'm a pretty goal-oriented guy.

Either way, I’ll always be most proud of two aspects of the Gay Bowl, two aspects I feel I’ve had a strong role in establishing, and two aspects that showed brightly this weekend. The first is the excellence of play at the top. Some of the teams we’ve seen in this tournament – the 2007 New York Warriors, the 2009 Los Angeles Motion, the 2011 San Diego Bolts – these aren’t good teams, they are GREAT teams that could go to a lot of flag football tournaments, gay or straight, and do a lot of damage. Football is the big, macho sport that gays aren’t supposed to play; That we have such excellence in our midst should be a real sense of pride for our community.

The other piece is the flip side of it. The Toronto Mounties. The Jacksonville Surge. The Pittsburgh Ironmen. These are teams that have struggled to win games. The Mounties lost every game this year by a lot. But they were so happy to be in Houston, so curious about how to get better, so excited for next year. That THESE people, many new to the sport, have found our community and are joyous members of it is a real testament to them and to what we’ve built. My hat goes off to them all.