(This story was published in 2006).

By: Ross Forman

Esera Tuaolo, an openly gay former NFL player, helped lead Team Outsports to a gold medal in the men’s competitive division of flag football at Gay Games VII.

Tuaolo, playing inside linebacker and running back, was teary-eyed when Outsports defeated the New York Bad Apples, 26-13, for the title, after trailing 7-6 at halftime.

“It was great, an incredible experience,” said Tuaolo, who played for five NFL teams during his 10-year career before retiring in 2000, which included one Super Bowl appearance. “At the Super Bowl, I couldn’t really be myself; I couldn’t really share my life with anyone. But being myself, being free in the Gay Games was totally a lot better than the Super Bowl.”

Tuaolo, who also played volleyball (though did not medal) in the Games, confirmed he’s planning to compete in Gay Games VIII in 2010 in Cologne, Germany.

“Flag football definitely is a sport for the smaller player, the skill-position players; it’s not for the offensive and defensive linemen,” Tuaolo said. “But I still have some quickness.

Tuaolo said his one lasting Games memory was the Opening Ceremony. “That was amazing,” he said.

Tuaolo said his Games’ experience was “incredible, phenomenal, definitely something I wish I had a feeling like while in the NFL.” He said winning gold was simply, “icing on the cake.”“The Outsports team had a lot of great athletes, and we just got the job done,” Tuaolo said.

Outsports founders Cyd Zeigler and Jim Buzinski also played on the team. “After the tournament, a lot of other players seemed surprised that I would play in the Games. But for me, it was like, ‘Wow! I can’t really believe I am playing in the Games.’ “