By Bria Ellis and Mahreen Khan
It’s almost 9 a.m. at the unofficially named “Lambeau” and “Heinz” Fields in Commack, New York.
Chilly gusts of wind blow toward all who dare brace them this April morning, but the sun still beams brightly overhead. Two men – referees in pinstriped shirts and black hats – chat with one another as they check the parameters of the field markers.
Players begin trickling onto the field, hollering adrenaline-boosted comments at their teammates and opponents. It is finally game day for the men competing with the Long Island Legends.
“Me and three of my buddies from high school actually started it up in 2012,” Sean McCann, one of three co-owners of the Long Island Legends, said.
The Legends, a recreational flag football league for adults 18 and older, kicked off its 2017 spring season Sunday, April 2, on more than 12 fields across Nassau and Suffolk counties. Flag football is a version of American football where instead of tackling to end a play, a flag is grabbed up from the defending team.
“We started with 20 teams, one field location. Now, we’re up to about 100 total teams with seven to eight field locations. To get to that point, you gotta put in the marketing effort and really spend the time to find the guys,” McCann said. The more than 100 teams across Long Island and the state of New Jersey typically yield the participation of between 1,500 and 2,000 players, with the average player being between 24 and 25 years of age. The oldest player is quarterback in his late forties, McCann said.
The eight-week league is comprised of 40 teams, each of which are scheduled to participate in competitive flag football games every Sunday. After the eight weeks pass and a tournament is held, county winners move on to compete in the Legends’ Long Island Super Bowl, separate from the Legends’ New Jersey Super Bowl.
The league has brought together men from all walks of life, many of whom are in the workforce, juggling busy schedules with familial responsibilities, McCann said. “It’s just about creating a community where these guys can come out of their weekly jobs and have fun, and really just forget about everything for an hour and play football,” he said. McCann, a player himself who used to play on different leagues and now gets on the field whenever he gets the chance, said the most important part of the game, for him, is the exercise and team camaraderie.
“We are a family,” Sean Douglas, three-season defensive lineman for the Hands University Phantoms, said. “Not just a group of guys who meet up and only talk on game day but are looking out for each other but in contact and helping everyone every day of the week even during offseason.”
Along with the emotional importance the recreational league has, it also acts as a stress reliever for players and coaches, giving them a break from their daily routines and work responsibilities.
“It’s an outlet to destress any animosity I may harbor from the work week,” Richard Dejoseph, 10-year offensive and defensive tackle for The Dragons, said. “It also keeps me competitive. It’s easy to get complacent, and the ability to compete and push myself definitely spills over into the way I approach work and other aspects of my personal and professional life.”
The human body loses about 10 percent of muscle cells between the ages of 25 and 50, and another 40 percent between the ages of 51 and 80 – most typically in the Type IIb muscle fibers, Clinical Exercise Physiologist James P. Verdisco, said. That is, without stimulation of the Type IIb fiber area, our bodies end up aging faster than they are designed to.
“Humans are creatures of habit and we tend to move ourselves into whatever the easiest repetitive cycle is, so sports breaks that cycle,” Verdisco, who is the president of J.P. Verdisco Exercise Health and Fitness Inc., said. His is the only clinical exercise physiology center open to the public in New York State. “It gets people moving. It doesn’t matter what sport it is, whether it’s a sport that’s a short burst of energy or something with a longer duration of play. You’re getting people to utilize their cardiovascular systems, promoting neuromuscular activity [and] increasing the psychological components of health,” he said. And while he admits to the risks involved with the sport, including meniscal and ACL tear that comes from the stop-and-go type pivoting action, he says that with proper muscle strengthening, the threat of injuries can be minimized. More so, he argues that the pros outweigh the cons. “Sports can help play a role to maintain and fight against the aging process.”
What’s more, by participating in the league, players are encouraged to stay on top of their game.
“Playing flag helps me stay sharp for my semi-pro football games in which I play for the Long Island Eagles currently [in] the spring and the Nassau Punishers in the summer,” Mike Ramos, wide receiver for the league’s Renegades team, said.
At the end of the day at the Lambeau and Heinz Fields, the Braccos rank one out of 12 in the Long Island 8-Man Division B team with one win and a total of 15 points. The NY Warriors rank 12th place with one loss and 21 points against the opposing team.
“I strongly believe when you play with these guys on the field, however long it may be through the game, it creates something special that sticks with you,” McCann said. “And as you get older, you kind of look back at these moments and just think about the great times you had and how close you became with these guys, all from flag football.”
The upcoming games on Lambeau Field in Commack are scheduled for Sunday, April 9, featuring the Regulators, School Yard Legends, Sailors & Swingers, Black Mambas and the Pour House Panthers.