Flag Football is NOT for Weenies

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I always thought of flag football as being a weeniefied version of regular football - like powderpuff only with either men or women playing. There's no tackling, so how rough could it get, right? But after experiencing this game firsthand at age 50, surrounded by a bunch of 20-something Air Force women going against our newly formed Army squad, I was humbled. This is no sport for weenies.

Military men and women on deployments tend to look for outlets for stress, and flag football turns out to be one of the ubiquitous games on the various forward operating bases across Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait to accomplish just that. And even though tackling and blocking with the hands are a no-go, there is inevitable physical contact, often at the highest speeds.

The rules of the game are similar to tackle football, but the defense is tasked with grabbing the opponent's flag belt instead of tackling players to the ground. The ball is then downed wherever the de-flagging of the ball carrier occurred. The number of players on the field varies from 4- 9-people on a side. There can be kicking and punting or not; there are point-after conversions (including some with 1, 2, and 3 point tries) or not; and field sizes can be as large as a regular football field or much smaller depending upon the number of players on each side. In short, it is an adaptable team sport, and it can get dicey out there.

In flag football, the defensive and offensive linemen are not allowed to use their hands to block the opponent, but they can shuffle move their bodies as a unit to draw off the other lineman. The defensive players cannot impede a runner with their hands or bodies, but they can try to grab the flag without causing a foul. Offensive players are likewise not supposed to block defensive players using their hands in order to keep them from grabbing the flag.

Even with all those rules about blocking, it's really the grabbing part that becomes fairly violent. Taking hold of a moving target with small streamers flying out the back and sides at the hips is much harder than it appears at first glance. For whatever reason, those flag belts elude capture such that one must almost purposefully try to rip the pants off the opponent to assure that the flag is downed! I prefer to wear relatively tight-fitting shorts to avoid being "de-panted."

Because there are no pads or helmets, the risk of injury when one is run over or otherwise forced to go to ground is significant. The individual player should be in good physical condition with a fitness regimen that includes both cardio and weight training. Additionally, basic ball-handling skills for all players is necessary since even linemen are allowed to receive passes from the quarterback.

On the field of battle, playing defense for the Army team, I was tasked with shadowing the wide receiver on the opposing Air Force side. It was a good match-up. The Air Force woman was nothing short of a gazelle when she made her zig-zagging route toward the end-zone. But I was right there with her, step for step. The Air Force quarterback lobbed the ball high and into the corner....I jumped; the gazelle jumped; we collided, and I came up with the ball between my knees...no interception, but definitely a thwarted touchdown. I was elated and disappointed all at once because an interception could have won that game...but there's no crying in flag football.


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Tom Koecke profile image

Tom Koecke 4 years ago from Tacoma, Washington

I remember playing flag football when I was in the Air Force. All those rules to prevent injury, and I don't think anyone made it through the season without getting hurt!

I don't know if I could still play it. Injuries don't heal so quickly as they did in my twenties. Back then, I just wrapped my sprained ankle so tightly it couldn't bend, and went for it!

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