There may not have had been an audience of over a billion people tuning in to watch, but with a Lombardi Trophy and a trip to Florida on the line, the 60-plus Flag Football players still brought a Super Bowl-esque effort to Manhattan Park Friday night.
After eight weeks of highlight-reel passes, catches, long runs and interceptions the Under Armor Buffalo Under the Lights Flag Football league finished its’ first season by crowning a pair of champions.
— Francis Boeck (@FrancisBoeck) June 30, 2018
“It means so much that we won,” said Asia Dockery, a player on the grades 4-6 champion LSU Tigers. “Now we get to go to Florida and play against people who we’ve never played before.”
The top-seeded Tigers got the bye in the first round and outlasted the Kansas Jayhawks in an 18-12 overtime win in the championship game.
The Syracuse Orangemen were the night’s other champion winning the grades K-3 division with a convincing semifinal win over the Alabama Crimson Tide and then beat the Texas Tech Red Raiders 14-12 in come from behind fashion.
“I wasn’t even supposed to be the coach,” Syracuse coach Max Julien said. “I got called the day of (the first week) and had to bring the team together in one day. It was a challenge but every kid listened and accepted everything.”
But the goal wasn’t to win championships, Julien and the other coaches taught lessons about football and life that they hope will remain instilled in their players.
A couple of things have already stuck with Lorenzo Harden, a Syracuse player with top-notch speed.
“To stop running up from safety,” Harden recalled learning from Montgomery.
Lorenzo Harden goes running into the sunset with this TD run for the K-3 Syracuse Orange pic.twitter.com/97ZFoF1sZM
— Francis Boeck (@FrancisBoeck) June 29, 2018
“I’ll remember playing and working hard,” Harden said. “Practicing on Thursdays and before games.”
With the concerns over the long-term effects of concussions and CTE, many have pointed to Flag Football as the new alternative to tackle football.
However, according to the coaches of the Buffalo Under the Lights league, the goal isn’t to replace tackle football but to get the players ready for it.
“We want the kids to learn the fundamentals and to have fun out on the football field,” LSU coach Dan Irwin said. “This way they’re ready if they want to play tackle football.”
Irwin believes that in many ways Flag Football is more difficult than tackle and forces players to focus more on their technique.
“Flag Football is actually a little harder and people don’t realize that,” Irwin says, “because you’re grabbing a flag and not a whole body. So, if the kids are elusive it’s harder to grab the flag. Flag Football is a challenge and teaches them how to tackle correctly and be in position.”
In fact, some of the players in the Under the Lights League will be playing for the Buffalo Vets Little League Football organization this upcoming season.
Dockery, who is one of a handful of girls that played in the league this year, and Harden both said they are probably going to play tackle football in the future.
Above all else, the league is about making sure the players have fun and build new and life-long friendships.
“I preach family with the team,” Julien said. “At the end of the day, I told the team to exchange phone numbers. Text and call each other every day. If you guys are friends outside of football, once you get on the field it gets easy.”
For more information go to the Buffalo Under the Lights website