National Tournament Report

Entering the hotel Westin, I was greeted with the loud and boisterous laughter I have come to recognize as footy related. The thumping of a football on the marble floor in the vast and elegant lobby may have sounded out of place to some (namely the nervous manager), however I knew I was undoubtedly in the right place. I managed to pick out a dozen or so of my footy mates I've come to know over the past 3 years.

Yep, this was going to be an unforgettable weekend.

I settled into my room on the 6th floor of the Westin, with a view of magnificent proportion. The roof repair going on next door was breathtakingly intriguing, however it was the abundance of trees and greenery in the landscape which caught my attention. Remember that I'm from Arizona. I believe we're down six trees at last count.

Wandering down to the lobby, I found my way into the mezzanine area where the Cooper's Pale Ale was flowing and players from every corner of the US were wolfing meat pies down. Meat pies, eh? Fascinating culinary event, these are. I don't get the Vegemite enthusiasm either, but give me time; I'm sure to catch on. I'll bet most Aussies were aghast when at first were confronted by Jack in the Box tacos or White Castle Sliders.

Relegated for the next four or five hours at the registration desk gave me the opportunity to see many of the arriving players I knew and many of whom were about to become my friends and teammates.

Over 500 players representing 24 different clubs (there were actually 22 teams since two of the teams were combined clubs; Cincinnati/Western PA and Lehigh Valley/Phoenix) crowded into the Westin Crown Center Hotel. Thirty umpires and more than 75 volunteers and officials were also part of this annual event.

The first day of competition began at 8 AM at the three lush fields the Kansas City Power Football Club had secured for the weekend of footy. Aside from a spot or two of mud on field one, the overnight rain had little effect. The nippy 38-degree starting temperature was a bit chilly, but the players, with winning a football match on their mind, eagerly took to the grounds. Field two had a little more mud slowing the play down a bit but gave a bit more when a good hip and shoulder sent players sprawling. It also made old slow guys like me look like I could keep up with the young agile players. For about a minute.

The first round of matches chased the dew off the field and the players and level of play began to hit its stride. The skill and competitiveness of the combatants became apparent to those in attendance. In Division 1 play, Nashville, Denver, New York and reigning National champ San Diego dominated their first round opponents. In Division 2 the scores were much closer with Orange County and Dallas edging their opponents, Santa Cruz and St. Louis playing to a tie and Phoenix/Lehigh Valley coming from behind for their first win. Division 3 play was wild with Milwaukee trouncing the New York B squad, Philadelphia doing the same to their opponent. North Carolina edged the Chicago Sharks and the Sharks in turn doing the same the New York B club.

The strikingly sharp level of football was commented upon by many of the spectators who, without question, knew quality football when they saw it while they enjoyed the gorgeous Kansas City weather. Screaming marks and flawless passages of play caused "oohs" and "ahs" from the seasoned spectators. I can only assume those watching players other than me were impressed as well.

At the end of the first day of matches Division 1 the west coast footy machine that is San Diego and Doggies of Denver seemed to be steamrolling their way to a Grand Final match up. However, New York and Nashville were still to be reckoned with and were close on the heels of the two past champs. Division 2 was less of a predictable race with Lehigh/Phoenix, Santa Cruz, Dallas and Orange County each looking like they could lay claim to the Division 2 championship. Division 3 play found the Tigers of North Carolina and Milwaukee Bombers in position to meet in the championship match for their division.

All in all, at the end of a great first day of matches, nothing was decided for sure, great plays and players were made and everyone knew that each club's performance in the Sunday matches would be crucial to the outcome of the tournament.

But now there was beer to drink and barbecue to be devoured.

The Saturday evening festivities took place in the massive Union Station building. Obviously designed and built about the time of the Pharaohs, hundreds of players and supporters filled the grand hall. The gathering of the tournament participants, always a popular event, showcased the world famous KC barbecue combined with bottles of Cooper's beer. Each attending team certainly did their best to rid the party of both.

At an opportune time, several speeches were made, members of the 2002 Revo squad were presented and the newly elected USAFL board was introduced. At least that what I think. There was an acoustic issue in the building. Nevertheless, the whole affair was well done by the KC folks. No one left hungry, that's for sure.

The Sunday morning matches began with a bit of frost on the ground and fog in the air, deciding who would be playing for the divisional Grand Finals. The heat of battle among the clubs was enough to drive the chill from the air. Good thing too, since the alternative would have been to decide the winners by boat races or eating contests. The players scheduled for the 8 AM matches were decidedly groggy due to the 3 am FALSE fire alarm rousing slumbering players from their beds and causing a ruckus when at least one player, in his lethargic confusion, mistook the Westin lobby for his assigned room and crashed on a sofa in less than usual night clothing.

Philadelphia and Milwaukee narrowly dispatched the Tigers of NC and Sharks of Chicago in the D3 prelims setting the stage for a Grand Final rematch. The Dallas Magpies ran out on the combined team of Cincinnati/Western PA with a 20-point win to earn a 3rd place finish in the D2 race. Santa Cruz blah, blah, blah against Lehigh Valley/Phoenix, blah, blah, blah. The SC Roos blah, blah, blah goals and marks blah, blah, blah for one of the D2 Grand Final berths.

Okay, the Santa Cruz boys took us apart in the early Sunday morning match. With flawless passing and strong marks, the Roos marched up and down the grounds running out a 32-point victory against the combined team now known as the Scorpadiles. Orange County, as expected, put together another fine performance besting the Swans of Chicago by a margin of 48-9 and taking the final spot in the D2 granny.

The 2001 National Champion and 2002 Champion San Diego Lions continued their march towards repeating as National Champions with an 8-point victory over the New York Magpies in a hotly contested match. The Denver Bulldogs continued their dominance of the D1 pool A by routing the strong Nashville boys, who up to that time had looked like a certain and formidable obstacle in Denver's path.

The rematch between Philly and Milly was fast and furious, though a low scoring affair. Solid defense by the Crows combined with relentless pressure by the Philly on-ballers kept the Bombers at bay (Get it? Bombers-bay? Get it? Nevermind). Playing a possession game the Crows found themselves 12-point winners at the final siren of the D3 final.

The Orange County boys started fast and finished strong in their D2 final match against another West Coast team, the Santa Cruz Roos. The OC Bombers put on a clinic with their precision passes and strong marking. Strong open-field running by Mark Seccull and Donnie Lucero set up plays by captain David Thurmond and Marty Curry. As long as Marty could keep running, he was sure to kick a goal. The moment he stops...

A huge mark just outside the goal square by Bomber Paul Wiggins was, in this writer's eyes, "Mark of the Tourney" as he climbed the ladder to fetch the pill out of the sky.

I would have voted for another strong mark by a teammate who shall remain nameless but he shanked the absolute setter out on the full from 15 meters out while Paulie dropped the ball to his boot and shot it clean and true for six.

In the end, the Bombers of Orange County ran out winners by a score of 7.3.45 to 2.3.15 over the Santa Cruz boys. The match was full of great plays and excitement and a tremendous curtain raiser to the Divy 1 Grand Final between Denver and defending champion San Diego.

The Denver Bulldogs, strong independents from the heart of the west, were poised to take on the formidable Lions of San Diego. The 4 time CAFL Premiers were looking to dominate the Doggies and lay claim to a repeat championship on the national stage. From the first ruck it was obvious both clubs were determined to be holding the Premier Cup aloft at the end of the day. Early on in the game it was clear the Bulldogs intended to deny the Lions the touches and clear runs we've all become accustomed to seeing the Lion offense utilize while marking the pill strongly in front of the goal. Each loose ball seemed to take a Denver bounce and the Doggies capitalized time and again on even the slightest of miscue by San Diego. Still words of zealous encouragement from Lion's Coach Chris Stiegler couldn't overcome the relentless Denver pressure.

Solid defense and brutal shepherds were delivered by both squads, but still the Denver offense pressed on. Soon however, the chances were becoming fewer and farther in between for the Lions as the gap widened between the two teams. In the end, the entire Denver squad played better to win bragging rights for the second time in three years. For the first time in anyone's memory the Lions were shut out from kicking a six-pointer. The final score was indicative of the enormously effective Bulldog game plan, with the Doggies running out resounding winners 8.1.49 to 0.2.2 to claim the Division 1 2002 USFooty National Championship.

Congratulations to all the players, supporters, officials and volunteers who made the trip. Everyone won just by showing up. It was a great tournament and weekend put on by USFooty and the Kansas City Power Football Club. Newly elected USFooty President Mark Wheeler of Kansas City and his club members are to be commended on a job well done. Great thanks to Andrea Caesar and those at USFooty who worked so hard to make the weekend a success. But now there was beer to drink and barbecue to be devoured.

John Meier

Photos from the Weekend

- John Meier

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