With flags for a touchdown

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Of: Timur Tinc

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Ready to stop the attack: The team in the orange jerseys, led by head coach Nathan Clark (right), is getting ready for defense. © Peter Julich

Flag football is the disembodied version of American football. The Frankfurt Universe team hopes the NFL matches will give their sport a boost and can envision participating in future school groups.

The drum sounds from the rock classic “We’re not gonna take it” by Twisted Sister from the speakers herald the hot phase of the training of the flag football team in the Frankfurt Universe. After the warm-up exercises, it’s time to play on Monday night in the gym at the Panorama School in Nied. Four against four, attack on defense. The attackers around Andreas Doleschal are discussing their first move, the defensive around head coach Nathan Clark is waiting in orange jerseys for the first pass with the egg-shaped game machine on their side of the pitch.

“Down, set, hat,” and football lands in Doleschal’s hands. His teammates are rushing forward and would like to receive the pass. Doleschal aims, finds a teammate, but defender Denise Löwenstein is already there with the ball in hand and pulls the flag from her opponent’s belt. The tournament is over, the offensive people have to come up with something new to score a touchdown.

Flag football is the disembodied version of American football. Instead of knocking down the opponent, one of the two flags that all players carry around their lives must be torn off. The game is usually played five against five instead of eleven against eleven as in American football. Otherwise, the principle is the same: get the football into the opponent’s goal zone to score. “Our peak season is from April to September,” Clark explains. As a rule, up to eight teams meet on the match days of the tournament and play out the winner in one day. Before Corona, there were also indoor tournaments, which are currently on hold due to the pandemic.

FOOTBALL

American football played eleven against eleven. In the National Football League (NFL), a match lasts 60 minutes and is divided into four quarters of 15 minutes each. The playing field is 100 yards (approximately 91 meters long). The goal of the attacking team is to overcome ten yards in four games (downs), otherwise they will lose possession of the ball. The opposing team must try to capture the ball or stop the attacker. If the team reaches the end zone – the area at the end of the opponent’s half of the field – then they have scored a touchdown. There are six points for this. An extra point is possible if the “kicker” then throws the egg over the goal post. There are three points for a “field goal” if the kicker kicks over the goal posts after a down.

Flag football is the disembodied version of American football and is derived from the flags on the belt. If these are torn by the opponent, the game is stopped at the point. Only the ball carrier’s flag may be drawn. There are a maximum of eight attempts – four attempts to lead the football to the center line and then four attempts to carry the football to the goal zone. Since 2016, there has been a five-man football league with the German flag. There are also the 7 and 9 versions in the state associations. Tim

“The beauty of the sport is that you just have to catch the ball, dance around a bit and avoid the opponent,” says Clark with a smile. “Everyone can be integrated.” Women and men play together. The “purple flags” have a pool of 20 registered players and one player. They are between 20 and 47 years old. “I’m the oldest,” Clark says. Training takes place twice a week, on Mondays in Nied and on Wednesdays in the gymnasium at the school in Fechenheim. The team already existed before the founding of the AFC Frankfurt Universe. The flag football players were formed out of a fan base before being integrated into the club. Clark has been involved since 2007 when he was looking for a new sport for his son.

Rising level

“In Germany, flag football is the fringe sport of a fringe sport,” says Clark, laughing. Even at the club, it was sometimes difficult to get a real football player excited about flag football. The American has always promoted his sport at the universe’s powerhouses before league games in recent years. That’s how Andreas Doleschal became aware of it. “I used to go to games with my brother, and then I discovered flag football,” the 29-year-old says. He and Clark prepare the plays for the team. He especially likes that you do not get hurt. Otherwise, skills such as overview, sprint and agility are just as important as in American football. “The level has risen in recent years,” Doleschal noted. There are several teams.

In Frankfurt, there is still TG Bornheim, which has a senior team. Frankfurt Pirates has three youth teams. However, most of the teams are in the Wiesbaden and Darmstadt region. The strongest teams are Kelkheim Lizards and Walldorf Wanderers, who also have many national players. By allocating two NFL games to Frankfurt in 2023 and 2025, Clark expects more attention for football in general. He comes from Kansas City and hopes the Chiefs will come to Frankfurt around quarterback superstar Patrick Mahomes. One of the five teams from the National Football League (NFL) that have qualified for the matches in Germany – the other two matches are in Munich.

Clark does not yet know what specific funding the city of Frankfurt will provide to the flag footballers. He would like to offer school groups to get more children in touch with his sport. This has previously failed for various reasons. With the boost from the NFL games and the support from the city, a new attempt could now be made.

One of the training sessions: pulling the flags off the belt.
One of the training sessions: pulling the flags off the belt. © Peter Julich
The flag on each player's belt.
The flag on each player’s belt. © Peter Julich
Good catch: Ball control is everything and end-everything.
Good catch: Ball control is everything and end-everything © Peter Jülich

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