From left, former Washington Redskins player Ken Harvey, Reps. Robert Dold and Jon Runyan, Donna Wilkinson of the womens football team D.C. Divas, and Rep. Scott DesJarlais run during a Congressional football practice on the Mall.
The time for tackles, 90-yard returns, interceptions, sacks, fumbles, 60-yard completions and touchdowns is here.
It’s football season and many in Washington, D.C., have been waiting for Wednesday night’s big showdown between Congress and the Capitol Police.
It’s a football game that can be seen only in D.C. The 5th Biennial Congressional Football Game will raise funds for the Capitol Police Memorial Fund and Our Military Kids Inc.
The memorial fund was set up in reaction to the shootings of Capitol Police Officer Jacob Chestnut and Detective John Gibson on the Hill in 1998. The fund was established in 2005 to financially aid the families of fallen Capitol Police officers. Roll Call is a sponsor of the game.
The practices leading up to Wednesday's game have been trying on the players.
“We’ve lost a few guys to injuries. We already have had pulled hamstrings and strained calf muscles,” said Rep. Jon Runyan (R-N.J.), a former professional football player with the Philadelphia Eagles. “It’s going to be one of those things where it’s the last man standing.”
Tensions ran high at the practices of both sides, although to compare the makeup and visual appearance of the two would be tricky. Capitol Police set the parameters of their practice field at a much longer scale than the Members. The speed, agility and overall motion as well as level of smack talk among the practices contrasted greatly.
Members of Congress aren’t letting that stop them, though.
“Well, you can tell we are a little out of shape, a little old, a lot of pulls, a lot of strains,” Rep. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) said. “But I think we are going to take it to them.”
Despite the age factor, Rep. Donna Edwards thinks the team is coming together well. “The team is actually really great and it has been a great way to get to know some of my colleagues that I didn’t know before,” the Maryland Democrat said. “Even though technically this is flag football, it’s pretty intense. No one pays attention to the girl factor once we are out there.”
This was evident during a Congressional practice when Donna Wilkinson, a wide receiver for the professional women’s football team the D.C. Divas, was hit hard by one of the male players. Wilkinson offers her time as a coach and has helped Edwards prepare for the game.
In practices, a number of players take hard hits, and in past games, the intensity has been undeniable.
“In that first game [Capitol Police players] tore my ear off. It took 14 stitches to sew it back up,” Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said. “We had a big pileup, and when I came out, my ear was flapping in the wind.”
But it’s not all cake for the Capitol Police either. Ron Potter, a K-9 tech and captain of the Capitol Police team, explained the tactics and rules the Congressional side put in place to even the playing field against a team that includes not only Runyan but also former Washington Redskins player Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.).
“Rep. Heath Shuler came in and they got some NFL guys to come. They did quite a few things, they shortened the playing field down a little bit, tried to take away some of the speed,” Potter said. “That’s great for us; it just feels better when you win.”
Former NFL player and 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker has also said he’ll play for the Congressional team. “If Herschel Walker gets anywhere near me I’m going to fall to the ground,” said Officer Erin Robinson, a running back for the Capitol Police.
Others aren’t as intimidated by the help Congress is getting from former NFL players.
“I like sacking Shuler and giving him a hard time,” K-9 tech Irvin Washington said.
Ty Bond, a First Response Team officer, plays to support the charities and because it gives his kids a chance to see that their dad can still get out there and play.
“Last [time] we got complacent. Us losing got us dedicated and focused,” Bond said. “It won’t even be close.”
With that statement still lingering in the brisk morning air, Bond ran back to the scrimmage line just in time for the snap, keeping his eyes on the football. In a matter of seconds, before the offense realized it, Bond made a leaping catch, intercepting the ball right in front of the intended receiver, and ran it all the way back.
Jokes, laughter and smack talk filled the air. Bond jokingly told his teammates, “I had said, ‘Watch this.’”
Aside from the playful trash talking that both sides dish out, they are in agreement on one thing: the cause.
“Well, as always it will be a hard-fought battle. A bunch of old guys against a bunch of young guys,” Shuster said. “But at the end of the game, everyone wins because we think we will raise over $100,000 for the benevolent fund for the police and their kids.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.