Heard on the Hill

Any Given Tuesday: Cops and lawmakers suit up for charity football

Mean Machine, Guards compete for all the gridiron glory

The Guards' Chad Nieto, center, tries to catch a pass in the end zone as Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., left, and Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., break it up during the Congressional Football Game at Gallaudet University in Washington in 2017. The game featured the Capitol Police team The Guards against the congressional team The Mean Machine. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Lawmakers will be looking for redemption when they, along with a few retired football pro friends, hit the gridiron against the Capitol Police in their biannual football game Tuesday.

The Congressional Football Game for Charity features the Mean Machine, a bipartisan team of members of Congress and former NFL players, against the Guards, a team made up of Capitol Police officers.

(The nicknames are a nod to the classic football-players-in-prison movie “The Longest Yard,” starring Burt Reynolds, as well as the 2005 non-classic remake starring Adam Sandler.)

The Capitol Police have defeated the members in four consecutive games, including 2017’s 7-0 shutout.

If you want to know just how seriously the teams are taking it, look no further than Reps. Steve Stivers of Ohio and Don Bacon of Nebraska, who showed up late for a breakfast hosted by the Ripon Society last Thursday.

“When you show up late, you have to do pushups!” barked their coach, John Booty, a former eight-year NFL veteran.

The game was first held in 2005 to honor the lives of two Capitol Police officers killed in the line of duty. Detective John M. Gibson and Officer Jacob J. Chestnut lost their lives on July 24, 1998, when a gunman walked into the Capitol and went on a shooting rampage. 

The game takes place every other year to avoid play during election years.

Proceeds go to the Capitol Police Memorial Fund, Our Military Kids and A Advantage 4 Kids.

This year’s game has raised more than $300,000, according to members’ team co-captain Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois, easily exceeding the $187,000 raised in 2017.

Lawmakers say the game offers a rare chance for bipartisan recreation, something they lament as a relic of a past era.

Rep. Jimmy Panetta, the other captain, said that when his dad, former Rep. Leon E. Panetta, was in the House, members would work out and play pickup basketball.

“They weren’t tied to their cell phones,” the California Democrat told the breakfast crowd. “They weren’t tied to going out to other receptions. They were going to dinner together.”

But now Panetta said it takes more work to form bipartisan relationships.

“Now it actually takes getting up in the morning and going to baseball practice or going to football practice or basically making the efforts to go to each other’s district, like Rodney and I have. A lot of my friendships here on Capitol Hill, especially with Republicans, stem from my time in 2017 going out there on the field,” Panetta said. “Then it carried over into our daily job here and then with this team in 2019. So it’s like I said, it’s something that takes time to build, but it’s damn well worth it.”

The members team includes more than 30 House members (no senators), including Reps. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio and Colin Allred of Texas, who both played in the NFL and are members of the All-Congress fantasy football team. Two women, California Democrats Nanette Barragán and Katie Hill, will be participating as well.

Former NFL players include Booty, Ravin Caldwell, Gary Clark, Ken Harvey, Darnerien McCants, Santana Moss, Fred Smoot, Shawn Springs and Herschel Walker.

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