Ex-NFLers to Suit Up With Members

Posted September 23, 2009 at 6:27pm

The last time Members of Congress challenged Capitol Police officers in the Longest Yard Football Classic, Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) threw two interceptions, Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) dove headfirst into the dirt to defend a pass, and the lawmakers never made it to the end zone, losing 28-0.

But when kickoff arrives on Oct. 27, Members will get extra help from some new teammates, who just happen to be former National Football League players.

“We have to have more speed, more strength and more athletic ability,— said Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), a longtime participant in the flag football game, which raises money for a pair of charities. “The way we’re going to get there this year is we changed the rules of the game.—

The police, who won the past two games after settling for a tie in 2005, have agreed to allow lawmakers to field two former NFL players throughout the game. More are expected on the squad and will substitute in and out of the game in an effort to give the Members their first pigskin victory.

Shuler was quick to point out that though he played for the NFL — and was a finalist for the Heisman trophy — he doesn’t count as one of the allotted two players. The new rule, he said, makes up for some gaps between the teams.

“If you look at the age difference last [game] and, you know, these guys are in incredible shape,— Shuler said. “With our busy schedules, it’s hard enough to get in a workout at the House gym.—

Members have already begun to practice on the National Mall and plan to squeeze in at least 10 practices before the game. One of the main strategies, according to Shuler: stretching. In 2007, two teammates suffered injuries during practice: Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) separated his shoulder and Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) pulled his hamstring.

The Capitol Police “have every right to talk trash,— Shuler said. But this year, “I think that we’re going to play much better.—

The Longest Yard began in 2005 as a way to raise money for the Capitol Police Memorial Fund, which benefits the families of Officers Jacob Chestnut, John Gibson and Christopher Eney. Chestnut and Gibson were killed by a gunman who shot his way into the Capitol in 1998, while Eney was killed in a training accident in 1984.

Those officers’ children are now grown and their families have less need for financial help, sparking an effort to expand the fund’s use in the future, according to Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer. In 2007, the Longest Yard Football Classic became a biennial game, and now it has also expanded its purpose — this year some of the money raised will go to the Washington Literacy Council.

Ken Harvey, a former Washington Redskin who is coaching the Members’ team, said this year’s goal for donations is $180,000 — $150,000 more than officials raised in 2007. He admitted it is a high mark, but this year’s game also promises to be bigger. Players will face off in the D.C. Armory, which seats 8,000; last year, they played at Eastern High School. The NFL and Budweiser are sponsoring the event, promising a variety of former professional football players. Former NFL player and actor Terry Crews, who played Cheeseburger Eddy in the film “The Longest Yard,— may also attend.

The new venue promises to make the Longest Yard a different game than in the past. The field is smaller, and the roof means players won’t have to worry about rain (a game-changer in 2005, when the teams essentially played in a mud pit).

Still, the Capitol Police are certain of their victory. The officers have “youth and speed— on their side, Gainer said.

“God bless the Members that they take the time to do this, and I know our officers are very appreciative,— he said. “But we still want to kick their butts.—

Such confidence, however, might backfire.

“They have been practicing and they have been talking some trash,— said John Booty, a former NFL player who is helping Harvey coach the Members’ team. “A little trash talking makes me nervous, but it also fires me up.—