Game Created to Help Families of Slain Officers

Posted October 22, 2009 at 1:38pm

Anyone who claims flag football isn’t a contact sport should try telling that to Rep. Bill Shuster.

The Pennsylvania Republican was playing in the first Longest Yard charity football game when he and an opponent collided and he fell to the ground.

When Shuster resurfaced, what his fellow players saw must have been quite gruesome.

“There was a big collision, and I came up with blood and mud in my ear,— he said. Well, what was left of it.

The incident nearly tore Shuster’s ear off, and he had to get 14 stitches to reattach it.

That’s a pretty brutal way to start off a tradition, but Shuster hasn’t let the accident keep him from participating in every game since.

And he’ll be on the field again this year, the fourth time that the game is being played.

The Longest Yard Football Classic was started in 2005 by former Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) to bolster a dwindling fund that was established to help the families of Capitol Police officers who had been killed in the line of duty. The game was played again in 2006 and 2007, but it was changed to a biennial event after that year.

A team of Members takes on a team of Capitol Police officers, and typically the Members of Congress have not fared well. The teams tied in 2005, but the police came out on top in 2006 and 2007.

In the past, proceeds from the game have benefited the children of Officers Jacob Chestnut, John Gibson and Christopher Eney, all of whom died on the job.

This year, however, some of the money will be donated to the Washington Literacy Council, as the officers’ children are grown and do not need the financial aid as much as before. Police officials are deciding how best to spend the proceeds in the future.

The game will look a little different this year, from the venue to the action on the field. Unlike in previous years, the game will be played indoors at the D.C. Armory. The rules have also changed, according to Shuster. He said there will likely be fewer players allowed on the field at one time, and the playing space will be smaller than before.

Despite their previous losses — the score in 2007 was 28-0 — the Members believe this could be their year. They hope that what they lack in athletic prowess in comparison to the officers will be made up by former NFL players who are lending a hand this year.

Still, they’ve got a lot of ground to make up, and it’s unlikely that the officers are going to give up the title without a fight.

Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse, for one, seems confident about their chances.

“I’m their secret weapon,— he said. “They bring me in when we need a touchdown.—

Win or lose, Shuster said the game presents a good opportunity to show the police some gratitude.

“They do a great job keeping the Capitol safe for us,— he said. The game “is a small way to say thanks.—

Emily Yehle contributed to this report.