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Flag Football Tough

The key word in flag football would seemingly be flag – a label indicative of a less physical game with modified rules. Except the word is really just football, for the game is almost as ...

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The key word in flag football would seemingly be flag – a label indicative of a less physical game with modified rules. Except the word is really just football, for the game is almost as physical, nearly as fast, and more strategic than one would think.

I joined the Long Island Flag Football League ( when a friend from a town nearby needed an extra man. Among his childhood and high school friends, I was the new guy in a sport unforgiving to outsiders – drop my first pass and I may never see another for the rest of the year, my reputation ruined. I soon learned, however, that flag football was more like real football and less like two-hand touch. Instead of contributing solely with receptions and interceptions, I could play strong run defense, throw key blocks, and in general, establish a collective sense of toughness within the team.

One of the primary sources of rough play in flag football is the very same tool intended to limit the sport’s physicality: the flags. Instead of detaching them individually, one must remove the entire “flag belt” in order to stop an opposing player. As difficult as that sounds, a firm grip on any one of the three flags extending from the belt will easily remove the entire appendage. The real controversy occurs when a defensive player is positioned close enough to an offensive player to make a stop, but can’t quite find a flag. What ensues is anything from a subtle hold to a full-out tackle. Tackling, of course, is illegal, though the rules are interpretative when it comes to physical flag taking.

Then, there is the speed of the game. “It’s fast, ain’t it?” the referee with a knowing smile asked my team two Sundays ago during the opening drive of our first ever flag football game. Three defensive linemen must wait three Mississippi-ed seconds before rushing the quarterback, who usually ends up scrambling for his life outside the pocket. In the 8 versus 8 format, scoring is difficult, especially without the benefit of experience and an organized offensive attack.

If you’re reading this as a rude introduction to flag football, don’t. Though the sport can be unforgiving at first, for a true sportsman, it is a welcomed, post-collegiate challenge – especially for those without any high school or college football experience (like my team) and those without beefy lineman (again, my team). Flag forces you to consider football in a more intellectual way, almost as if you were an NFL coordinator, while staying surprisingly true to the sport’s violent nature. We were younger than and just as athletic as both of the teams we faced this year. Yet we lost both games because we didn’t have an offensive or defensive plan. What other rec league sport places such a premium on strategy?

Luckily, referees and veteran teams generally follow an unwritten code to help out the new guys like us. Should we practice? Definitely, say the referees. No, said one opposing offensive lineman, who prefers to wait until Sundays to give up his body. All the teams and refs we spoke to, however, agreed on one point: We would improve with time so we should keep playing, learning, and as they say, having fun.

For information on how to get in on the games, please visit, or call 516-822-6312.


This article was written by Scott Bickard.

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