It had not been two weeks since my arrival in Parma. Still, I had experienced more adventure and excitement than many of the guys who began the season in April. Last minute touchdown passes: first against the current fourth seed in the Italian League semifinals, then to provide the Panthers a berth in the EFAF finals. Would the excitement continue?
Not quite. The next two weeks would prove to be less than breathtaking. At 4-2 in the Italian League (7-2 overall) we would be facing the bottom half of the rankings.
Our first opponent, Sharks Palermo, required a return trip to the island of Sicily. Blessed with sunny skies and a cool breeze, we arrived at the Palermo airport no more than an hour and a half before game time. Luckily, a bus was ready and waiting to take no more than 35 players, two coaches, and a few girlfriends.
We arrived at our rugby pitch/cycling stadium/football field only to be locked out of the locker room. Time until kickoff: 1 hour, 10 minutes — barely enough for the guys to smoke a few pre-game cigarettes.
As we waited, our team president — turned lobster after two days of Sicilian sun — greeted us sporting only a pair of American Flag swim trunks. A standing ovation is always appropriate and together we entered our locker room.
A quick warm up and the ball was kicked off. The Panthers scored at will, racking up 41 first half points. The Sharks held their own, scoring four times for a halftime score of 41-26.
The second half ensued and the point spread only grew. Three and a half hours after kickoff, we had scored 61 points to their 26.
Corey Mazza had another big day, catching three touchdown passes and returning the opening kickoff. Ryan Tully was replaced for the first of several games by former YSU linebacker, Jon Tekac.
We shouted “hip-hip-hoorah’s” to “the Sharks,” to “the Republic,” and to “the Panthers!” then headed to our cubicle for showers. Also notable, the showers were so cold that no one attempted putting more than one body part in at a time. As the team headed back to the airport, the jobless Americans headed to a hotel where we’d take a day of our own in the Sicilian Sun.
Week No. 4
The sun burn was just fading as we packed our bags and made our way to meet the team. My fourth game would take us to the east coast town of Ancona.
The Dolphins, dressed just like Miami, had won only a single game. Recall the mighty Dolphins of the 2007 NFL season: winless until late in the year, when they upset the … who knows. The point is, in football anything can happen. And it nearly did.
As we loaded the bus, a cooler of beer (no ice; ice is un-heard-of here) was loaded along with us. Luckily, the cooler was for after the game. However, you never would have known. We played poorly. We scored only once until about two minutes left in the first half when we finally caught a break. Mazza caught a long touchdown, then in Italian Football fashion our kicker booted a line drive that hit one of their players and bounced immediately back to one of ours. Only two plays later we were again in the end zone. Up 20-6 at the half.
The second half was worse. The offense struggled: dropped passes, an interception, a few sacks, etc. The defense held the Dolphins in check until late in the game when they scored twice. Fortunately, both two-point attempts failed.
You might wonder, “Why not just kick extra points?” Well, there are only a few teams with field goal kickers, and we are one of them. That crucial position was missing from the Dolphins’ lineup. They made one last onside-kick attempt, but I was there to fall on the ball. The game ended and we narrowly escaped with a win.
In regards to the kicking game, our punter forgot the required documents and did not make the trip. Therefore, unsure of who to turn to next, I was appointed punter for the game. We only punted once, from our own end zone, and it wasn’t terrible.
The Panthers return home for the next two weeks to face Corsari (Pirates) of Palermo and Doves Bologna. Also in the next update, the answer to the question, “When did it hit you that you were in Italy?”