Tuesday, June 30, 2009
For the love of the game of football
For the love of the game of football
The Quebec Titans are classified as a semi-professional team, but they actually pay to play
By Randy Phillips, The Gazette
Titans' kicker Tom Koncic, right, came to
On an idyllic evening for football in Point
"Come on, guys. You're a bit late," the coach says as players lug equipment into the rear door of a Montreal Catholic Schools Commission building backing on to Parc Leber.
Other players already dressed for practice emerge and trot toward the field.
"Where are those guys coming from,
"They're coming," someone replies. "They just arrived. They're getting out of their cars."
Ron Kay, a big offensive lineman already suited up, stands nearby sizing up new helmets team co-owners Jeff Craig and Nick Sarantinos have brought for players to try on.
"How much?" Kay asks as he pulls the first one over his head.
"About $300 with the (eye) shield," Craig says.
"Hmmmm … might have to convince my wife not to pay the Hydro bill this month," Kay says with a laugh. "How much for this other one? Feels like a better fit."
"About $150," he is told.
It's another once-a-week, preseason practice for the Quebec Titans – the only Canadian team in the U.S.-based Empire Football League. More significantly, the Titans are the reigning league champions and are preparing to defend their title when the new season begins on July 11.
The league plays by National Football League rules, and while it is referred to as "semi-professional," the players actually pay to play. They also have real day jobs and families to balance, but by playing this hard-nosed, full-tackle brand of football into their late 30s and even early 40s, the Titans are proof that old football players don't always just fade away.
"It's the passion for the game that keeps these guys wanting to continue to play," says Mouland, 70, a career amateur football coach who is in his fifth season with the
Titans and is also president of the Quebec Junior Football League's Châteauguay Raiders.
"Some guys just aren't ready to pack it in after their time playing junior football, at university, or maybe even in the (
The team – formerly known as the Montreal Titans and Châteauguay Titans – joined the EFL in 2005, two years after the league's Montreal Condors relocated to
The EFL is one of almost two dozen "semi-pro" leagues scattered throughout the
The Titans beat the Ice Storm 12-10 in South Hero,
Though the Titans' practice facility is in Point
Sarantinos and Craig, both former Condors, started the new franchise in the wake of the Condors' demise, wanting to keep alive the opportunity for "old guys in the area" to continue playing. Each player pays a $120 registration fee and must have his own equipment.
"All we supply are the jerseys," says Sarantinos, adding that registration fees help defray the expense of chartering a coach bus for road games. "We've got 50 sets (of jerseys), so our maximum roster size is 50.
"You're not looking at two guys trying to make money by owning a football team. Far from it," Craig adds. "Money comes out of our own pockets at times, but hey, it's for the love of this game."
The majority of the players and coaches come from the Greater Montreal region, but in recent years some have travelled from as far away as
The average age is 25, and walk-ons are a frequent occurrence, as was the case with punter Tom Koncic, who joined the Titans before the start of last season.
"I just live a couple of streets over (from
"Last year was the first year I ever played this game," he adds. "My impressions of the game? Not bad, but I'm still trying to get used to the helmet and all the pads and the stuff … all the rubbish."
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Koncic, married and the father of two boys, ended up leading the league in punting last season and earned a first-team all-star selection in addition to a championship ring.
"In Aussie rules, we pass the ball by kicking it, so really the only thing I've had to get used to here is taking two steps before kicking it now," Koncic says. "Take the pads and helmets away and I think this game would be really great, but then you might as well call it rugby, I guess."
Kay, a 6-foot-3, 260-pounder who recently turned 38, also joined the Titans last season, returning to the game after not having played since his days in the midget ranks while attending
"A few friends teased me for about a year about coming out to play, and finally I did," Kay says. "And even though my wife, Tammy, is a good friend of Jeff's wife, she wanted her to tell Jeff to tell me not to play. As much as they bugged me at every game I came to see, it was my kids whose eyes lit up when I told them I was being asked to play. I decided to show them that Dad was not too old.
"Winning the championship was a bonus," Kay adds. "My sons' names are engraved inside the ring and they've gotten a thrill out that. And Tammy loves it, too. She'd come out to watch games even if I wasn't playing.
"She says it's an added bonus that I am playing. She says she loves to see me in tight pants."
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