Remember those thrilling days of backyard football?
No helmets, no pads – just friends and frenemies getting together for good, old-fashioned games of tackle that featured grass stains, torn T-shirts, and the occasional bloody lip.
All these years later, my favorite play remains a post pattern where I made my cut at the dogwood tree in the next-door neighbor’s yard.
Flowering plants, in case you didn’t know, can be quite effective when utilized as downfield blockers.
Last weekend I got to take a trip down memory lane thanks to a happy accident courtesy of my Roku streaming player.
I was playing around with it in search of free sports programming (I’m cheap) when I happened upon a channel devoted to highlights of the American 7s Football League.
And if you don’t know what the A7FL is, well, it’s basically 7-on-7 backyard football. The difference between it and the kind I used to play, however, is this league (founded in 2014) features some talented football players.
And it’s really fun to watch.
A quick glance at game play and you might think you wandered into a rugby sevens match. Then you see receivers go in motion, quarterbacks roll out and unleash forward passes, and plays end in one-on-one, wrap-up tackles.
You don’t have to worry about helmet-to-helmet contact because while there is plenty of full contact, there are no helmets.
And just like in the backyard days when we took liberties with the official rules of football, A7FL has a unique set of its own.
Without getting too deep in the weeds, here’s the CliffsNotes version of rules:
* The field is 100 yards long and 37 yards wide, and there is no kicking of any kind.
* Each game begins with a “throw-off” in which three players of the throwing team line up at their own 35-yard line while one chunks the ball to a lone receiver on the opposing team.
(Back in the day we called these “pass-punts”).
The ball has to travel a minimum of 40 yards and once it gets past the receiver’s 25-yard line, it’s live. And the throw-offs I’ve seen have been pretty exciting … a lot of speed and a little brawn sometimes results in a TD.
After that play, which starts each half and follows each score, things begin to look a bit more like the “normal” gridiron game.
* Touchdowns are worth 6 points, with a 1-point conversion coming from a successful run or pass from the 5-yard line, and a 2-point conversion attempted from the 10.
* The QB can line up in the shotgun formation or behind the linemen, and he can’t be deeper than five yards from the line of scrimmage when in the ‘gun.
Obviously this is a pass-heavy league, although from time to time you will see a back plunge into the line or take a pitch. QB runs appear to be fairly common, too.
Currently the circuit has 16 teams concentrated in the Northeast United States (seven clubs are based in Baltimore) and the season runs from April to July.
One of the reasons I enjoy this league so much is that I’ve come to appreciate rugby more in the last year. As I mentioned earlier, you don’t have to watch much of an A7FL game to see the similarities.
But in a time when we’re being bombarded with new spring pro football leagues, the A7FL is a nice change of pace.
The players don’t make a living doing it, the league isn’t relying on packed stadiums and big-money TV contracts for survival, and it’s not a springboard to the NFL.
It’s simply American football stripped down to its bare necessities.
It’s a lot more advanced than the backyard football I used to play – players don’t have to worry about dogwood trees – but it’s fun and familiar.
Even if you aren’t a weekend warrior anymore, it’s good to know there are guys who keep the battle going.
And A7FL players do it in an entertaining way.
For more info on the league, go to www.a7fl.com.