RAFZ - The final seconds ticked away on the Zurich Intruders season, but you’d have hardly known judging by their bustling bench. Players hugged and hi-fived. Children ran untethered, chasing their favorite Intruder’s flags and jostling amongst themselves under the watchful eyes of parents and supporters. Six years ago, the maiden voyage of the star-crossed franchise, many of these same these players spent off the pitch respites joking with teammates or sneaking a sip. But no more. Things change, that’s all they ever do.
Still, some remain the same, if only for a few hours on this perfect autumn Saturday. Earlier that morn, the Orange and Gray intruded on Rafz to face off against the Winterthur Warriors and Basel Barbarians in the NFFL seeding games extravaganza. Starting on the day on defense, Zurich wasted little time as Boroski lept into the void (about 6 inches) to nab an errant Warriors pass. Uncharacteristically, Cipullo rewarded him with a deep strike score one play later.
The Intruders stiffled Winterthur drive after drive, trading each stop for paydirt gold. The roulette style pass rush powered by Alex and Anja Mae always bet on sack, putting opposing QBs on notice and on their back foot the entire afternoon.
That man Guay was at it again, hauling in 4 TDs, adding to his season and all time Intruders records. Todd took the reigns behind center like the Oprah Winfrey of pocket passers. Craig - you get a touchdown! Anja-Mae - you get an extra point! Juan - you get a… wait is anyone else open…. Cipullo - you get a TD too!
For the first time in weeks, Zurich marched at their level best, savoring the moment, bringing the pirate swagger and easy going game play straight outta Wiedikon. A throw back hammer drop, 57-19. Advantage: Intruders.
In the days leading up to the contest, NFFL talking heads and click bait hungry bloggers spent copius bluster and word count on the recently announced retirement of Intruders stalwart Juan Sanchez. A pillar of the flag community as its Head of Officating, Sanchez leaves big shoes to fill on the Zurich sidelines and behind the scenes.
Beyond the stats, highlights and prima donnas, it’s the role players, the organizers and locker room guys that allow weekend warriors to steal few hours from their adult lives to indulge childhood fancies of gridiron glory. Juan, Lilian, Luke and Jake have been there year after year to help us do just that. It’s sad, but only fair, that Juan move on to this next stage of his life’s work.
Inevitably, veteran NFFL teams slowly erode as players succumb to seldom stretched hamstrings, work relocations, and unavoidable adult responsibilites. The Intruders will certainly miss Sanchez on the field, especially his defensive acumen, willingness to instruct even the savviest of veterans on flag football minutiae and safekeeping of our equipment bag. Not to mention his walk off sack in the 2017 season finale that sealed a victory over the Renegades, which will live in the annals of Intruders lore for eons.
The 2018 swan song came against a revitalized Basel Barbarians team against whom the Orange and Gray opened their inaugural season way back in 2012. Maybe it was soreness, between game beers, ref duty or play ground chicanery, but the Intruders stumbled out of the gate, allowing Basel to hang around throughout a roughshod first half.
Nonetheless, the offense kept rolling as Cipullo spread the pigskin wealth, hitting Boroski, Teubert and Miller for consecutive TDs and extra points galore. On the other side of the ball, the Zurich struggled to figure out the youthful Basel rushing attack, resulting in two long scores. The Intruders went into the half up by one, much to the chagrin of anyone who has ever seen Basel play flag football.
A haltime pow-wow with Head Coach Peter Lewis and defensive adjustments yielded immediate dividends. Guay, whose first half gamble had resulted in an earlier Basel TD, stepped in front of an opposition out pattern for an interception that set up the Intruders deep in Barbarians territory. Zurich punched it home a play later, taking a two score lead that would only go forth and multiply.
On the next series, JB hauled in his 9th INT on the season, and Teubert gave the fans their money’s worth, finally lofting a long touchdown pass to Sanchez that not even he could drop this time.
The rest of the game was academic and celebratory. Cipullo threw and caught TDs, Craig snagged pass after pass, and even JB launched surprisingly accurate bomb that Guay, the perennial MVP, tracked down in the endzone for yet another score. On their final day as a team, everyone got in on the act, dropping a sixty burger on Basel, 61-27. Same as it ever was.
Shortly after the final whistle, Coach Lewis gathered his team for their last huddle of the season. As true today as it was six years ago (more if you count the salad days of the ZAITFL), Lewis continues to shepherd this rag tag group of ex-pats into a cohesive unit between frantically painted hashmarks and haphazardly placed yard markers. Knowing his team and the moment as always, Lewis called upon his troops to send off their friend and teammate with a hearty Sanchez-centric cheer and before leaving them to their traditional postgame beers.
2018 may not have been not the best of Intruders seasons. The squad continually teetered and ultimately finished at .500, leaving more questions than answers for next year. It now falls to remaining veterans and new blood to move this team forward, fill out the rosters and return the team to the playoff glory to which it has become accustomed. Still, their sixth year was filled with legendary feats, epic road trips, mirth and commraderie as any other and will forever live in the hearts of the men and women who made and witnessed them.