And Now Their Watch Has Ended
Reporting by Arvind Srinivasan and Jonathon Boroski
Even though the Intruders had just qualified for the playoffs, for Head Coach Peter Lewis, September 1st felt like any other day. He quickly fell into his morning routine - a breakfast of carrots and gluten-free granola, a 20k run, and 2 hours of crossfit. Only a barrage of text messages from defensive coordinator Juan Sanchez could tear him from kettlebell induced fitness frenzy.
"What do you think about Cover-2 against the Vipers? How do we optimize our pre-snap reads to account for the center running a dig? Should our blitzer approach at a 72 or 64 degree angle? How many bananas do we bring so that Arvind doesn't start cramping in the 3rd quarter?"
Lewis responded with 6 letters:
And yet the two coaches had a dilemma -- how would they prepare a notoriously lazy team, known for meeting more often at the pub than the field, for the game of their lives? How would this group of guys get with the program and overcome insurmountable odds to bring home a trophy and/or laminated certificate?
As it turns out, the story involves childbirth, injuries, and tomato juice, but you'll have to read on to find out how. First, let's address the rest of the league.
The stage was set: 6 teams would battle for non-contact football primacy on the hallowed grounds of Deutweg in Winterthur, home to historic sporting events like the 2016 Swedish youth track preliminaries (earlier that morning) and the 2015 NFFL playoffs. Though the hometown Red Lions, as reigning champions, were undoubted favorites, 3 Zurich teams had made the long trip, and each would have a strong presence on the podium after all was said and done. The Renegades took the trophy back to Witikon and the Mockingbirds received 3rd place because the Intruders had more important things to do than play for the NFFL’s Miss Congeniality award, but the Intruders swept all the (non-awarded) awards for intangibles, including “most attractive,” “most orange,” "most likely to drink a beer between games", and "least likely to understand the concept of blitz block."
For the most detailed account of the final, you should read my friend J.B. Boroski's (Jonathon Boroski Boroski) excellent ground reporting here.
Intruding on Winterthur
However, let’s return to that cold morning in Winterthur, where coaches Lewis and Sanchez needed a game plan for their 1st round matchup against the St Gallen Vipers, to whom they had suffered an ignominious 55-7 blowout merely 2 weeks prior. Adding to that pressure, the Intruders' only prior playoff appearance ended in a defeat to theVipers two years ago. Three kombuchas later, the two hammered out a 3 slide powerpoint presentation with the keys to victory, based on intensive opposition scouting and film study.
At a rare midweek practice session closed to the press, 6 Intruders jockeyed for space with a women’s softball team, practicing those 3 slides (their league issued Microsoft Surfaces apparently still in the mail) with rarely seen precision. While Coach Sanchez was happy to share his strategy and insights from the impromptu dress rehearsal , the quote is far too long to print here. However, sources close to the team have informed me that the star of the practice session was Jim Sorboen, whose scout team impression of NFFL Offensive Player of the Year D’Amico was “so on point that we thought he had a lead footed ginger doppelganger.”
On gameday, the Intruders would be subject to that old adage: “the best laid plans of mice and men often go into labor.” Indeed, season co-MVP Francis Guay was a morning scratch due to morning sickness. There was a pregnant pause as Coach Lewis relayed the news that their starting wide receiver would miss their second playoff berth.
However, no one circles the wagons like the Zurich Intruders. Both sides started by exchanging hard fought scores, with the Vipers jumping out to an early 7-6 lead. Cipullo leaned heavy on stalwarts season co-MVP Haidari and Srinivasan, as well as center Teubert, moving down the field easily and matching St. Gallen blow for blow. As the game wore on, however, it would be the Intruders defense that set the tone and won the day.
During the regular season, the Vipers had boasted the NFFLs highest scoring offense, but it slowed as the first half unfolded. Cipullo surgically maneuvered down the field for another touchdown, and a long strike to Jeff Sullivan put Zurich up several scores going into the half. The Intruders seemed well on their way to post-season glory as they hydrated on the halftime sidelines.
Drama rode as an unwelcome sidekick throughout the Intruders playoff march, and the wildcard game proved no exception. St. Gallen, as expected, made several second half adjustments, and slowly reignited their once misfiring offensive attack. The teams opened the second half as they began the first, trading scores and stops in equal measure.
A series of unfortunate events would swing momentum in favor of the Vipers and fans hoping for a closer contest. The “all-star” crew of referees called a tight game that flew in the face of logic and competence, leaving drive killing chaos in their yellow flagged wake. An incidental flag guarding here, an accidental whistle there each stopped a long Intruders drive, and cast a faint lifeline to the toothless Vipers.
On top of questionable officiating, the Intruders suffered a key injury to a defensive centerpiece. CB Mathias Pfiffner, tasked with covering the league’s leading receiver, came down hard while defending a deep pass. He would be forced off the field with a lower back injury, doubtful to return.
With his best defender gone, Sanchez shifted Sullivan outside, where he snagged two picks, and reshuffled his troops using a Nelson/Boroski/Sanders defensive hydra that filled in admirably to hold the lead.
Still, only a meticulous Intruder drive could ensure their first playoff win. A controversial whistle on a long strike to Haidari eventually escalated to a personal foul by the Vipers. However, since the whistle had been prematurely blown, the Intruders got the penalty yardage, which only put them at midfield instead of their rightful place in the St. Gallen red zone.
Three downs came and quickly went, and on fourth down, the Intruders needed a touchdown to stave off the Vipers undeserved yet nonetheless potential comeback. With a blitzer hanging off of him, Cipullo floated a Montana-esque pass into the outstretched hands of his receiver for what seemed the game clinching score.
Ever drama queens, the Intruders defense, so solid all day, quickly surrendered a long bomb TD with a minute to play, forcing their offense back onto the field for one last drive to glory.
Once more, Cipullo found Teubert on a series of designed plays and marched the ball to midfield. On fourth and inches, Cipullo faked the shuffle pass and caught the Vipers napping, as Sullivan’s long catch and run sealed the Intruders first playoff victory, 41-28.
For the injury riddled Intruders, their globally televised semi-final matchup against defending champion Winterthur Red Lions served more as an epilogue than the climax to their 2016 season. Although the offense started well, matching the Red Lions’s high tempo attack with long TDs of their own, the defense sputtered. After a banged-up Pfiffner exited the game for good, the Red Lions hit a groove and jumped to a 2 TD lead. The Intruders kept pace, scoring on each subsequent drive, but the Red Lions did as well, maintaining their advantage. To add injury to insult, Srinivasan, who had caught multiple TDs as well as surrendered a few, bowed out with a leg injury, as did Sanchez soon after.
Though the Intruders’ depth performed admirably, including chain moving grabs for Sanders and Sorboen and important defensive snaps for Teubert, Boroski, and Nelson, it was too little too late. The Red Lions victory formation signaled the end of their semi-final. Depleted and dehydrated, the Intruders chose to forgo the unnecessary third place game and rode off into the sunset (and towards the nearest taqueria).
10 Things I Think
1. “Family” was the centerpiece of Coach Lewis’s pre-game motivational message. He even made his team chant “family” after their first victory. I think this reminds me of Vin Diesel in the Academy Award snubbed series The Fast and Furious.
2. I think the Intruders should think about stretching, Yoga, or at least some form of warmup beyond playing catch 5 minutes before kick-off. The disturbing prospect of Coach Lewis’s tennis ball massages should be motivation enough to inspire some toe touches.
3. Final Scores for the record: Intruders 41 : Vipers 28, Red Lions 53 : Intruders 33.
I think the Intruders have a problem, and it isn’t offense.
I reached out to absentee QB turned playoff hero Cipullo, for his thoughts on the Intruders’ offensive success:
“Luckily several local chilbis, a charity circus, and an arts and crafts fair were canceled so I could make it today.”
4. I think when Coach Lewis rode off into the sunset in his camouflage land rover, he was pretty excited by next season’s prospects. He will be hoping to get the same level of performance from his wily vets, and avoid absence-due-to-birth in next year’s playoffs.
5. I think the real MVP in the Guay family is new mother Fiona, who has produced both a baby and the hottest merch of the season. Rumors have it that the limited edition Intruders bro-tanks will go on sale at some point in the near future.
6. Speaking of merch, Intruders Chief Commercial Officer Caroline Barlow thinks the newfound playoff success is going to lead to an unprecedented era of sponsored swag, from beer koozies to monogrammed strollers. “We’re seeing a lot of brand engagement from the many fans of amateur Swiss flag football.”
7. I think Srinivasan’s semifinals exit was one of the most shameful in recent memory. He was overheard saying “yo nbd, I’m 23” prior to a drive where he pulled a muscle while false-starting on 3rd and long from the Intruders 5. He hamstrung the team at a critical juncture, and will have to go into the off-season contemplating his impending midlife crisis.
8. Factoid of the Week That May Not Even Interest Me: The Intruders beat the Vipers for only the second time in their history, with both wins coming in Winterthur.
9. Great teams aren’t always great; sometimes, they’re just great when they have to be. For one game on an overcast September morning, this team of Intruders were as great once as they have ever been in the face of adversity, doubt and injury.
10. Beernerdness: 2 weeks after trading their team physicians for free beer, the Intruders were forced to leave the field for post-game booze. Settling on a Mexican restaurant, Srinivasan boldly ordered Micheladas for the table. Center (and local celebrity) James Sorboen, away in the bathroom, returned to this news:
"What's it made out of? Hold on is this the stuff with tomato juice?"
and proceeded to run a rabbit-like 4.2 40 to the kitchen to change his order. Astute viewers will note that Jimbo's acceleration on curl routes earlier in the day were more "tortoise in quicksand."
Tweets of the Week
I don't like to flex. Im too skinny anyway.— Wiz Khalifa (@wizkhalifa) October 7, 2016
SBB Zweite Klasse Travel Note
I went on a chartered flight for a company offsite this past week. Before, "chartered flight" brought to mind Jay-Z, caviar, champagne, and leather seats. That has been duly replaced by soviet-era Polish planes, coworkers singing on the intercom, and "knees, oh god, my knees." Surely QB Cipullo, who departed for China shortly after his playoff heroics, is not subject to similar injustice.
The Adieu Haiku
I am not a poet.
And this joke was way too long.
Hope someone gets it.