Story and photos by Tony Contini, December 2016 Issue.
The Phoenix Gay Flag Football League (PGFFL), part of the National Gay Flag Football League, has formally united athletes and the sport they love since 2008.
For years, teams would turn out on Saturdays from January to April for 7-on-7 spring league play, which included tactical plays, blocking and contact.
As an alternative, as well as a supplement, the league introduced Friday Night Lights. In only its second season, the fall league offers 4-on-4 games that give players a chance to gather for competition and camaraderie from September to November.
The 4-on-4 games consist of two 15-minute halves where the offense has four downs to move the chains to the 50-yard line, then four downs to score. The quarterback has seven seconds to throw, except when inside a no-rush zone (five yards of first down and five yards of end zone). Inside those zones their time is cut to five seconds. One defender can rush immediately from seven yards from scrimmage.
In only it’s second season, Friday Night Lights boasts six teams and nine sponsors – and, due to the increasing popularity, there was a waiting list to sign up.
That popularity is evident on Friday nights, as family, friends and dogs file in along the sidelines to spectate and cheer. There are active referees keeping time, spotting progress and calling fouls. Quarterbacks draw up hidden plays on teammates’ chests. Players yell hilarious pep talks to their teammates, like “he’s a steak and you haven’t ate in a week.” And there are ecstatic team chants, like the Orange Trumps – “3 2 1 – grab that pussy” or “build that wall!”
Phoenix’s commissioner Joel Horton said he loves watching new players take to the game.
“Some are right off the street, some have played college ball – everyone comes together in a supportive environment, and we try,” Horton said.
The league offers an environment where people can fail, do their best, have fun and get better.
Jared Garduno, the NGFFL commissioner, has been involved since the first season.
Apart from the release of playing hard and getting a workout, Garduno said the football field is a great way to meet and learn about people.
“When you step on the field, you can learn more about a person in an hour than you could in years of being someone’s friend,” he said.
Depending on others to reach a common goal helps you read people. Garduno said that during a game you can almost instantly sense how someone handles adversity, their willpower and if they’re cocky or humble.
“Over years it becomes trust,” Garduno said. “You build a bond, especially when you’re traveling and playing as a team – when you’re on the field you automatically know this guy’s got me.”
Ian Johnston is a third-time national champion, captain and father. He played 7-on-7 back in the day and said Friday Nights Lights is more his speed now.
“It offers an outlet for those who can’t dedicate a whole Saturday to coming out and getting sweaty then celebrating with their team,” Johnston said.
Another captain, Howard Whipple, started playing on the tournament league. His team, Phoenix Blasts, were in the B division, went to nationals in Washington DC and won the Pride Cup.
“It was really neat,” Whipple said. “Being all together in one place with all these guys that have one thing in common was the best thing about it.”
The league is diverse and represents all genders, both gay and straight athletes, from professions ranging from doctors and real estate agents to bartenders and lawyers.
“The sports are obviously fun, football is great, but the best part is hanging out afterward,” Whipple said. “It’s getting to know everyone and becoming a family – we are a football family.”
For more information on the Phoenix Gay Flag Football League, visit phoenixflagfootball.com.