Anonymity And Fame In The World's Most Disorganized Pro Football League

The Fall Experimental Football League doesn't aspire to challenging the NFL for American Football Domination. It just wants to be a viable football league. Good luck.
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In the shadow of the Coney Island Cyclone, the Brooklyn Bolts and the Hudson Valley Fort squared off in the third Fall Experimental Football League (FXFL) game of the season. The two teams had played the week before, and would play twice more by the end of October. This is just how it goes in the FXFL.

The crowd of 1,000 squinted through the sunset to catch the action and the teams sat on their hands while they were on the sidelines. It was already cold, and the wind kicked off the Long Island Sound like a sheet of knives.

The game was officially scheduled to start at six, but didn’t. Kickoff would not happen for another 10 to 15 minutes, or honestly whenever everyone felt like starting the action. There was no rush. The game would not be televised, a tree falling in a forest with no one in it. At some point, it started, and at some point it finished after a 34-9 destruction by the Bolts.

If the FXFL was attempting to be a hyperrealistic football-esque simulation, it had that down pat. That is not just what it wants to be, though. The league was supposed to be a way for up and comers to get more exposure. It’s a good idea, but one that the FXFL has not yet delivered on. As it stands, it’s a semi-pro entity with less organization than a college intramural league.

Anyway, it’s still football.

***

The FXFL started in 2014, billing itself as a developmental organization for the NFL. In 2014, there were four teams; in 2015, that dwindled three. These teams are the aforementioned Fort and Bolts along with the Florida Blacktips, which only participated in two matchups during this year’s season—both of the other teams played four—and also did not play a home game.

The Blacktips were originally supposed to be based in Miami, with their home turf at Florida International University’s stadium. However, when logistics fell through, they became a de-facto travel team that now purportedly represents Florida, New York—a town in upstate Orange County with a population of 2,833. No Blacktip player has ever set foot in Florida, New York.

From October 2 through November 6, the duration of the FXFL’s season, the players stayed in free hotels and got comped food after games. Most of these players were 300 pound starving artists looking for their big break. They just wanted one scout, one coach, or one person to know who they were. Of course, if any of them made any plays after Week 3, it would not be reflected on the league’s website, which has still not been updated with any statistics for the last three games of the season.

In the crazy and chaotic world of football, where so many players are anonymous warm bodies in training camps across the country, and in which so many stars are effectively faceless to their fans, the FXFL’s football pilgrims wanted only to be recognized. Not even that, really.

They just wanted to be as recognizable as Josh Freeman.

In the entire FXFL, there was one player who ever started a National Football League game. As it happened, he had 60 first string appearances since he was selected with the 17th pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. He’s thrown 80 touchdowns and 67 interceptions in his career, racking up a quarterback rating of 77.8 and earning $28.2 million over the span of his career. That’s Josh Freeman, formerly the face of the franchise in Tampa, and for a little while the quarterback of the Brooklyn Bolts.

Freeman did not cut a significant figure on the field in Brooklyn. He stood next to Terry Shea—the head man at Rutgers before Freeman’s future Tampa nemesis, Greg Schiano, took the helm in Piscataway—and chatted with him about the proceedings on the field.

Freeman looks just about the same as he did when he was the talk of many a Bill Simmons podcast back in 2010 and 2011. He smiles a lot, and an aura of cool surrounds him. He seemed, strange as the circumstances were, in his element. Maybe Josh just wanted to be on a playing field where the most dangerous disease he could catch was a cold, not MRSA. Freeman’s dad is his agent, and father knows best—he had applied for a special waiver to have the former first-round pick play in this league after Josh was cut by the Dolphins during training camp

After the game, Josh gave a no comment to our press corps of two, allegedly having to meet his girlfriend, who was in town for the weekend. He lurched out of the locker room with a rolling suitcase in hand. His back was stiff, 111 career sacks clearly having taken a toll on his body and hunching the statuesque physique that had impressed scouting directors half a decade before.

He never stopped smiling, but what else is there to do, really?

***

There was a hole in the net behind the stadium’s dugout, which made it easy for people to sneak onto the field. Security was on call, but did not care. In the FXFL, boundaries were mere suggestions.

Kids stood on the sideline, high-fiving the players and trading equipment with them throughout the game. One child ran back to his parents with a look of wide-eyed glee on his face, a player’s mouthpiece in hand. Another received a used towel and immediately buried his nose in it, then withdrew, a repulsed look on his face.

“That smells bad,” he screamed. “Ewwwwwwwww!”

An errant practice kick almost smacked me in the head, instead clanging off a metal post located ten feet to my right. A bro wearing a tie-dyed hooded sweatshirt stood next to Freeman for the entirety of the fourth quarter. He never acknowledged the quarterback, and was motionless, just chilling, hands in pockets.

Meanwhile, Josh stood there, just looking out onto the field, brow unfurrowed, oblivious to the voices and chatter around him. He would be in few, if any, newspapers the next day. He could just live quietly, enjoying his vacation in New York. He did not need publicity; he had serenity instead.

On this dark, chilly night, Josh Freeman seemed satisfied to be a part of the most disorganized football league in the world. When it was over, he went home just like everyone else. There was a whole big world out there.


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