In the minutes before Tuesday night’s Longest Yard Football Classic, Members of Congress dropped to the ground at the command of former Washington Redskin Ken Harvey and cranked out 20 or so push-ups.
It was a stark difference to the cigarettes and trash talk that defined their pre-game moments in 2007, when they last took on the Capitol Police in a flag football game for charity — and lost 28-0.
Members had a marked advantage this time: eight former National Football League players who not only whipped them into shape but also took the field Tuesday night. Still, it took overtime, a game-saving interception by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) and a scrambling heave by Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) before the Members of Congress could finally declare victory over the Capitol Police officers for the first time in the history of the series.
When the game finally ended — an hour later than expected — the Members’ Mean Machine had beaten the police Guards, 32-26. The winning play: Shuler’s toss to former Philadelphia Eagles defensive back John Booty, who impressed spectators with a high vertical catch to make a touchdown.
“Unbelievable!— yelled Mean Machine Coach Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) as Members flooded the field. “When I saw Booty, I knew we had it. John Booty, he can jump!—
Started in 2005, The Longest Yard Football Classic began as a way to raise money for the Capitol Police Memorial Fund, which benefits the families of Officers Jacob Chestnut, John Gibson and Christopher Eney. Chestnut and Gibson were killed by a gunman who shot his way into the Capitol in 1998; Eney was killed in a training accident in 1984.
This year, half of the money raised will also go to the Washington Literacy Council. By press time Wednesday, officials estimated that a total of $50,000 to $60,000 had been raised for the charities.
The Mean Machine has faced off against the Guards four times — and while this year was their first win, that outcome was far from certain throughout the game.
The Capitol Police started out strong, marching down the field on their first possession, with Officer Mark Herbert throwing a touchdown pass to Davis. And in the third quarter, Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) committed an offsides penalty, opening the door for the Guards to score a touchdown that gave them a 20-14 lead.
The game was not without controversy. At one point, referees realized that Booty had inexplicably tied on his flag belt rather than clipped it — perhaps showing his preference for a tackle game — and decided to call back the resulting touchdown.
On the sidelines, meanwhile, the Guards exchanged advice on how to beat a team that now had a professional backbone.
“We have to stay disciplined,— said Officer Larry Bell, after calling the defensive players into a huddle. “All that jumping offsides, not being in the right spot. We have to stay disciplined.—
They were up against a long-standing partnership: Shuler had played on the Washington Redskins with Ricky Ervins for three years and with Harvey for one. Coaches Harvey and Booty (with unofficial coach Shuster) also ran a tight ship during practice, with early morning practices on the National Mall and push-up penalties for latecomers.
“Our plays make the health care bill look simple, but unlike the health care bill, our plays will be effective,— joked Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who made a key sack with less than two minutes left in the game. “And when we want to pass something, we will get it done.—
Shuler completed 29 of 42 passes for five touchdowns and won the Most Valuable Player trophy. But he had one rough spot — his final throw in regulation was intercepted by Bell, giving the Capitol Police squad one last possession in the final two minutes of regulation.
In the stands, spectators seemed pleased to watch the offensive shoot-out. Rep. Glenn Nye’s (D-Va.) staffers showed up with several signs to show support (one read: “Glenn Nye, The Football Guy—).
Nearby, a group of Republican Members — including Reps. John Shimkus (Ill.), Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Kevin Brady (Texas) and Mike Conaway (Texas) — ate popcorn and drank cans of Bud Light while loudly cheering on the Mean Machine.
On the sidelines, Members and officers traded barbs. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), looking ready for action in spandex shorts and his blue jersey, taunted officers (“You look like Barney Fife!—) before submitting to a few pre-game photos.
Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse, who played early on in the game, said the D.C. Armory was a perfect venue for the event. Completely indoors, it forced the teams to play on a small, artificial field, but also sheltered the 100 or so spectators from the rainy weather.
“You can hear the music. All the vendors are close. All the fans are close,— he said. “It’s a real football atmosphere.—