Congress also gridlocked on the gridiron, loses to Capitol Police

Game felt especially ‘personal’ this year, players say

Members of the Capitol Police team — from left, Adam DesCamp, Harry Dunn and Herb Flores — celebrate after a touchdown in the Congressional Football Game at Audi Field on Wednesday.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Members of the Capitol Police team — from left, Adam DesCamp, Harry Dunn and Herb Flores — celebrate after a touchdown in the Congressional Football Game at Audi Field on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted November 3, 2021 at 9:16pm

Lawmakers pulled out all the tricks Wednesday night, but still couldn’t deliver on their campaign promises. Despite trick plays and pledges to defend their title, the members’ team lost to the Capitol Police, 26-6, in the Congressional Football Game.

Congress, the “Mean Machine” decked out in black and red, took on the Capitol Police “Guards” in blue and white — the team names an allusion to “The Longest Yard,” a 1974 movie starring Burt Reynolds as a jailed former NFL quarterback who recruits a squad of prisoners to take on the guards.

The annual tradition first kicked off in 2004, a few years after the on-duty deaths of Officer Jacob “J.J.” Chestnut and Detective John Gibson in 1998, to raise funds for the Capitol Police Memorial Fund. Before the game this time around, players said they felt the weight of a dangerous year at the Capitol, after a mob assault on Jan. 6 that injured more than 130 officers, including Officer Brian Sicknick, who died the next day. Another attack in April killed Officer William “Billy” Evans.

“The game has taken on a new meaning,” said Chad Nieto, an officer on the Capitol Police’s first responders unit and wide receiver. “It's a personal game for me, especially knowing Officer Evans as well as I did — I worked with him every day. It takes a very personal meaning for me, knowing his family well, seeing his kids all the time. I just want them taken care of.”

Flores gains yards after a reception during the Congressional Football Game on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

On the field, though, both sides were all smiles and trash talk. “He got five knee braces on, but he’s aggressive,” one Guard said after California Democratic Rep. Jimmy Panetta dove to successfully break up a checkdown pass in the 2nd quarter.

Wednesday’s was the 16th matchup between the two squads but the first played on a professional football field — well, association football. Held in years past at Gallaudet University and the D.C. Armory, the game was played under Audi Field’s bright lights before a crowd topping 2,000. The event raised more than $600,000 this year.

Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger works the officials before the start of the Congressional Football Game. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Unlike the members, the Capitol Police had to pass a fitness test to get their jobs, and many were in diapers when some of their opponents first came to Congress. To counter that, Congress recruits the help of retired NFLers Ken Harvey and John Booty to coach their squad, and accepted the help of ringers like Jennifer Welter, the first woman to coach in the NFL. Also joining the Article I side was Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough, who, after members saw he could take a verbal beating at a congressional hearing, was invited to take a physical beating as well.

They also have two former pros on their team: Ohio Republican Rep. Anthony Gonzalez was a first round pick for the Indianapolis Colts and Texas Democratic Rep. Colin Allred made it onto the Tennessee Titans as an undrafted free agent.

The congressional team takes the field before the start of Wednesday’s game. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Unfortunately for the Mean Machine’s passing game, though, Gonzalez was a no-show. The members stumbled right out of the gate, with rookie quarterback Blake Moore, R-Utah, throwing a pick on their very first possession.

Defensively, things didn’t look much better, as the Guards' speedy receivers consistently found gaps in the congressional coverage scheme. Allred dropped a gimmie of an interception late in the 2nd quarter.  

Despite some strong drives in the second half, the Mean Machine never managed to seriously threaten the men and women tasked with protecting them.