April 8, 2009

Hello Redbird Fans!

Hello again Redbird fans! I'm back with an update of the Italian Football League, and my team the Parma Panthers. After starting the season 2-1, we were able to rattle off two more wins, improving our record to 4-1. We currently sit third in the standings of the IFL, with a big game this weekend versus one of the league's top teams, the Bolzano Giants.

Two weeks ago, we were able to get back on the winning track with a win over the Ancona Dolphins. We were heavily favored. However, heavy rains really dampened our aerial offensive attack. That didn't keep offensive coordinator and former Redbird wide receiver, Nolan Gatewood, from putting the ball in the air. We had a tough time putting drives together, and we were not able to connect on the deep balls we were accustomed too. However, our defense shut down the Dolphin offense, and we walked away with a sloppy 14-0 win. In those conditions, we were just happy to come out on top without any injuries.

This past weekend was another first in my Italian Football career. You would think that I've been over here long enough not to still have surprises, but some things still amaze me. League rules allow us to play three Americans per game. Throughout the season, we are allowed to make only three changes to these American spots. Our American linebacker, Ryan Tully, from Harvard, suffered fractured ribs in the previous week's game. It was not a complete fracture, and he maybe could have played through the pain. Still we did not want to risk a more serious injury. So, we decided to use one of the three roster changes, and I was the fall guy. We made the decision Thursday before the game, and just like that, I was suiting up again. I'll practice with the team from time to time, in order to stay in shape or to give a scout look, but it had seriously been over a month since I last tried on my pads or even helmet for that matter!

It just so happened we were playing the Bologna Doves, who has a running back and fullback from the University of California. The fullback, Chris Manderino, had made it to the final cut in the Kansas City Chiefs' training camp last summer. Nonetheless, I was about to suit up without having practiced in over a month! I'm getting too old and eating far too much prosciutto to be doing this!! However, the Doves are a very young team, and Manderino was practically playing by himself. We shut him down to 25 yards on 10 carries, and really played a great game on offense, defense, and special teams. We finally were able to put it all together and come away with a dominating, 47-16, win.


This week in Italy:
I'm sure most of you have heard about the earthquake that suddenly struck Italy this week, and the devastation it has caused. Luckily, Parma is located about 4-5 hours North from where most of the damage was. So, there was no sign of damage in Parma. However, my heart goes out to all the families who lost their homes and their loved ones.

I experienced my first earthquake last year just before Christmas. I was home alone with my daughter when the windows starting rattling violently. At first I thought it was just strong wind, but then the floor began vibrating, making me lose my balance. I quickly picked up my daughter and headed for the door way. Luckily, I've watched enough "Saved By the Bell" episodes to know what to do! Either way, as a grown man, I am admitting that I was scared! I couldn't help but think about the damage that could have happened, living in an old concrete building like all other Italian homes. Being from the Midwest, I am accustomed to tornados, and as an American I have seen enough coverage of hurricanes over the past few years. However, in both cases you usually have a warning to take protection. Earthquakes come out of nowhere and can cause incredible amounts of damage. While I hope to make it back state side at some point, let's just say I'm not looking to move to California anytime soon!

Roberto Marchesi
Roberto represents everything good about the sport of football. He plays as hard as any player, at any level I have ever seen. He has earned the spot as "The Special Teams Guru." However, there is one more thing about "Robbie" that makes him special, he has been playing football for 25 years and is currently 44-years-old! No, I am not joking! He is well known for his work as our "bullet" on the kickoff team. Probably 95 percent of the time, he is the first one down covering the kick, blowing through the wedge and making solo tackles. He certainly inspires me and many others to give more. Robbie is also a great guy to have in the locker room, as he keeps the team loose. During the first week of practice this year, it was rainy and foggy. Robbie showed up late (comes and goes as he wants), and as the rest of the team was stretching, he jogged into line and joined the group. However, he was wearing the big Incredible Hulk feet over his cleats. Anybody else, and I would have gone off on with my best Mike Ditka impression, but I couldn't help but laugh that a 44-year-old man was wearing Incredible Hulk feet while playing football! It doesn't get any better than that!!!

For those who would like to see videos, photos, blogs, and inside information about the team we have created a "12th Man" group for our fans. The idea came from our team president, Ivano Tira, who is a big Texas A&M fan and attended a game this past fall. He loved the 12th Man idea of A&M and wanted to bring a part of that to Parma. So please check out how to sign up at: http://12thman.panthers.it/

I can't wait for the fall football season to begin. Following Redbird Spring Central, I have a good feeling 2009 will be a great year for the Redbirds. Not to mention the recent acquisitions of my beloved Bears! Thanks again for your support, and Go 'Birds!!!!

Go Redbirds!!!!

Andrew Papoccia