Story and Photos by James Bilodeau
To say football is huge in Nebraska would not begin to do justice the passion that fans have for the most popular American sport. Nebraska is unique in the fact that for all intents and purposes, there is one major football team. There are no pro teams, and only one NCAA Division 1 team. So dominant are the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers, that smaller college programs such the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) chose to disband their team when moving to Division 1. There is no competition, everything revolves around the Huskers.
Even though the Huskers dominate the football landscape, or perhaps because of it, football on lower levels exists and even thrives.
This is true on most Sunday mornings in Omaha and Lincoln as dozens of teams take to the field for competitive flag football. The one thing that is noticeable right away is the physical condition of most of the players. When one thinks of flag football they would tend to picture 40-something pudgy guys huffing and wheezing between downs trying to capture a last bit of glory.
At least for Nebraska Flag Football this does not appear to be the case. Most of the players are extremely fit and it is obvious that most enjoy spending time in the weight room. Their skills are sharp, throws were tight spirals, the routs were crisp, and mistakes were minimal.
Due to the nature of flag football the plays are quick with a lot of roll-outs and draw plays. Offensive line blocking techniques allowed minimize the ability to protect the quarterback. This limits the need for a QB to have tremendous arm strength. There is little to no time to have a receiver run a deep route. Accuracy and mobility are paramount. Receivers and defenders rely on a quick first step and sharp cuts rather than top speed.
The fields themselves are about 75% the size of a regulation field and the grass is long, which further emphasizes accuracy and quickness over speed and power. Every Sunday the teams battle 7-on-7 for a spot in the playoffs. Wins are counted, stats are kept, and referees keep order.
Interestingly there is actually real money at stake. The league champions bring home over $1000 with the top four teams also earning money.
As one would expect there are no crowds at the games. The spectators consist mostly of a few of the players’ children along with wives and girlfriends. Despite this, the enthusiasm is high and everyone is friendly. As I was taking pictures for this post several players came over to say hi and give high 5’s to my 4-year-old.
With the awareness of the dangers of tackle football and the rule changes because of it flag football is actually growing in popularity as an alternative (especially for youth players). This will keep leagues like Nebraska Flag Football growing for years to come.
More information about the Nebraska Flag Football League can be found their website www.nebflagfootball.com
James Bilodeau is photograher/journalist from Omaha. He specializes in photographing and writing about lesser known events, activities, and places that make Omaha a diverse and wonderful place to live. James lives with his wife and two sons in western Omaha. For more information, visit facebook.com/jvbilodeauphotography