By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
For the opening-round playoff on this day, the visiting Brick City Bucs arrive late, further annoying the game-faced Panthers, who, earlier in the season, had journeyed to Jersey only to win a no-show forfeit. "They're just punks, and I hate them for doing that shit to us," snarls team captain George Castro, who once owned his own team (the Rockaway Grizzlies). "Some of us are out taxi money." In the pregame rah-rah, Slade's mentor and current coach, Larry Green, calls the opponents "intruders in my house," and exhorts his players to "drive their asses back to the Garden State."
The game rapidly turns into a funfest, a house party for the locals, who score early and often. When smallish QB Cliff Robinson, an ex-college standout at Southern Connecticut who now works sales for Budweiser, isn't nailing darts to wideouts Speedy Moye and Frank Parker, he's making like Michael Vick on long, shimmy-shake runs. One attempted flea-flicker by the Bucs results in an acrobatic Panther INT and derision from Green: "See that, fellas? They're desperate."
Meanwhile, Coach Slade works the sideline, if not the entire joint. She pays the refs, chases a bike rider off the field, and hammers a reserve linebacker for visiting the hot-dog stand ("What is wrongwith you?"). She makes alignment changes, calls out for her "hands" unit to cope with an on-side kick, and toward game's end, with the Panthers ahead 36-6, doles out serious words to a player suffering love troubles: "Forget her. She told you it's over, and over means over."
The coach as earth mother isn't far from the mark. Parker, a former Division II All-American at Robert Morris, says Slade's as tough as any coach he's ever had, yet unlike others, "She's easy to talk to both on and off the field. That's the upside." As Slade put it earlier, concerning a kicker with panic attacks, "We try to be family here."
But in last week's cross-borough visit to Brooklyn's Kings Bay Park, the family dysfunctions. Here, grown men make poor decisions, lose control, and scream and slam each other (and the refs) in what's actually a close game. "Settle the fuck down!" Coach Green pleads with his troops, to no avail, after an early Mariner score. By the second half, too many internal spats (blockers vs. runners, offense vs. defense, backups vs. starters) leave Slade fuming: "This is a team thing, y'all. Give me some fucking leaders on the sideline!"
Amidst massive confusion, the Panthers somehow rally, before dying deep in Mariners' turf on a final-play sack. Teary-eyed and disconsolate ("not because we lost, but because we could have won"), Slade accepts hugs all around and the good news that her team has earned a spot in the national tournament. "It's a life problem," she says later, on losing. "Like a good marriage, you have to work together, if you want fulfilling experience. But all in all, I'm proud of myself, my team, and the fact that we are still together."
The Panthers open their regional postseason on the road, October 28, against a team to be determined. Additional info at www.eteamz.com/gsfl.