Monday, July 9, 2012

Italian Super Bowl XXXII

Saturday, July 7th was my 65th birthday as the Thun Tigers reminded me Friday night when they serenaded me with the Happy Birthday song at the farewell dinner at the Morris Cafe-Restaurant.

None of them should quit their day jobs for the sake of their singing careers any time soon.

Saturday was also my 150th day living in Europe.

Most importantly, Saturday was the day of the Italian Football League's Super Bowl XXXII featuring the 10-2 and two-time defending Super Bowl champion Parma Panthers and . . .

YOUR 10-2 Catania Elephants

We had a choice to make as the Swiss Bowl and the Swiss Junior Bowl were also being held on Saturday in Basel. In the Swiss Bowl it was the super power, 8-0 Calanda Broncos vs. the 7-4 Basel Gladiators.

During the regular season, these two teams had met twice with Calanda winning both games by scores of 33-14 and 58-14.

Calanda is loaded with both North American and European import players and are considered to be the New York Yankees of the European American football scene for their attempts to "buy" a EuroBowl championship. What they are doing with their 25+ import player roster is 100% legal but is viewed by many as breaking the spirit of the EuroBowl competitions. They will play the Vienna Vikings in Vaduz, Liechtenstein on July 21st for the EuroBowl XXVI championship. That should be a very good game to see, but we will be back home in Camarillo by then..

We saw the Broncos play/destroy the Finnish champion Helsinki Wolverines in the opening round of the EuroBowl tournament earlier this Spring and they were impressive to say the very least.

How good are they in the NLA, the top Swiss league? Well they won their eight league games by an average of 44.7 points! Two teams did not play them in the second round after losing to Calanda the first time by scores of 47-27 and 70-0. The team that they were scheduled to play in the NLA semi-finals also passed on playing the Broncos after absorbing 56-3 and 57-7 losses to Calanda in the regular season.

Frankly, the Swiss Bowl match-up did not appeal to me as being much of game.

It wasn't. Calanda beat the Gladiators 56-14 to win yet another Swiss NLA title.

In the Swiss Junior Bowl for supremacy of the U-19 Swiss world it was again a 9-1-1 Basel Gladiators team going against the 9-2 Zürich Renegades squad that beat our Thun Tigers U-19 team last Sunday.

Again, this match-up was of not of special interest since we didn't have a dog in the hunt.

Basel had won both of their regular season games against the Renegades by scores of 46-21 and 30-14. Saturday it was Zürich's turn to win as they outlasted the Gladiators 37-26 to win the 2012 U-19 Swiss crown. At least our U-19 squad's only loss on the field in  2012 was to the champion Renegades.

Thus we decided to travel to the City of Varese in the Northern Italian area of Lombardy to see the IFL Super Bowl, as there were still 24 Elephants on the roster that I had coached in 2008-2009. Other than TE Peppe Strano who has visited us in California twice with his lovely bride Valeria, we had not seen any of these great guys (and girls) in the last three years. Those two seasons in Catania hold many wonderful memories of the great people Laurie and I met all over Sicily.

Saturday Morning in Thun

As Laurie and I started our walk to the Thun Bahnhof to start our trek, we were greeted by a glorious, sunny day. It was the first non-overcast day in a week and we would of course be missing it.

Timing is everything!

I was told by both our son Michael and Catania G.M./Offensive Coordinator Davide Giuliano, that we had to come to the Super Bowl game as Varese, the town hosting the game, as it was "just across the Italian-Swiss border." It sounded so simple.

The itinerary by train to Varese broke down as follows:
1. Train from Thun to Brig = 46 minutes
2. Layover time in Brig = 33 minutes
3. Train from Brig to Domodossola = 38 minutes
4. Layover in Domodossola = 32 minutes
5. Train from Domodossola to Gallarate = 63 minutes
6. Layover in Gallarate = 11 minutes
7. Train from Gallarate to Varese = 16 minutes

TRIP TOTALS = 4 Trains & 3 hours and 59 minutes

Priest in Domodossola, Italy

This priest said that Italy was multi caldo, i.e., HOT!

Even though our next train was sitting on the track waiting for us, most of the passengers, like this priest, opted to wait outside because as hot as it was outside, it was twice as stifling inside the train. No AC on this Italian train but once we got moving and everyone put their windows down, it was comfortable.

Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Rigler
from Kalispell, Montana

Jesse is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and coaches high school football in Kalispell where he works as a financial advisor for a company simply called Edward Jones.

While we were waiting outside of the train in Domodossola, we struck up a conversation that, of course, went quickly to the subject of American football. We discovered that while at Penn, two of his best friends were QB Bryan Walker and WR Brad Lepisto both from Agoura H.S. who played against our Rio Mesa teams about a decade ago.

Small world.

We had a nice long chat about the entire EuroBall coaching and playing experience and I think he might be interested in coaching on the continent someday in the near future.

Nice guy.

The Ippodromo Le Bettloe

This is Varese's horse racing track that is located across the street from our hotel, the Atahotel Varese.

I wonder if anyone ever fixed a race here?

O.K., not really if, but how many?

Once settled in, all we needed was an ATM/Bancomat for a few more Euros and a taxi ride to the Stadio Franco Ossola where the game was to be played.

The hotel did not have an ATM/Bancomat machine but we were told by the man at the Registration Desk that the closest one was about a half mile walk on the other side of the Ippidromo.

We walked.

And walked.

And walked.

There was no ATM/Bancomat, only residential areas everywhere we looked, so we just kept walking until we hit the Varese city center where we still could not find one.

Finally, after asking several of Varese's citizens, we had our Euro cash flow back up to snuff.


We about to get into the line to buy tickets when we ran into two ex-Elephants, Marco Raino and Matteo Belfiore.


They informed us that we were about to buy tickets to sit in the shady side of the Stadio for 20 Euros but that all of the Catania contingent was sitting on the sunny, 10 Euro side.

We of course got out of the line and bought our two tickets to par broil heaven with the Elephants.

I have been to one NFL Super Bowl, the Pittsburgh Steelers 21-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks in Detroit in February of 2006 in Super Bowl XL. It was now time to see how the IFL's Super Bowl would compare.

First, after we got money out of an ATM/Bancomat machine in town, we went into a random Best Western hotel to try to get a taxi ride to the Stadio. The man at the reception desk was very happy to help us but wondered why we wanted to go out to the Stadio since the Italian calcio (soccer) season was over. Can you imagine anyone working/living in a city hosting the NFL Super Bowl not knowing that it was game day?

Next, I was able to walk up and buy tickets at the stadium just before game time for 10 Euros which is about $12.38 USD. My Super Bowl XL ticket had a face value of $750 USD or about 605 Euros with today's exchange rates. You can not buy an NFL ticket at a ticket booth on game day.


This Under Armour tent was doing land office business as Italian fans of American football will buy any and everything related to their favorite NFL teams.

The donuts and
sliced fruit concession stand

A bowl of Cherries cost Laurie only 2.50 Euros.

Slicing the fruit

I'm still guessing that he's a donut man at heart.


A bargain for only five Euros, each program came with three large packages of Pepperidge Farm cookies!

Nice outfits.


This was the only table selling souvenir clothing. I bought a XXXL T-shirt for only 10 Euros. I have not tried it on yet but I'm pretty sure that it will wind up being the equivalent of a Large in U.S. clothing sizes.

Here Comes the Band!!!

Space Age Tall Flag Girls

Hot Day, Hot French Fries

No fries for us but we did buy two large foccacia bread sandwiches and two beers for only 12 Euros.

The order of the day for the ladies working on this hot day was to bare as much as possible.

I'm not against that.

Alessandro Bambara

Alessandro was a young lineman for the Elephants in 2008-09. He now plays for the Giaguari in Turin where he is going to college. His English has improved about a zillion percent!

NG Marco Raino

His last season playing was 2008 when he supplied great leadership for our younger Elephants. As I said earlier, GREAT GUY!

The Parma Panthers
warming up behind the Stadio

Nice practice field.

The Pink Elephants

This is the extremely loyal and extremely loud group of ladies that are wives, girlfriends and sisters of Elephant players.

They are a fine example of why the American phrase, "pent up emotions," has never been used in Italy to refer to any phase of the Italian culture or lifestyle.

In order to be both fair and honest, all of the following game pictures are not mine. The ones taken from the stands are indeed mine but all of the ground level shots were "rescued" from the Elephants website.

Pre-Game Awards

The IFL took the pre-game opportunity to announce its Player-of-the-Year awards with the maximum amount of hoopla.

And the winner of the 2012 IFL Offensive Lineman-of-the-Year Award is . . .

Alessio D'Arpa
Catania Elephants


He was dominant for us in 2009 after coming to the Elephants after playing for the Palermo Corsari in 2008. Obviously, he has improved even more under the coaching of Catania's Offensive Line Coach, Denver Wade.

How Hot Was It?

Several women sitting near us just took off their tops and watched the game in their bras. Thats another thing you don't see at an NFL Super Bowl.

I'm not against that either.


#31 Antonello "Pony" Gulisano
Coach Fortunato "Lucky" Camarda
#3 Gianmarco Pecoraro

I do not know why Gianmarco has not been given a nickname.

Lucky ended his 26 year playing career at the end of the 2011 campaign.

These three guys and their families are three reasons that we enjoyed our stay in Catania.

Old #22, Lucky up close

Captains Out

#28 Claudio "The Sheriff" Mangano
He was ready

WR Salvo Persano
He was ready

Salvo is one of the oldest Elephants on the active roster at 43 years of age. He would catch a pass in the second half.

#38 Cristoforo Grasso
on the opening Kickoff Return

Claudio Mangano trying to figure
out the No-Huddle signal

"What play did he call???"

"Oh, it's a pass to me."

Catania TE Peppe Strano
catching the first TD pass of the game

There would be many, many more to follow.

Celebrating Peppe's catch

Pony Gulisano on the tackle

Let's quickly review the First Quarter action drive by drive:

Catania: TD pass, PAT no good, Catania leads 6-0

Parma: Catania intercepts a Panther pass returning it 40 yards for a TD, PAT no good, Catania leads 12-0

Parma: TD pass, PAT good, Catania leads 12-7

Catania: TD run, 2 point PAT pass incomplete, Catania leads 18-7

Parma: Driving as the First Quarter ends with Catania leading 18-7

Salvo Persano at WR

#13 Gregorio Barbagallo
Going Deep!

Claudio and Greg both open
in the End Zone

The Second Quarter action drive by drive:

Parma: Continues their drive from the end of the First Quarter with a TD run, PAT good, Catania leads 18-14

Catania: 90 yard Kickoff Return for a TD, PAT no good again, Catania leads 24-14

Parma: TD pass, PAT good, Catania leads 24-21

Catania: Driving but fumble the ball away after a nice 15 yard run.

Parma: TD pass on their first play, a Rocket Screen, PAT good, Parma leads for the first time 28-24

Catania: Turns the ball over on downs

Parma: TD run, PAT good, Parma leads 35-24

Catania: Fourth down TD pass, 2 point PAT run fails, Parma leads 35-30

Parma: Kicks a Field Goal as the First Half ends, Parma leads 38-30

A combined 68 First Half points.

"Defense Wins Championships!"

Not in Italy.

#48 Renato Gargiulo and
#31 "Pony" Gulisano
on the Catania Kickoff team

This was Renato's 19th season on the Elephants and Pony's 21st.

On the far right is
#93 Eduardo Gulisano

Eddie is Pony's oldest son who was playing in his first season with the Catania Elephants' Senior team!

A Father-Son duo in the IFL, dare I say it . . .


#53 Center Gilberto Cocuzza

Nice block.

Catania Kickoff Return for SIX!

Parma scores on a nice catch

Gregorio running after a catch
while Claudio practices his
Pairs Diving techniques

Why is this man dancing?

Giulio Romano, "The Most Lovable Elephant of Them All"

Nice Block Peppe!

Fondo Bianco

Oh the memories of this Catania watering hole . . .

Someone light the bar on fire!

Italian Style Halftime

Part sunbathing, part romance.

The Third Quarter action drive by drive:

Parma: TD pass, PAT good, Parma now leads 45-30

Catania: TD run, the 2 point PAT pass in intercepted by Parma and returned 100 yards good for 2 more Panther point, Parma leads 47-36

Parma: TD run, PAT good, Parma leads 54-36

Catania: TD run, PAT is good as the crowd goes wild, Parma leads 54-43 as the Third Quarter ends. 

Just Too Much of This

The Fourth Quarter action drive by drive:

Parma: Punts . . . Punts???

Catania: An Elephant pass is intercepted in the End Zone

Parma: TD pass, PAT good, Parma leads 61-43

Catania: Pass intercepted

Parma: Takes a knee to win their third straight Italian Football League Super Bowl by a final score of 63-41.

After the game Laurie and I went down on the field to renew old friendships.

Davide Giuliano

Davide is the owner, G.M. and Offensive Coordinator of the Elephants.

In 2008 he had a dream and a plan to take the then 22 year old franchise to a higher level. He found the financial backing  to move the club to Italy's top division and that first team in 2008 made it into the semi-final playoff game.

After a definite dip in performance in 2009, the 2010 Catania squad made it to the Super Bowl. In 2011, the Elephants lost in the semi-finals again before this year's team played in the Super Bowl.

I know that Davide, like all of the Elephants, was very depressed after the game, but what he has done with the team is nothing short of remarkable.

Andrea Specchiarello
"Mighty Kong"

He is fierce on the field but a Teddy Bear off of it.

SS Christian Mauro and
LB Gianmarco Pecoraro

TE Peppe Strano

Claudio Mangano
Roberta D'Antona and Cecilia Mangano

We are going to host Roberta and Cecilia on their trip to Los Angeles next month.

SoCal you better get ready, a Sicilian storm is coming!

WR Claudio Mangano and
Matteo Belfiore

Nice shirt Claudio.

LB Roberto Conti

Roberto was always the football wise and analytical Elephant.

Gianmauro La Porta, Roberto Paderni
and Antonio Lo Grande

Claudio and Peppe

By the time we grabbed a taxi back to our hotel, my purple shirt had collected the sweaty post-game DNA of every Elephant that I knew from all of the hugs.

I had no problem with that.

Claudio in Super Bowl Action

It was SO good to see these and so many other of the Elephants after the game, I just wish that it could have been under happier circumstances.

Still, 12 teams started the season wanting to get to the IFL Super Bowl and only two made it.




David said...

So what's a Kromotek?

George said...

Kromotek is an Italian renewable energy company.