Are You Ready for Le Football?

How far does the appeal of American football reach? Farther than you might think. Just ask "Our Man in Paris," David Turecamo:


I know you're waiting for the Big Game, but in certain parts of the world - in my part of the world -it was played two weeks ago.

They not only play American football here . . .

"Texas A&M forever!"

. . . Well, you get the idea.

Today's match-up: two of the ten football teams in France: Le Flash versus Les Argonauts. It's not only the season opener but, well, quarterback Blake Barnes only joined the team a week ago.

"Got to town last weekend, last Saturday," he said.

He's from Mississippi, played at the University of Georgia.

"You know, still kind of hard to believe I'm in France, living in Paris," said Barnes, one of five Americans with the Flash, like John Didier from Atlanta.

"We the Flash, we the Flash!" said Didier.

Robert Hunt played for the Saints and Buffalo Bills.

Terrence Thomas came from Morehouse College.

"I learned merci beaucoup, bonjour," said Thomas.

Which means even though they play by NCAA rules, this turf is a whole other terrain - or what head coach Dexter Davis called "mass chaos."

It's his first time in France, and Davis, originally from Atlanta, had three weeks to get his team ready.

"We can't control anything other than what we can control," Davis said. "Our time that we had to prepare is where it is, but we can control how hard we practice, what you put into it. And we can control our effort."

Otherwise, it's pretty much what you'll see this evening. I mean, they don't draw Super Bowl crowds but you can buy hot dogs and beer.

"French beer, French beers, not, you talk about Bud Lite," said Julien Luneau. "No beer and red wine, of course."

Luneau teaches first grade, and he's been with the Flash for 25 years as a player, coach and now president of the organization. For him the match-up of these two teams is like, well, the Colts and the Saints.

You wanna talk about rivalry?

"Rivalry? That's a big one, yeah, that's a big one," said Luneau. "And it has always been sort of a blue collar against white collar."

See, the Argonauts are from a well-heeled (if not downright wealthy) college town in Provence, while the Flash come from way on the wrong side of the tracks - the outskirts of Paris, a city called La Courneuve.

"La Courneuve was at the beginning of the century a big factory city," said Luneau. "But industry left long ago, and unemployment here in this mostly immigrant community runs between 20 and 30%.

"When you look for a job, of course racism is not as seeable, visible as in the States or other countries, but still, you know France was a colonial country, so you can feel that."

In fact, today La Courneuve is considered more of a cauldron than a melting pot. Five years ago it erupted in three weeks of rioting after two teens were electrocuted at a power company substation. Locals said they died while fleeing police. Authorities denied it.

But almost no one denies that Paris is a city offering limited possibilities to young people from this area.

"You know, outside and on the streets it's kind of tough," said Luneau. "We try to teach life through football."

And they're fast learners.

And the Flash is more than just this one team: it's an organization of 500 members playing football, boys and girls from ages 9 on up..

One played football for 21 years.

Virtually all the players on the team grew up in La Courneuve. Some of them have even made it to NFL training camps, but all of them are united by a common passion:

"These guys have jobs and they come to practice later on 7:30, eight o'clock at night," said Terrence Thomas.

They are workmen, students, and professionals, and their success offers younger players a chance to dream - like Karim, who wants to be a journalist.

By halftime the Flash was leading 28 zip.

But just to get here today they had to leave Paris at the crack of dawn. In fact, other than a train ticket, uniforms and helmets, the Flash can provide little else. The Americans get a small salary, but the players pay about $300 to join the team for the season, and they have to find their own equipment - most of it online, shipped from the U.S. and carrying heavy import taxes. So for a kid, even small training aids are a treasure.

Coach Davis described one young player: "He say, 'Man I saw this stuff, I saw it on the Internet,' his face lit up so he's like wow! Well, that's part of pouring into him long term investing."

By the end of the fourth quarter the Flash had moved the ball almost 400 yards, made three interceptions, five touchdowns, a field goal and extra points.

Final score: the Argonauts eight, the Flash 37.

"Quelle dommage!" said the announcer. ("What a shame!")

"Think we did all right," said quarterback Blake Barnes. "Gotta cut out a lot of mistakes, but it's fun, it's fun. It's football!"


For more info:
flashfootball.org
atlantafca.org/dexter
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