Gridiron football, America’s No. 1 sport, is finally in the Philippines.
Well, it actually has been in the country for a few years now, but it was only last Saturday, November 10, when the American Football Federation of the Philippines (AFFP) held an exhibition match in the metro between the Philippine Punishers, the country’s national team (yes, we have one) and the visiting Saipan Sharks at the Philsports field in Pasig City.
Now, before you ask how the game came about, it’s best to start off with the story behind the national team’s moniker—mainly because this one’s funny.
The Punishers head coach, Tim Beasley, related to us before the game that he and a group of expatriates first thought of “Maniacs” as their name. Their passion for the sport was their main reason for this curious name pick. “[We chose] Maniacs because we’re all crazy,” explains Coach Beasley, “and the term ‘maniac’ in the English dictionary means an over-zealous person. It was right for us because we were all crazy about football.”
However, someone told coach that “maniac” is not necessarily the same as its Tagalog translation “manyak.” Realizing the word’s negative connotation (imagine a national team known as the “Manyaks”—with “Manyakols” being an alternate name), they decided to change their name to “Punishers.”
But Beasley said they can still be considered maniacs. “It still applies, though, because three-fourths of the team are perverts.” (Curiously, he seemed to really mean this last bit. Notice that he didn’t laugh after saying it.)
So back to how the game materialized: The AFFP organized a press conference at a sports bar in Makati last November 5 to generate interest in the highly physical, rugged sport, as well as the match. And their efforts seemed to pay off considering the good turnout of fans at Philsports, you ’90s kids know it as the Ultra, despite Saturday’s sweltering conditions. Freaking hot, that day was—and the match started at 1 p.m.!
As the tackles and takedowns on the field drew “Oohs” and “Aahs”—along with some “Aray!” and “Sakit nun!”—from the crowd, Filipino-American GJ Dy drew first blood for the Punishers, scoring a touchdown. The Sharks struck back with a touchdown of their own, and the score was knotted, 6-6, at the half.
Among the many huge men we saw that afternoon, we were most impressed by Fil-Am Jai Merchant, the defensive back/wide receiver for the Punishers, who played way bigger than his the 5-foot-3, 165-pound frame. The dude dominated the game with his quickness and versatility. His pass interception and succeeding run towards the end zone in the third quarter gave the home squad the 13-6 victory.
Beasley was also all praises for the 35-year-old Merchant, who was named the game’s MVP. “Jai played quarterback, running back, receiver, linebacker, defensive back; he played everything. He was all over the field. The interception he had was key for us.”
It was the third straight victory for the Punishers, who beat the Hong Kong Cobras and the Beijing Guardians in their home turfs in the past few months. Beasley later expressed confidence that these series of exhibitions can grow into a professional league.
“This could actually be something big,” said Beasley. “You can just imagine in maybe three, five years from now an Asia-Pacific-American pro football league with teams from Manila, Saipan, Guam, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Korea, and maybe even Subic can have a team.”
Probable? Yes. Will surely happen? Only if there are enough Pinoys who will want to endure what we saw these dudes went through. Click through the gallery below for a more detailed and graphic representation of the kind of action we’re talking about. Then ask yourself: “Am I man enough for this?”
PHOTOGRAPHY: DAIRY DARILAG