CAFL – Professional American Indoor Football in China

Lou’s Views: Players Hungry for Football and Advice

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by Lou Tilley

WUHAN, CHINA, November 7, 2015 – As the final day of play dawns over a rainy Wuhan, I’m wondering how the Chinese football players slept. Yes, slept. You always hear about athletes not being to sleep the night before a big game or match. I was never one of them. Unless I’m crossing the globe heading to China (or back) I am blessed with the ability to sleep almost everywhere, anytime. Even upright on a buss (I kid.) But, I was the rare guy who could sleep late on game day. Truly.

Its game day here. Championship day. And for the 150 or so fledgling football players representing six Chinese Universities in the 2nd Annual DeHeng Bowl round robin tournament, it is their Super Bowl. I have to believe most eyes were open most of the night. In just 29 months since being put together by its sponsors, the CAFL and AFL-Global, their only opportunity to put on the shiny game day jerseys, and test themselves against other teams, has been in this one week event. I realized this yesterday, when my crew and I were interviewing some of the players we had picked out after watching the first 6 games played.

Its a painstaking process by the way. We ask the player to sit rigid, in uniform, on a wooden stool, and to look directly at me, even with lights in his face, and 4 technicians moving in his peripheral vision forever adjusting lights, camera angles and audio levels. Oh, and when I do finally ask a question, Chris Lee, the multi-talented original member of the CAFL’s Beijing office, must first translate my query. No easy task itself given my insipid tendency to sprinkle in US-learned catch phrases. (How do you translate for example “did you leave it all on the field today?” “Um, what? My pants?”) But the players are so attentive, smiling always, beaming actually – so happy to be in this spotlight, little in proportion as it may be. To them, it tells me, its the same dream that we all had. Lights, fans, action, shiny unis, the chance to be a winner for “all” to see. So the questions get simpler, and I learn that they are smart and eager, and just bursting to express themselves. It almost doesn’t matter what I ask (never did actually.)

To wit: Wuhan (the home team, and a clear favorite) Wide Receiver Qiu Xun Do is on the stool. I learn he is from Quangzhou, far south of where we are. Its the old city formerly called Canton he tells me. Near to the waterway that separates the mainland from Hong Kong. He is wearing some really cool UA brand green-glow and yellow football shoes, and tells me they were his own choice, because he had seen the Oregon Ducks wearing something like those on TV. (I did not correct him that Oregon players were most certainly not wearing UA shoes.) Turns out Nike would have been interested in him though. He is a track standout, a sprinter, and sure enough he tells me what he likes most about football is running for the long pass. I’ve seen him. He’s good at it, and has good size, as has his quarterback.

Zan Yun has been turning the heads of the American coaches here all week. He is built like a chiseled running back, but man can he throw, and this surprises all of us. When I first visited Wuhan, along with Chris and coach Darrick Branch to hold initial tryouts in June of 2013, we found great athletes, and the tallest, biggest, toughest lineman in the loop. (see photo below from June of 2013.)

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That’s me in the middle. By the way, I am 6-3, 212.) But we could not find many, if any, who could catch a football, let alone throw one. Stands to reason. There are no sports in China, none, where young people throw a ball overhand, nor catch one. So, skipping ahead 29 months, to watch Yun here, firing tight spirals the entire length of the 50-yard indoor field (and being caught in stride) is encouraging beyond words.

I ask him if he has seen any US football on TV?

Without hesitation: “yes, of course. I love Aaron Rogers.” (Guess what number Yun wears? ) Why does he follow the Packers? He points to his uniform. Duh. Green and yellow. I ask him to do something for our camera. To run into the endzone, pretend he has scored, and do a celebration. Does he understand? He sprint directly at the main camera, stops, spikes the ball, and does Cam Newton’s Superman bit. Wonderful. Hilarious.

My Executive Producer, Leo Switucha has gathered several players. He is staging them for close up shots using 3 cameras, and asks me to help by showing the players the moves we need to recreate – sometimes pitching, throwing, or catching the ball to or from the players, off-cam of course. Right away I notice the sizzle on Yun’s spiral from 15 yards away. My fingers sting. ( I did catch them.)

Qiu Xun Do lines up 15 yards to my left at WR. I’m supposed to lob some fly routes to him. Hmmm… I can’t throw it far enough to match his speed. This leads to an ad-hoc coaching moment that spans the language divide. I had noticed that Wuhan runs most of their offense from the shotgun. In the US, no one in the Arena Football League does, they are all under center, even though it is designed to be a passing league. I ask the Chinese players, why shotgun? They explain that this is what Rogers and the Packers, and most QBS they see on TV do. Faster, they say. I had often asked this of Ron Jaworski, my client with his Philadelphia Soul AFL team. Jaws explained that by going under center, the snap is actually that much faster, and that you can take as little as one step and “get the ball out” which often means everything in indoor football. So, I find myself asking a center who is on hand to snap to me, under center, as QB. I line up Do along the sideline to my left, for a quick bubble screen, and even though my throws wobble, they do indeed get there faster than when Yun tries the same play from the shotgun.

Heads nod in understanding, Heads bow slighting in appreciation. High Fives fly, passionately delivered, followed by big smiles. Very Big. Very real. Very nice.

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Football in China. This will work.

LTM (Lou Tilley Media) is on site in Wuhan for the tournament this week. Look for Lou Tilley’s stories and insights as well as multi-media from the LTM team who are on site to capture the content of the evolving story of The CAFL.

The China Arena Football League (CAFL) will be showcased in Guanggu Gymnasium at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, Hubei province, from Nov 3- Nov 7.

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