Action from China's first international game
On July 28, the Beijing Guardians and a U.S. roster under the banner of the Punishers faced off in China's first international American Football game.
The week before the game, Beijing was inundated by the worst storm in 61 years flooding entire city blocks and resulting in dozens of casualties. The first tornadoes ever seen in Beijing threatened to add injury as China's capital city struggled to maintain it's pace against the elements.
Storms where forecast to last through the end of July placing the Saturday, July 28 game in jeopardy. Organizers announced that the game would be cancelled out of safety concerns if thunderclouds appeared on Saturday afternoon.
Early Friday morning, Nathan Jones (the founder of the Beijing Guardians) anxiously lined the field and raised the goal uprights at the American Football Center. The grass was left uncut so that water-resistant paint could be applied directly to the field. The last hash marks where drawn just as the rains returned.
This game was the result of 21 months of work by International Federation of American Football (IFAF) China Administrator, Nathan Jones, to develop the sport in China in a safe and sustainable way. In 2010 he founded China's first full-contact team and traveled across the nation encouraging other cities to follow suit. At the same time working to bring international teams and events to China so that players could benefit from the experience of higher-level competition and to build a local fan base for the sport. In 2011 Nathan organized the first inter-city game between Beijing and Shanghai but even after that, the opinion persisted in China's sports circles that China could not train athletes to compete at the international level. Such a game would be a disappointment to fans and a dangerous mismatch for Chinese athletes.
Originally the game was billed as a match-up between the Beijing Guardians and the Philippine Punishers. Only weeks before the game, over 90% of the Philippine team's players were denied Chinese tourist visas making it impossible for them to field a team. To solve the crisis, Nathan recruited U.S. Army soldiers, U.S. collegiate athletes, and several other talented foreign players to form a roster led by the American head coach of the Punishers. This meant that the Guardians would now face a U.S. team roster of experienced American Football players and several other international linemen.
The game was no longer only the first international game that China has hosted, it was the first time a Chinese team had faced an U.S. football team roster. Suddenly the Chinese team found themselves facing Americans where they had expected to face amateur Asian players.
Saturday morning arrived with fog and high humidity, but no rain. The decision was made to confirm the game with the sound system contractor and venue manager. By 5:20pm fans had finished filing into the Tongzhou Olympic Stadium and the announcer began in Chinese, "Welcome everyone to the Guardians versus Punishers game！It's time to meet our challengers. First, here from halfway around the globe are the Punishers!" The fans cheered and the DJ started spinning music as both teams met on the field and the game began.
A coin flip gave the Guardians first possession and the Punishers charged forward for the kickoff. On the first drive, the Guardians offense seemed unstoppable. The Guardians Quarterbacks delivered confident passes to both sides of the field and the receivers seemed to snatch the ball out of the air with ease. Drives met with equal success in a near flawless performance. They marched the ball to the Punishers 5 but at the line, the offense stalled. They couldn't covert the opportunity, and 4th down passed without a touchdown.
Shortly after, the Punishers offense showed their collective years of experience making quick runs and short passes to a comfortable, 1st and 20. A 10 yard pass to the left side wide receiver put the first score up. The Punishers used a diverse play set making it difficult for the Guardians defense to anticipate primary threats. This triple-drive threat offense opened up gaps in the Guardians secondary that the Punishers quickly exploited.
At halftime the Punishers led by 12 points and the Guardians looked determined to turn the games momentum in their favor. During the second half, Guardians defensive team locked out the Punishers offense. In the closing minutes of the game the Guardians ran an efficient hurry-up offense, working the game clock as they gained yardage on almost every down. Once again they secured a comfortable 1st and 15 position, but the game clock's final seconds ticked off before a final play could be mounted.
In the huddle following the game, the coaches praised the tremendous showing of courage and talent. They reminded the Chinese players to focus on how well they played their positions and how close they got to reaching their individual goals for the game. Guardians Coach Moore said, "Remember this feeling so that between tonight and our next game you stay focused and determined to do more of what we did so well today, and to fix the things we didn't do well. Offense played an amazing game and for the last 3 quarters Defense stuck to your assignments and got the job done. Keep your chins up and be proud of what you achieved on this field."
After the game Nathan said, "We are so proud of the players for the effort and talent they displayed today. This was a solid game all around. The U.S. players gave it all they had so this was a great learning experience for the Guardians team. We'll be reviewing game tape and focusing on doing more things right during the game against Shanghai"
So what's next? The Beijing Guardians next most anticipated game is a rematch of the Founder's Bowl, played against their big city rival the Shanghai Nighthawks. The game will be a highlight of the NFL Experience Beijing on September 8th .
Beijing fans, it's time to pull out your Guardians jerseys and banners to show support for your City team. They've proven themselves worthy of representing this great city, now it's time to let them know that we are proud of who they are as a team.
Follow the Beijing Guardians at www.beijingguardians.com and learn more about Chinese American football by contacting email@example.com