Another way to play football… Italian style

GiagIf you know me well enough and enjoy talking sports then you should know that I have always said that “Americans are lucky” in many ways when it comes to what they have when speaking of fields and facilities. In other countries that luck just isn’t there for the most part. Where in the US it is expected, at a younger age, to be either locally, or close by, and the same when the kids are in their school years, players in other places on earth might have to travel more than an hour one way to get to a team to play the sport they want. By all means not all in the USA have it easy when it comes to playing sports, but for as bad as they do have it, it will never be as bad as other spots around the world, and I am not speaking third world countries either.

The best way to enlighten you about this is to tell a personal story…

One year, as a teenager, I went back to visit family in Italy during the summer months and met a young man in his early 20’s, his name was Roberto Cecchi, during a game between two small towns in the sub alps. In that country getting up a game of “futbol” is pretty easy, and while no one is a pro on the turf, the match ups can be intense. Some times even more hard core than that. After the game we went out to dinner, as is usually the case after a clash between towns. So far nothing special, right? But what happened at the pizzeria was the beginning of the realization of how much difference there is between the US and abroad when it comes to playing and facilities.

That young man I had just met spoke about his team, the Giaguari Torino, and after a while I asked him what they played. He looked at me with that stare he was famous for, his talk quite well educated, his words quite cold when needed and quite entertaining if the mood was right, and just said “it’s an American Football team”. Roby, as most called him, could keep a crowd listening to him for hours. Speaking for myself, for the many conversations I had with Roby, each time I came out having learned something, and that is something I can not say for a lot of other people. He was the center of attention when he came into a group, and rightly so, as I found out more and more about the man, he deserved all the respect he was given… if not more.

After college I moved back to the mother land for a stint, and once again I got to hang out with Roby. I got to meet the players from the team, as well as the coaches and the front office people. And with each person I met I saw more and more with my own eyes how hard it was to play sports abroad compared to the US. I got to see that in order to practice the team had to do so later in the night, with the guys something getting back home at midnight from it. That in order to run the program the people in charge, the players and friends of the club had to put money in, and not small amounts. They also had to find sponsors, and not just one, but many. In other words the reality for them of playing football was a lot more work then the one I had when participating in the same sport.

In that time I also understood why the young man, who was now creeping up in his high 20’s, gained the respect he had. After practices Roby would speak about going to work out in a gym everyday, the others with him would nod and agree. But in the end, who was there all the time was just him… Roby. That year the team Roby was playing for was not doing things the right way. He talked about going elsewhere, others would nod and agree once again, but in the end who left to prove his point was him (and another), no one else. If I learned one thing about Roby is that he did what he said he would, and that anything he got involved in he did at 100% if not more.

From when he began playing in 1981, games being against NATO bases, to when he coached, the junior team while still playing and then coaching with the first team from 2003 to `07 (being head coach in 2005). In all that the he does, man that is called Roby by most has done it his way. Which from where I stand means done it the right way, done it for the best of the Giaguari Torino and his players. Done it for the improvement of American Football in Italy.

Roby never became the face of American Football in Italy as a player. I doubt he wanted that. But what he did become in my view is the heart and soul of his team, which is a lot more important to him, to his team mates and to his franchise. Roberto might have never been the best of the best at his position of line backer, but somehow if I play was needed it was “number 51” that would make it. I remember a playoff game in Milan that I attended, which the Giaguari needed a stop late in the game, Cecchi did a simple blitz in the middle and clogged the hole, keeping an American running back for the other team from getting the first down. Torino would get the ball back but alas they would not win the game. But it was the way that Roby did things that always stuck in my mind. He was a leader vocally and on the court.

Now Roberto Cecchi has another nicname… Prez, as he leads the organization that he played for, he coached and has always helped/supported each and every step. Under his leadership the Giaguari Torino are now going back to the top division of American Football in Italy (IFL) and have two Americans on their roster, including one, Chris Salvi, who you can follow his team with the Giaguari through his blog. There is a picture of President Cecchi on his Facebook page, which I believe perfectly describes him… an old legend looking proudly to a great future.


So the next time you have to bitch cause the field is not perfect, or moan cause you have to get out of the house a few minutes early cause the practice is at the farther field than usual, think about the young men in Italy that might just have to drive 100 KM if not more to get to theirs, which sometimes look no better than a dirt pile. If you complain about paying for a five dollar soda or a eight dollar nacho think about those players and their families that have to fork over a lot more for them to play.

By all means it’s not perfect in the U.S. either. More money could be used for all sports. However, in this country, sports do come ahead of many things. In Italy, besides soccer and cycling, plus a bit basketball, sports come way low in the rankings when speaking of helping out. I will try to write a weekly post about the IFL and how each team is doing, with a special eye on the Giaguari, and I hope you guys read that just as much as me speaking about the ACC Tournament or anything else. And you do so not for me, but for those men (and women) that work hard to make that organization a reality.

1 comment

  1. Wendy says:

    Very insightful article that puts a lot in perspective. Makes you take a step back and realize things aren’t so bad. I guess it’s true there is ALWAYS someone worse off than you ! I look forward to hearing more about the IFL !

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