Garin Daniel and Scott Doherty are typical of U.S. expats living in Costa Rica. Both came to the country, found jobs and Tica wives, and ended up staying. Doherty played quarterback in high school and at Pierce College in Los Angeles, while Daniel is a late bloomer who won his first quarterback job in organized football with the Bulldogs of the American Football Federation of Costa Rica (FEFACR).
Both in their mid-20s, they are good friends, and they will be at the offensive helm of the two teams competing for the FEFACR championship Saturday at Cuty Monge Stadium in Desamparados, in southeastern San José.
This TicoShooter met up with both young men over lunch. I had seen both in action in an early March game. The game was tense, a tough squeaker in which the Bulldogs held on to win with a last-minute interception against a relentlessly driving Toros squad.
With that as a preview, the 2012 Costa Rican Super Bowl shapes up as an interesting match indeed. But during the interview with Daniel and Doherty, what stood out was a friendship far above who would win or lose on Saturday, and great pride in what FEFACR has accomplished for its players in bringing U.S.-style football to Costa Rica.
FEFACR players have to pay for their own equipment – helmet, jersey, pants, pads and cleats – which is expensive. Surprisingly, most players are Ticos. So, what drives young men to invest to play such a complex, foreign sport as U.S. football in a country in which a soccer player’s only investment is cleats?
Daniel and Doherty both agreed that what drove FEFACR participation was the opportunity for a variety of athletes with different skills that soccer minimizes and U.S. football maximizes. Think about the relatively narrow range of athletic skills required for soccer, and about the sameness of physical types of the players. Yes, there’s the occasional tall beanpole, but the vast majority of players are cut from the same athletic cloth: under 6 feet, lean, quick on their feet, with excellent balance.
U.S. football is a smorgasbord by comparison. A kid big and strong, but slower than smaller athletes can be a lineman – a clogger-upper if he’s huge, a pulling blocker or an outside rusher if he combines size with mobility. Does a guy have great hands (useless in soccer)? He’s a receiver.
Is a young man a soccer type, with great balance and running speed? He also fits into U.S. football as a running back or slot receiver, though he’ll have to adjust to a game where hitting is the main idea and not something that’s penalized.
Is a kid tough and strong, but ordinary in size? Does he relish contact and hitting? Definitely defense, either linebacker or defensive back depending on size, speed and agility.
And, of course, there’s the kicking game, where any guy not fast or mobile enough for soccer can test his nerve as a placekicker or punter. Suddenly, all kinds of potential athletes who can’t make it in organized soccer can find a niche for their competitive spirit as a Bulldog, Toro, Raptor, Rhyno or Dragon.
U.S.-style football is not without penetration in Latin America: It’s the No. 2 sport in Mexico. The biggest crowd in NFL history, 112,000, was a 1994 Dallas Cowboys-Houston Oilers exhibition game in Mexico’s national stadium. Though the sport has yet to catch on in Costa Rica, if player enthusiasm is a measurement, it’s well on its way.
Daniel states that one of his great satisfactions is the development of his center, Carlos Ávila. Ávila weighs 310 pounds and has discovered the fellowship of being part of a sports team, which would have been impossible without FEFACR. The opportunity cuts both ways: Jason Jenkins, is an English-language high school teacher who recently moved here from the United States and is a Bulldog wide receiver. He has found that his team is the best gateway for getting to know people.
A notable accomplishment in FEFACR has been getting the level of play up to where defense is just as important as offense. Since defense is more complex and harder to coach, a characteristic of low-level play is undisciplined shootouts in the 50-point range. Not so when the Bulldogs and Toros meet. The last game was 16-14. Daniel and the Bulldogs came out on top in that one, but Doherty and the Toros were driving hard at the end.
Once football gets to the level of FEFACR playoffs, there’s one thing that can’t be changed about the game: The space between the ears of the quarterbacks is one of the most decisive factors in which team comes out on top. For the 2012 FEFACR championship, these two best friends are knife-edge close in their quarterbacking abilities.
On April 28, will it be Daniel and the Bulldogs again, or Doherty and the Toros? Go see for yourself, starting at 6 p.m. at Cuty Monge Stadium. Look for a close and interesting Costa Rica Super Bowl IV.