NORFOLK (NNS) -- Down by two scores in the fourth quarter, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) flag football team, the Mademen, needed a stop to have a chance of winning their playoff game, which would land them in the championship game.
It’s fourth down for the opposing team; the ball is snapped. Off the edge comes Interior Communications Electrician 3rd Class Bebin Cue, the outside linebacker, who chases down and sacks the quarterback. The crowd could feel the momentum shift as the Mademen offense took to the field. They mounted a comeback, bringing the game within one score with less than a minute left on the clock. With one last chance to tie the game, the Mademen marched down the field to the 10-yard line. Unfortunately, time ran out on the Lincoln football team, leaving them one game short of the base championship.
One year later, the Mademen have been invited to the Virginia Flag Football Association (VFFA) Tournament for another shot at a title on Dec 7-9, in Fairfax, VA. This would be the Mademen’s third tournament appearance since joining the VFFA in 2017. The VFFA is the official flag football organization in the state of Virginia. However, this year’s tournament will be a little more special to the Mademen than in previous years.
“We’re excited because this will be our last tournament on the East Coast,” said Boatswain’s Mate Seaman Deshaun Hackworth, the team’s coach and wide receiver. “After this, we’re changing homeports to San Diego, so we really want to go out there and leave it all on the field.”
The first VFFA tournament was held in 1977, with 17 teams participating. Since then, the league has expanded to more than 80 teams participating in today’s tournaments.
While the civilian league is a relatively new undertaking for the Mademen, they have been competing against their military peers in the base league since 2015. More than 30 teams from commands along the east coast compete in this base league.
Going through a long season full of ups and downs, the Mademen finished the regular season in the base league with a 12-4 record. Although they had finished the season with a strong record, the Mademen were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, yet again falling short of a championship appearance.
“It’s cool when we’re out in town and we run in to people from other commands that we played against,” said Cue. “We crack jokes here and there about who won the game. It’s a lot of bragging rights, but it’s all in good fun.”
Whether it be for love of the game or a chance to compete, each Sailor has a unique reason for wanting to be a part of the Mademen football team.
“For me, it’s a way to get engaged with the younger Sailors from different departments,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Second Class Mark Matthews, the quarterback. “It gives me a chance to find out a little more about Sailors, who I wouldn’t have met had I not joined this team.”
Others joined the team to add balance to their work and home life.
“When I was first stationed on the ship, all I did was come to work then go home,” said Airman Najee Fennell, the team’s safety. “Joining this team gave me the opportunity to get out of my house and do something I love. Along the way, I met so many new people who shared the same interest as me.”
Being a U.S. Navy Sailor first, these players experience a sense of unity with their shipmates. Much like a football team, each Sailor must do its specific job and work toward one common goal. When competing against peers in a team sport such as football, a unique bond is formed that connects the players together as one.
“Playing through big games together brings us closer as a group,” said Hackworth. “We are brothers. We have to talk to each other and make sure we’re all one core or it messes up the whole vibe. If one person’s off, then everyone’s off.”
Practicing alongside these players multiple times a week creates a sense of camaraderie that goes beyond just playing football.
“It’s not all about football,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Marco Cobb, the assistant coach and running back. “We’ve built true friendships and have gotten to really know each other, which makes it a lot easier and more comfortable working with these guys on the ship.”
Being a part of the Mademen football team comes with many benefits. Perhaps the most worthwhile benefit is how it gives Sailors a positive outlet from work and the other stresses that occur in life.
“It gives us something to do outside of the ship,” said Hackworth. “It keeps us busy and prevents us from getting into trouble because we want to be able to stay on the team and continue to have fun.”
This team has gone through several ups and downs. In the end, they have bonded through achieving great wins and suffering close defeats. The Mademen flag football team looks forward to continuing their success, representing USS Abraham Lincoln in both the civilian and base leagues.
For more news from USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn72/.