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Richard Myles has a theory about football players: When they hit the end of their playing days, whether itâ€™s for a high school or college team, he says, â€œit takes five years to get the game out of their system.â€
â€œSo thatâ€™s how long I have to get them,â€ he says.
Myles, 52, is the founder, owner, general manager, coach, and several other things of the Washington Chiefs, a local minor-league football squad. The team started in 1993 in his native D.C., but, because of what the Cardozo High alum describes as a total lack of support from the hometown government, it moved a few years ago to Montgomery County.
He says Ike Leggett, now the county executive, was extremely receptive to Mylesâ€™ pitch that a football team can be about more than football; it can keep post-adolescents busy and productive while they decide what to do with their post-gridiron lives.
Not only do the players not get paid to play for the Chiefs, they must give Myles $250 before they can wear his teamâ€™s burgundy-â€¨and-gold, Indian-themed uniforms (which will have a certain familiarity to anybody whoâ€™s aware of what the areaâ€™s NFL franchise wears). And the players also agree to do 100 hours of community service, which could include participating in any of the counseling programs Myles has devised, with titles such as â€œNo Thugs, No Drugsâ€ and â€œA Night in White,â€ the latter of which is described in Chiefsâ€™ literature as a â€œdebutante scholarship ball.â€
The county gives Mylesâ€™ team some funding and a place to playâ€”they kick off the 2007 season this weekend with a home game at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Springâ€”and he and the Chiefs show up at various local events. Thatâ€™s why several members of the squad were seen marching in Takoma Parkâ€™s July 4 parade (just ahead of a contingent of 9/11 conspiracy theorists who passed out DVDs of Loose Change, which explains our federal governmentâ€™s role in the attacks).
â€œWe did the Rockville parade this year, too,â€ says Myles.
He says most of the Chiefsâ€™ recruiting is done word-of-mouth and that turnover is high. â€œPeople donâ€™t play long, and I donâ€™t have old guys,â€ he says. Myles estimates only â€œabout 10 guysâ€ from last yearâ€™s team will show up for this seasonâ€™s opener.
But the Chiefs, he says, still get enough bodies to fill a roster each season. Before the teamâ€™s scrimmage last Saturday at Silver Spring International School, guys came up to Myles to sign contracts and give the owner the required fees.
â€œRemind me to get you a receipt!â€ Myles said to one newcomer after being handed a wad of cash. Itâ€™s unlikely Dan Snyder ever said that to one of his free agents on signing day.
Chiefs players must also bring their own helmets, shoulder pads, and cleats, which cost another several hundred dollars.
Myles insists he got into football team ownership as a means to impact the community with his social work. But he knows that the right to march in parades and set up chairs at debutante scholarship balls or ride in buses for games in Scranton and Roanoke isnâ€™t what brings guys to the Chiefs.
â€œThey want to stay in the game,â€ he says. â€œThereâ€™s not many opportunities like this if youâ€™re not playing in college or the pros. Not in football. This offers them that chance. I tell everybody that itâ€™s not that theyâ€™re not good enough to play in the NFL. Itâ€™s just that thereâ€™s not enough room for everybody.â€
For the dreamers, Myles can point to Eric Swann, a defensive lineman who went from playing for the minor-league Bay State Titans, a Massachusetts sandlot organization, to an all-pro career with the Arizona Cardinals.
Brandon Banas is the most recent ex-football retiree to take up Mylesâ€™ offer. Banas, a 25-year-old Buffalo native, moved to the area when his wife got a civilian job as a radiology technician at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He figured his football days were already long over: He last suited up three seasons ago, as a linebacker for Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, an NCAA Division II team in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. He played his final two seasons with a torn labrum, and the surgery scar he got on his shoulder after graduation was going to be the final badge of courage from his football career.
But when his wife found out a few months ago through co-workers about the minor-league Chiefs, he decided he missed the game enough to test out the shoulder.
â€œPeople ask me whatâ€™s going to happen if I get hurt again,â€ he says. â€œI tell them my wifeâ€™s a radiology technician, so Iâ€™ll be taken care of.â€
In college, Banas got to play against a couple of guys who made the jump from D-II to the pros: Nate Washington, a receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers out of Tiffin University, and Todd Herremans, an offensive lineman from Saginaw Valley who now plays for the Philadelphia Eagles. And he, like every minor-league football player, knows about Swannâ€™s flight to the NFL. So during his workdays as an armed security guard, Banas admits, he canâ€™t help but find himself mulling over the big â€œwhat if?â€
â€œFootball is something you canâ€™t take for granted,â€ says Banas, a weak-side linebacker for the Chiefs. â€œYou always hope that maybe you get a chance. Iâ€™m just here to play, really. The chances are really so overwhelming, impossible really. But if that opportunity ever presented itself, wellâ€¦.â€
Myles says Banas â€œcan hit like a tank.â€ Thereâ€™s more than a hint of P.T. Barnum to most of Mylesâ€™ talent assessments. Asked what most excites him about this yearâ€™s squad, for example, Myles, who wears a massive ring that he says came from one of the Chiefsâ€™ â€œsix championships,â€ cites running back Larry Graham. The former Roosevelt Senior High star just finished an OK career at St. Paulâ€™s College in Lawrenceville, Va.
â€œThis guy runs a 4.0 forty!â€ Myles tells me. â€œThe guy is unreal. Some NFL team is gonna take him from me before the seasonâ€™s over.â€ (That means Graham could coast the last few yards of a 40-yard dash and still whup Darrell Green in his prime.)
And then thereâ€™s the offensive line. â€œMy offensive line averagesÂâ€”averages!â€”6-foot-8 and 350, 360 pounds,â€ he says. Alas, none of the Chiefs at the pre-scrimmage workout was within 5 inches or 100 pounds of those measurements. (Myles, in fact, was as big and beefy as anybody in uniform.)
Coaching jobs in the minor leagues are also filled by folks who donâ€™t yet have the game out of their system. Myles says Barry Wilburn, the troubled former Redskins defensive back, used the Chiefs to â€œget right.â€
And thereâ€™s Robert â€œDickeyâ€ Congo, the newest addition to Mylesâ€™ staff. Congo, 51, played for Delaware State as a student and, as a grown-up, coached youth, high school, and minor-league teams for two decades, including the New Castle Longhorns in western Delaware. Congo hurt an eye in a construction accident in 1995 and slowly lost all sight in both eyes. Heâ€™s been blind for two years. Myles, who knew Congo from Chiefs/Longhorns games, called his former rival a few months ago and coaxed him out of retirement. He catches a ride to Chiefs games and workouts, about a four-hour round trip, with defensive end Jeremy Reevesâ€”one of several players who will commute from Delaware to practice and play for the Chiefs this season.
â€œI want to stay in the game,â€ Congo says. â€œRichard told me â€¨I shouldnâ€™t sit around, that I should get back in the game. And Iâ€™m here.â€
Congo says heâ€™s a big believer in minor-league football and echoes Mylesâ€™ opinion that itâ€™s a lot more than just a game.
â€œEverybody is always interested in giving people something to keep them off the streets, and the government supports any program if you say the money is for little kids,â€ he says. â€œBut what about the big kids? This is for guys who are still figuring out their lives, and it gives them something to do while theyâ€™re doing that. Big kids can get in trouble, too, you know.â€