The Charlotte Cobras went into the National Public Safety Football League championship Saturday undefeated. So did their opponent, the San Diego Enforcers. Unlike the Enforcers, however, the Cobras had not been scored upon all season. San Diego took a 7-0 lead anyway.
The teams are made up of firefighters, police officers and federal agents, and they played Saturday on the artificial turf at Providence Day School. There was talent on that field. Charlotte features former NFL players and NCAA division 1 players. And the Enforcers were by far the best team the Cobras had played. The Enforcers had won a championship. The Cobras hadn’t.
The field was ringed by trees, police cars and a fire truck. San Diego travels well, and fans of the visitors pounded on metal and cheered. But this was a Cobras’ crowd, the bleachers full of relatives and friends.
Charlotte tied the score at 7. Early in the second quarter the Enforcers went up 13-7. The humidity was outrageous. And then the rain came, and lightning accompanied it. Lightning and the threat of lightning delayed the game 40 minutes. When the teams returned at 5:46 p.m., the lights were on.
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The Cobras tied the score before halftime and in the third quarter went on the kind of run that good teams do. Rodney, a sheriff’s deputy, (to protect the identities of the officers, I was asked not to use last names) intercepted a San Diego pass and took off as if propelled for the end zone. Kemp Rasmussen, a Charlotte firefighter and a former Carolina Panther, did what all defensive ends dream of doing and intercepted a pass.
Quarterback Mark Brown, a Charlotte firefighter, repeatedly avoided tacklers and found receivers. One of them was Carlos Rodriguez, a Charlotte firefighter with sensational hands. The Cobras went up 21-14 and 28-14. They kicked a field goal to go up by 17. But there was a penalty against San Diego on the play and coach Eddie Levins took the points off the scoreboard. This was late in the game and deep in San Diego territory.
On a read option called 34 Utah, Brown read the defensive end, found space and then the end zone.
That was the play that determined the outcome. Players and coaches hugged and laughed and found their families and friends in the bleachers and celebrated their first championship.
“We play for each other,” says Brown, who played a fine game. “There’s not a selfish player on the team. And we won for each other.”
Charlotte won 35-20.
I wrote a column about the Cobras Friday with a simple message: Regardless of what the players do, they’re like us. They’re not people in uniforms. They’re human beings which, probably more now than ever, is easy to forget.
Yet they’re different, too. Their jobs are more stressful than ours. And, at least in and around Charlotte, they’re better at football.