By Jayme Monsanto, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – 2009 marks an important milestone in the history of American Football in Brazil. The popularity of the oval-shaped ball grew exponentially, the practice of the sport in the country reached a comfortable maturity, and the first full-pads national competition was created.
Torneio Touchdown, baptized by André Adler, hit Rio last weekend giving Cariocas the chance to witness the first fully-equipped American Football match in the city’s history.
The game took place last Sunday, August 30, when Rio de Janeiro Imperadores made their debut at Torneio Touchdown against São Paulo Storm. The match was the fourth game in the competition. It was held at the Figueira de Melo Stadium, home of the São Cristóvão soccer team, famous for having discovered the soccer player Ronaldo aka “Fenômeno” (phenomenon).
The match started at 2PM and was announced play-by-play by André Adler and commentated by Silvio Santos Jr. (of the Bandsports TV channel). The event attracted approximately 2500 people and considerable media attention. The entry fee was one kilogram of non-perishable food, and more than half a ton of supplies were donated to the “Retiro dos Artistas” charity, which aids senior artists in financial difficulty.
In the first quarter, the game was very balanced. The turning point came when Raphael Bellizzi, of the Imperadores, got the ball from a punt block in the endzone and scored. The extra point (XP) was converted by WR (Wide Receiver) Vinny, ending in a score of 7-0 to the Imperadores.
Storm reacted in the second quarter, scoring a touchdown with FB (Fullback) Mura Bononi, and a two-point XP conversion by WR Gabriel Rulli. By halftime the score was 8-7 for SP Storm.
The halftime show was a street dance performance by the “Jovens da Periferia” dance group, formed by teenagers from poor communities of Rio. The group’s aim is to promote social inclusion for underprivileged youngsters.
In the third quarter, the Imperadores tried a field goal to retake the lead, but the Storm defense blocked the goal kick. In spite of that, in the following minutes the Imperadores managed to score a touchdown, led by RB (Running Back) Otávio. The Carioca team missed the XP kick, and the score of the third quarter ended 13-8 for the Imperadores.
The last quarter was dramatic, with the Carioca defense holding back successive waves of Paulista attacks. With just three minutes remaining, Storm QB (quarterback) Kevin May completed a great pass for WR Billy, who ran twenty-five yards before he was stopped by the Imperadores, at two yards away from the touchdown mark.
After that, the Cariocas could not avoid suffering a touchdown. The Paulista XP kick was succesfully scored by WR Cabelo, and Storm reclaimed the lead. The score was 15-13.
With just forty-six seconds remaining in the match, the Imperadores had their last chance at victory: a field goal attempt thirty yards away from the pitchfork goal. The kick was not good enough and São Paulo Storm left the winner.
Torneio Touchdown will be back in Rio on October 17, when the Imperadores play the Sorocaba Vipers (from São Paulo state) for the thirteenth round of the competition. The complete match calendar of Torneio Touchdown can be found at www.touchdown.net.