From gridlock to the gridiron: Cops face Congress in charity football game

WASHINGTON – When the Guards played the Mean Machine on Wednesday, they met on the one playing field in Washington where partisan politics has no place.

The biennial charity Congressional Football Game pits members of Congress from both sides of the aisle against officers of the U.S. Capitol police – with a couple of ringers on each side – at a rec field in Southeast Washington.

Sparked by the 1998 shooting deaths of Capitol Police Detective John Gibson and Officer Jacob Chestnut by a gunman in the Capitol, the game raises funds for the Capitol Police Memorial Fund and for Our Military Kids.

“This is a charity game – it raises money for a couple different organizations that support families of fallen Capitol Police officers, military families,” said Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson, and one of the players on the congressional Mean Machine team.

It’s just a touch-football game, but both sides take it seriously, with lawmakers practicing for weeks before the game.

“There’s a lot of trash talking between the members through the years of the game – throughout the months leading up to the game,” said Harry Dunn, a player on the Guards, the police department’s team.

Against that competitive backdrop, however, both sides said the game is really about camaraderie, lawmaker to lawmaker as well as lawmaker to officer.

“We spend a lot of time with the members as officers and this is just a good way to show we have more relationship than just us protecting them,” Dunn said.

That was echoed by McSally, who was sporting “A-10” on her jersey – the designation of the jet she flew while in the Air Force and which she is currently trying to keep the Pentagon from eliminating. The game also helps extend those relationships across the political aisle, too, she said,

“I mean, no kidding, I had a bill I was introducing, I went to one of my teammates on the Democrat side, walked him through it, he became a sponsor,” McSally said. “So, I mean, this is a really good part of the camaraderie of being here and working together – for a good cause as well.”

The good feeling did not stop the Guards from trying to win, however. On a rainy night, they led 7-6 at halftime against a Mean Machine that could not get the offense going in the second half. It was the fifth win for the police team, against one loss and one tie with the congressional team.

But there are more important takeaways than the final score, McSally said.

“It’s fantastic,” she said. “We’re working together on the field, blowing off some steam, sometimes late nights but these are early mornings, building relationships.”