Elite Football League of India climax on Sunday


by Rochelle Palipane Gunaratne
Pix by Saman Ranaweera

Who would have envisioned American Football being played in Sri Lankan soil? It is not a strange game to us, as we have seen it on scores of American movies and TV programmes, but to see it live is something else.

The following poem captures the essence of the feelings running through a player’s mind, prior to the game:


by Lauren Frake


Pumping through his veins.


Crawling through his skin.


Ringing through his ears.

Hands trembling,

Beginning to perspire through his palms.

Knees shaking,

They begin to grow weak.

He’s mentally and physically preparing,

For what pain he’s about to take.

Heart racing,

He’s pacing.

"I can do this, I can do this,"

He utters to himself.

He takes his helmet off the shelf,

And let’s out a powerful roar.

He believes in himself.

Hustling out the door,

Radiating with satisfaction,

Hyped up, ready for action.


"The history of American Football can be traced to the early versions of rugby football. Both games have their origin in varieties of football played in Britain in the mid-19th century, in which a football is kicked at a goal and/or run over a line.

American Football resulted from several major divergences from rugby, most notably the rule changes instituted by Walter Camp, considered the ‘Father of American Football’. Among these important changes were the introduction of the line of scrimmage and of down-and-distance rules. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, game-play developments by college coaches such as Eddie Cochems, Amos Alonzo Stagg, Knute Rockne, and Glenn ‘Pop’ Warner helped take advantage of the newly introduced forward pass. The popularity of college football grew, as it became the dominant version of the sport in the United States, for the first half of the 20th century. Bowl games, a college football tradition, attracted a national audience for college teams. Boosted by fierce rivalries, college football still holds widespread appeal in the US.

The origin of professional football can be traced back to 1892, with William ‘Pudge’ Heffelfinger’s $500 contract to play in a game for the Allegheny Athletic Association, against the Pittsburgh Athletic Club.

In 1920, the American Professional Football Association was formed. This league changed its name to the National Football League (NFL), two years later, and eventually became the major league of American Football. Primarily a sport of Midwestern industrial towns in the United States, professional football eventually became a national phenomenon. Football’s increasing popularity is usually traced to the 1958 NFL Championship game, a contest that has been dubbed the ‘Greatest Game Ever Played’.

A rival league to the NFL, the American Football League (AFL), began play in 1960; the pressure it put on the senior league led to a merger between the two leagues and the creation of the Super Bowl, which has become the most watched television event in the United States, on an annual basis.


"The birth of the EFLI came as a result of the conception of the founders to make a difference in the lives of the millions of forgotten and overlooked children in the world. Ultimately, the league was formed to provide unprecedented, continual aid and funding toward education, medical, familial and emotional needs of these and all children in India and worldwide. It is a fundamentally unique corporation, fueled solely on human beings loving human beings. Indi’s adoption of the Elite Football League of India will draw worldwide attention to the unifying power of love. The monumental impact is yet to be witnessed. The potential for change is unlimited. The invitation to play is magnetic," Sunday Zeller, Founder Chief Operations Officer, USA, EFLI.


Season one of EFLI 2012/13 which kicked off on July 25, at the Sugathadasa Stadium, will reach its climax on August 25.

The tournament, which went on for seven weeks, was replete with eight teams that included players from three different countries (India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka), cheerleaders, referees, coaches, NFL commentators and every other aspect of the game. The teams which participated were the Bangalore Warhawks, Mumbai Gladiators Kandy Skykings, Pune Marathas, Kolkata Vipers, Delhi Defenders, Peshawar Wolfpack and Colombo Lions.

Sunday Zeller hoped that the combination of players from different countries would not only give the message of peace, but it is an invitation for the fans as well to cultivate peace and harmony among nations.

The month long league saw many officials from coaches, referees and many others from the USA and the respective countries dedicating their time and energy to ensure a professionally executed season.

EFLI Director, Dilroy Fernando, famed for his prowess in the field of rugby (as a player and a referee), in Sri Lanka, is passionate about promulgating the game of American Football under the EFLI as it provides many opportunities to youth. "It is also a thrilling and novel game for the sport–loving folks of this region (South Asian) to focus on," exclaimed he.


A few minutes prior to the next game, we saw Sandy Grossman emerge from his seat, but he did not have the luxury of actually taking a much needed break as we cut it short by firing a few questions about his involvement with the EFLI. "Having directed a record 10 Super Bowls, the eight time Emmy award winner, Sandy Grossman is an established and well respected name in the world of televised football. Sandy has an uncanny ability to mix live sports excitement with entertainment.

He was the Lead Director at CBS for the network’s coverage of the NFL for almost 20 years. In 1994, he assumed the mantle of Lead Director for FOX Sports coverage of the NFL. Further, he has been involved in many history-making ventures in terms of American Football and the EFLI season one games being played in the South Asian region.

Sandy, who hails from Florida, was given a few days to decide on the important role he had to play in the EFLI and the veteran agreed, never realizing how much time he would spend in this part of the world. It has been a challenge worth taking head on and a unique experience for him.

Weeks prior to the games, he had to train the camera crew who were new to the game. On his first day, he realised that they were not familiar with the lingo or the rules of the games. Therefore, he opted for a translator and handed each one a printout of the positions and gave them a run through of what American Football is all about. It is no mean feat, yet the crew has proved their ability and dedication by putting in hours of work in order to televise four games in one day.


Amit Lohchab aka ‘Happy’, of the Delhi Defenders, is a star rugby player who was introduced to American Football by a friend. The transition from rugby to AF has been easy, due to the marginal changes of rules and gear. "Monetary wise, this offers players a better chance of being rewarded according to their potential and many feel a sense of self worth. Sports per se, builds character and helps in getting youth away from many bad influences. In answer to our query about the EFLI season one games, promoting unity amongst players from other countries he stated; "on the field, everyone wants to win and there is rivalry, but off the field we are all brothers. We participated in the Pakistan National Day celebrations by cutting a cake with their team and they followed suit by being with us while we celebrated our Independence Day."

Preetesh Balyaya of the Mumbai Gladiators, a champ in judo, weight lifting and sumo wrestling, found a great footing in EFLI as it has given him a vast knowledge of a game he had delved into before. It has also promoted a sense of peace and love amongst his fellow countrymen and other youngsters in the SA region.

Priyantha Gunaratne: Rugby coach and referee was introduced to the EFLI through Dilroy Fernando. "I was keen to draw in as many youngsters from Kandy and its environs. Since the selections were being done in April, I made it a point to announce this fact at the ‘Avurudhu’ (New Year traditional games) in many towns and villages. The response was amazing and we managed to choose the players for our team the ‘Kandy Sky Kings.’ The players were coached for two and a half months only, which is not an easy task, but they displayed bouts of dedication and their eagerness to learn was tremendous," he told ‘The Island’.

Paveen Reddy of the Kolkata Vipers stressed on the veritable job opportunities created by the EFLI in terms of players, coaches, referees, camera crew etc., which brings succour to many, in addition to the discipline garnered through the sport. Similarly, it gives a sense of pride to represent one’s country in the first ever American Football games being staged in South Asia.

Roshan Lobo of the Bangalore War Hawks was thrilled to be awarded the EFLI season one Most Valuable Player award, displaying a sense of gratitude to all concerned for this great achievement in his life.

Amidst the thrill and excitement of the games, I noticed the sense of bonhomie and camaraderie amongst the players and the dedication shown by all those involved in ensuring the smooth running of the league. I believe that love and unity has worked its way to each person’s heart and that is a cause of pride for the EFLI.

The month long games will culminate in a grand finale at the Sugathadasa Stadium on August 25, commencing 7.30 pm, with the Delhi Defenders and Pune Marathas vying for the trophy. The champion team will go down in history as the first ever team to win the American Football games played in South Asia.



Award Winning Players

Most Outstanding Quarter Back: Dinesh Kumar – Pune Marathas

Most Outstanding Running Back: Roshan Lobo – Bangalore War Hawks

Most Outstanding Wide Runner: Navaneeth Chamber – Bangalore War Hawks

Most Outstanding Offensive Linesman: (The Grossman Award on behalf of Sandy Grossman): Preetesh Balyaya – Mumbai Gladiators

Most Outstanding Defensive Linesman: Karthick – Pune Marathas

Most Outstanding Line Backer: Suhail Imthiaz – Colombo Lions

Most Outstanding Defensive Back: Jitendra Mishra – Pune Marathas

K/P: ‘Nana’ Nanayakkara – Colombo Lions

Most Inspirational Player (Sunday Zeller Award) – Waqar Javid – Peshawar Wolf Pack

Most Valuable Player (country wise): Sri Lanka – Lena Rimzah (the late Major Milroy Fernando Trophy)

India – Roshan Lobo

Pakistan – Jahangir Nawaz

Offensive Player of the Year: Dinesh Kumar – Pune Maarathas

Defensive Player of the Year: Jitendra Mishra – Pune Marathas

EFLI Most Valuable Player 2012: Roshan Lobo – Bangalore War Hawks.

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