Police, firefighters take to football field as 'Dallas Defenders'




Posted on April 23, 2012 at 8:32 AM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 6 at 12:56 AM

DALLAS - A few weeks ago, Chicago and Dallas played each other in a football game. It was hard fought, and at times ugly. In the end, Chicago was a 21-to-8 winner.

But, something was different about this game. Some of the players had gray hair, others had never played organized football past middle school. All of the players were first-responders, the majority being either policemen or firefighters.

The Dallas Defenders, along with 24 other teams, make up the National Public Safety Football League.

"When I came out, I was surprised to see the level of play they're at and how serious they were," said Justin Morris, a fireman who plays as a wide receiver. "They told us it was a National Public Safety League and I'm like, 'How does that work?' And we ended up traveling to California and Chicago and New York, just got back from Tampa last weekend."

"Well, you know it's funny because a lot of people hear about us and they think, 'Well, that's just a bunch of old guys out there trying to re-live the dream,'" said Jeff Price, the head coach and a Dallas Police Department sergeant. "In a way, yes, but we really bring a high level of football. I think our team could compete with a lot of small college programs."

Price spent several years as a quarterback in the league before becoming a coach. He's now in his fifth season.

"I get out there and run the team just like I run a crew here on the department," he said.

Because of travel costs, the Defenders have only a four-game schedule, and they're 1-and-2 with one more game to play. The players are the opposite of professionals because they have to pay to play.

"We got to pay dues," said Justin Dorman, a fireman who plays as a wide receiver. "We pay money to travel and for equipment and stuff like that. So, we are paying to play because we want to play, and guys just find ways to come up with the money because they just love playing football."

"The game is actually pure," said Ronnie McCoy, a police officer who plays quarterback. "In the league we play in, the game is actually pure - play hard, giving all your effort. But, when the play is over, it's over; when you're down, you're down."

A handful of players in the league have major college and even professional experience, but most are former high school players.

McCoy played quarterback at Cedar Hill High School. Morris was a wide receiver at Pilot Point High School.

Some of the members last played organized football when they were in middle school. Dorman was a wide receiver at Forestwood Middle School

And rookies in the league, they're still rookies.

James Bistro, a Dallas Police Department sergeant, is not a rookie, far from it.

"I am the oldest guy on the team, not by a little, but probably by four to five years," said the defensive lineman.

"I am having a blast, every day in my job," he said. "I compete with people that are in their teens and young adults that I have to catch ... This is just one other way to compete. I'm competing all the time on my job, and I'm competing now doing this with people who are much younger than me, and I'm holding my own just fine, I think."

The Defenders are involved with different charities, and any money they raise on game day is donated, but that is simply a byproduct of a bunch of guys who love playing football.

"Well, I love playing," Price said. "I love playing. I'm not going to say 'I loved it;' I love it. I still get out at practice and throw balls against my defense and burn them, it makes them mad. I love that."

"Leading up to the season, about two months out, my phone's going to be ringing non-stop from Jeff calling day in and day out, or me calling him with just some ideas of what to do for the upcoming season and what to do to be successful," McCoy said.

"And my parents, they still come to games," Dorman said. "I'm 30 years old, they're still watching me play football."

For a group of guys who do serious work in the community, sometimes it's just fun to play a kid's game, no matter how old the kid.


E-mail tmadded@wfaa.com