‘Blues’ to battle ‘Blaze’ in annual football game
It is that time of year again — firefighters and police officers will be slapping on pads and helmets and getting down in the dirt with the pigskin.
The 3rd annual Gene Griffith Memorial Football Game, renamed from the “Blues vs. Blaze” game in honor of the recently passed Cape Coral firefighter-engineer, will pit the Cape and Fort Myers Police Departments against their respective fire departments Saturday.
Kickoff is scheduled at 6 p.m. at Ida S. Baker High School, located at 3500 Agualinda Blvd.
Cape firefighter Eric Chudzik said he and officer Mike Torregrossa focused the football game, previously between police and Lee County Sheriff’s Office deputies, toward an outdoor, old school style of football between officers and firefighters. However, Chudzik accredited Griffith with being the “pioneer” of the game.
“(Griffith) was the first person I went to and asked in assisting me to get a team together,” Chudzik said. “If it wasn’t for him saying yes, this game probably wouldn’t have happened.”
Griffith’s brother, Scott, will serve as head coach of the firefighters’ “Blaze” 34-man lineup. Scott Griffith is a retired detective with the Fort Myers Police Department, and previously played college football for Bowling Green State University.
Griffith was a Cape Coral firefighter and engineer for about 20 years before he passed away last year as a result of his battle with cancer, Chudzik said.
“Gene battled cancer for a good solid two years,” Chudzik said. “It really wore on him. Even though he kept fighting his own battle, he was always there for us. As much as he helped us, I think we helped him through his sickness also. The football team meant a lot to Gene.”
Griffith’s family seems to have strong ties to the all-American pastime gridiron game.
Griffith played Division I ball at the University of Wisconsin, and his brother Scott’s son, Patrick Griffith, is a college football coach in Tennessee. Patrick is flying down to see the game, Chudzik said.
Nick Jones, who will play guard for the police “Blues” 29-man team, said he only knew Griffith as an acquaintance, but knew the game meant a lot to him.
“Gene just had a lot to do with the football game so we decided to go ahead and name the game after him,” Jones said. “He was such a big advocate of this game and he looked forward to this game every year.”
The proceeds from the event go toward the Firefighter’s Benevolence Fund, and the Cape Coral Youth Crime Intervention and Families in Need programs.
In the past three years the game has been played, as well as the seven previous years when police faced off against county deputies, more than $100,000 was raised for the charities, Jones said.
Jones said the departments hope to bring in about $10,000 for the charity funds this year by putting on an exciting and entertaining game.
Both teams practice months before the game, both with cardio conditioning and on-field practices, and many players are experienced in the game.
“We have a good group of guys who have college football experience,” Jones said. “The majority of the guys we have playing have at least high school experience.”
Though both teams seem to have some explosive talent meeting at the line of scrimmage, neither Chudzik nor Jones were willing to speculate on a winner this year.
While police won the inaugural game, firefighters took the win last year, leaving this year’s game a grudge match to be boasted about for years to come.
“This year we’re kind of owning this up as the rubber match,” Chudzik said. “I think we’ll give them a good game.”
In honor of fallen Fort Myers Officer Andrew Widman, Widman’s widowed wife Susanna has been asked to call the coin toss to start the game.
General admission to the game is $10 for adults, $5 for students and free for children 12 and younger. Tickets can be purchased at the gate.
A 2009 Harley Davidson flame-blue Fatboy with a Kendon single-rail trailer is being raffled off at halftime. A raffle ticket for the motorcycle can be purchased for $20 and includes admission to the game.
Additionally, activities will begin at noon including child fingerprinting, canine demonstrations, face painting, band competitions, eating contests, food and raffles.