by Jason Salas
Guam - A funny thing happened during KUAM's broadcast of the Miller Football League Game of the Week about a month ago. While calling a Pepsi Warriors game I announced an unrehearsed line, proclaiming, "Father Time just keeps placing calls to Warriors middle linebacker Ryan Rios, but for some reason the reigning Defensive MVP just doesn't want to pick up the phone". The quip inadvertently shed light on an interesting angle of the MFL that a cursory glance may not pick up on: we've got some top-shelf talent on the field playing at an extremely high level, who by athletic standards...are pretty old.
Rios, now 43, is a shoe-in to repeat as the season's most outstanding defensive player, despite his team finishing third in the regular season. His counterpart in accolades, Cars Plus Rams quarterback Brant McCreadie, has put up statistics that surpass his 2010 campaign in which he was the consensus Offensive MVP, with his next birthday cake to sport a jaw-dropping 42 candles.
(Assuming I'm invited to the party for my on-air partner of 10 years, I'll spring for the Metamucil.)
In similar fashion, McCreadie's longtime friends and fellow native Hawaiians Eddie Ko and Brian Hahn are still getting it done on the gridiron as receivers. Strong safety Fayth Thompson patrols the Warrior deep field as a savvy veteran and still hits with youthful intensity, as does teammate Freddie Tupaz at guard. The Shell Hal's Angels' Mike Kono and Allan Blend continue to be two of the league's top playmaking linebackers, as well as fan favorites. Rams defensive leader Frank Arriola told me before a game he's proudly "representing the eighties". Ray Dela Cruz's children, who never miss a game, provide a raucous cheering section as the Angel defensive tackle punishes any runner coming his way. And Rams wideout Danny Cepeda - the most dominant high school athlete I ever saw play during his years with the GW Geckos - celebrated his 20-year graduation reunion last year.
Even Charles Churchill, the ageless-lineman-turned-league-commissioner-then-unretired-the-very-next-year-so-he-could-suit-up-again, still brings the pain when he lines up for the Rams, recording 3 huge tackles in a key red zone defensive stand against archirival Shell.
Comparatively, most NFL running backs are considered over-the-hill depreciable assets the moment they turn 30. Not here. Not in our league. At the time McCreadie eclipsed that milestone, we were still collectively pontificating about how much of a technological lap dance the Y2K Bug wound up being.
It's important to understand that on Guam we live in a community where perhaps the most highly-regarded virtue is respect for one's elders. And the new generation of MFL superstars do. But such an honor obviously hasn't slowed down the men that were putting on shoulder pads when Reagan was in the White House. They continue to impress. They're not old farts who just lazily rely on gravity to let their bulk to crash into one another - these are athletes who lead, inspire and make plays.
The canonical example is Mike "Malojloj Madness" Meno, the Angels left guard whose salt-and-pepper hair (notably more salt than pepper) is now clearly visible from either sideline. And at 50 - yes, F-I-F-T-Y - lines up directly beside his 21-year-old son, tight end Travis. Mike's also been an eligible receiver on several occasions with 5 receptions this year, 3 for touchdowns. He's Mike Vrabel, island-style.
The demands of football that make it a young man's game haven't fazed these modern-day gentlemen gladiators. If age has added anything, it's wisdom. They impart timeless knowledge by mentoring younger players - offering insight on technique, use of energy, how to fight through pain, and being a quality teammate, lessons forged by years of experience. The very same lessons handed down to them by their predecessors.
In so doing, they epitomize the spirit of the Guamanian athlete. Such is a trait all younger players recognize immediately, respect greatly and aspire to someday have, too.
So with the MFL playoffs right around the corner, the next time you're at a game keep an eye on some of the man'amko on your favorite team's roster (and maybe amen them, if you're so daring). They may not be setting records in the 40-yard dash anymore, but their positive impact can be felt all around the league.
And whatever Fountain of Youth the MFL seems to be drinking from, get me some of that.
Jason Salas, who fully believes the Michigan Wolverines should claim exclusive rights to winged helmets (sorry, Delaware), writes his weekly column "MFL Rocks!" on KUAM.com and does play-by-play for Miller Football League games. Just don't get him started on the BCS.