Most fall soccer players are decked out in full pads and a helmet. But on Saturday at Rogers Park in Brighton, Mark Mitchell preferred a shiny gold suit.
The 38-year-old former college football player, who played for Dean and Mount Ida colleges, competed with Three Piece Suit Football in his fourth year. The annual charity event has been held in Boston every October since 2014, having started in Atlanta. And, as the name suggests, all the players were dressed in formal attire that rang through the bell of full-contact tackle football.
Mitchell, who played quarterback for the Red Team (the other side was aptly named Blue Team), had a unique insight into how difficult it was to throw the ball in an outfit more suited to the disco than the gridiron which turned out to be an unusually warm day.
“Especially in this metallic suit it’s really hot. It’s like an oven, man. It’s really hot,” Mitchell said, adding that the heat wasn’t the only challenge. “Throwing a football into a suit because you can’t get full range of motion in your arm… that’s probably the hardest part.”
It was a scene like most in the history of the sport. But for those involved, there was good reason to put their bodies on the line while dressed in Sunday’s worst dress.
The goal of the event was to raise money for Operation Delta Dog, a New Hampshire-based nonprofit that trains rescue dogs to be service animals for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, or military sex trauma.
Cameron Miller, who grew up in Georgia, brought Three Piece Suit Football to Boston while he was finishing his doctoral program in psychology and working at Veterans Affairs Hospitals in Jamaica Plain and Brockton. While Miller was here, his Boston friends saw what the Atlanta chapter of Three Piece Suit Football had become since early 2009, and they wanted to start a local branch.
Victor Morency, one of Miller’s friends, has lived throughout the Boston area and helped get the Boston game off the ground. At least 200 people gathered at the park on Saturday to watch the game — something that would have looked like a long shot when Three Piece Suit Football came to town in 2014.
“I mean, when we started, it was maybe five to six people, and it’s just our closest friends,” Morency said. “I don’t know the exact numbers for this year but I think that’s the most people we’ve ever had and also a consistent turnout which is good too. We still have people reporting in the fourth quarter, which has never happened.”
Not surprisingly, the event had a carnival-like vibe with odd attire ranging from a leopard print getup to a more classic prom look. On the sidelines, Morency was decked out in a McDowell’s Eddie Murphy-esque uniform in Coming to America. Then there was the game’s mascot, Ronnie Peaches, who worked the crowds with a custom peach-colored jacket, hat and walking stick.
Players make a tackle during the Three Piece Suit football game at Rogers Park
The blue team line up for a game during Saturday’s Three Piece Suit football match in Brighton.
Ronald Gupton, better known as Ronnie Peaches, stands at the Three Piece Suit football game.
Juno sits at the Three Piece Suit football match in Brighton. Juno is the service animal of Heather Kosakowski, who served in the Marine Corps for five years.
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The game itself was as bizarre as the outfits. Seven players from each side slugged each other on a 70-yard field while two moderators made comments that doubled as friendly heckling from the sidelines. While there were officials, the contest resembled more of a backyard football game, with lots of scrambles by quarterbacks in the backfield looking for receivers to get open and lots of fumbles.
Emily Mangiaratti, who plays roller derby and played her first Three Piece Suit game on Saturday, is a dog trainer at Operation Delta Dog. Mangiaratti said she appreciates the physicality of the game.
“It’s intense,” she said. “These guys are really rolling here, we’re playing real real football, which is great because I don’t know the rules of football really well, but I’m picking them up quickly.”
Mangiaratti said the event helped draw additional attention to what Operation Delta Dog is doing.
And the results speak for themselves: Founder Miller said they raised approximately $60,000 for Operation Delta Dog at the Boston event over the past seven years.
Heather Kosakowski, who served in the Marine Corps for five years and suffers from PTSD, benefits directly from this partnership. She recently completed Operation Delta Dog with her service pet, Juno, a 3-year-old black Labrador mix rescued from Alabama. Both were at the game on Saturday. Kosakowski said it was humbling to see the crowd.
“For example, there were many years where I just felt alone and isolated and nobody understood or cared,” Kosakowski said. “But through Operation Delta Dog and through events like this, I can see that there’s a whole world of people out there who really care, even though they can’t really understand it. And that’s, I don’t know, it gives me chills. It’s really cool that there are so many people with so much heart.”
At the end of the day, there wasn’t a suit on the field that wasn’t torn, stained or bloodied. The Blue Team beat the Red Team 31-20 in a game described as one of the more competitive games in the history of the event. But afterwards, both teams came together to shake hands and stand together in midfield after achieving something much more than just a bizarre game of football.