Italian Bowl provided a fun and interesting weekend in Toledo

Harold Hamilton

Special to The Press

Summer months are typically filled with multiple parties and fairs and ethnic festivals where foods, music and cultural traditions are shared. No one is keeping score, but if they were, Toledo would certainly be in the lead this year with the Italian Bowl held July 1 at the University of Toledo Glass Bowl.
The Parma Panthers battled the defending champs Firenze Guelfi with Parma winning the championship 29-13.
Planning for these events started two years ago and was expected to add millions to the area’s tourism income. Hotels were booked weeks ahead of time and filled for weeks before the game.
Any restaurant with an Italian cuisine was filled with both Toledo’s local diners and the Italian visitors.
The weekend started with traditional tailgate parties in the Glass Bowl parking lot followed by a downtown street party with food and drinks, held within walking distance to the Huntington Center, where Toledo’s own Scott High School heavyweight boxer would be fighting.
The Italian Bowl Championship was very interesting. I’m guessing attendance at 11,000 people. Heavy rain about the time the game was to start, along with the heat and humidity likely reduced the crowd significantly.
History of Italian American football
American style football has been played in Italy for over 100 years. One of the first games was on Thanksgiving Day in 1913. The teams were from two US Navy ships docked in Genoa, Italy. Thirty-one years later, another game was held with two teams of American soldiers made up of the 5th Army and the 12th Air Force which was called the Spaghetti Bowl. The effort to form a permanent football league in Italy was popular, however, there were multiple league organizational changes over the years.
In 1980, the first official American football league in Italy was formed. This was one of the first leagues in Europe to sign professional import players and coaches from the USA. The new IFL was founded in 2008, which absorbed most of the biggest teams from the previous Italian league. The July 1 game in Toledo – the 42nd Italian Bowl, was the first played outside of Italy and also for the first time, on artificial turf at the University of Toledo Glass Bowl.
Game rules
Italian football rules are only slightly different than the rules for American professional football (NFL). Most players are Italian; players from other countries can be used but only a maximum of three on one team and only two of these are allowed on the field at the same time. One must be a “dual passport citizen,” that is, Italian/American. The players are not paid; they play for the excitement and love of the game. The game time is divided into four 12-minute quarters and played on a conventional sized field.
The team and players
The Italian team members ranged from 16-47 years in age, had heights of 5’6” to 6’4” and weights of 132 to 309 pounds. Guelfi had a 47-year-old linebacker, Christian Petrucci, who has been nicknamed “Death” because he played in a “death metal band,” but it also may have been a clue to his toughness.
Both teams had some very good players. Some of the standout “import players” had impressive college careers here in the states before going to Italy. For example, Guelfi’s quarterback, Jaren Gerbino, developed his skills playing at Dartmouth College and was hoping for his second championship in a row in this Italian Bowl this year. Guelfi had the best offense according to league experts and this season’s statistics. Parma was not fooled by Guelfi, who statistically had the best defense this season. In fact, Alexi Ramoss, Parma’s linebacker was also voted the Most Valuable Player in the game for both teams.
Not to be outdone, in the quarterback position, Parma picked up Anthony Paoletti after his stent at the University of Delaware. Add a tough, fast, running back and a couple of good receivers to fill up the backfield and it didn’t take long into the game for the Parma “underdogs” to take control. Parma scored first with a 30-yard pass play in the first quarter. Halftime ended with Parma leading 14-0. Parma added two more TD’s to Guelfi’s two for a final of 13-29. Despite the results, it was obvious that everyone from around the world had a fantastic time.
Every politician within miles of the Glass Bowl that Saturday was there and smiling for the cameras but better-known guests were also present. John Grisham was one of those guests. John is a novelist who lives on a farm in Virginia where he wrote 47 consecutive number-one best sellers. He is known for the research that he gathers which adds depth to his books.
Hearing that Grisham was at the bowl game, many immediately thought of “Playing for Pizza”– his book published back in 2004. It was about a young Cleveland Browns quarterback who was fired after a disastrous game where he blew away a large lead to cost the Browns a chance for the NFL playoff game. Eventually he was picked up by the Parma Panthers to try to help them win their first Italian Super Bowl.
I was told that a group of young Italian visitors, obviously referring to the “Playing for Pizza” book, held up a large sign that read “Losers go to Browns.”
Another gigantic athlete in attendance was Calvin Johnson, who played at Georgia Tech, where he was a two-time All-American and known as the best rated receiver in Georgia. He was drafted by the Detroit Lions and was given the nickname “Megatron.” Calvin, at 6’4” was not all brawn, however thanks to his parents. His mother had a Doctor of Education degree and both of his parents insisted that he earn As and Bs, in school or he could not play sports.


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