NFL stars, local celebrities compete in Malibu flag football

Three thousand people packed Malibu Bluffs Parks, which was transformed into a professionally painted football field.

By Seth Rubinroit / Special for The Malibu Times

Malibu Bluffs Park was transformed into a 40-yard football field Friday, where pro football Hall of Famers Marcus Allen, John Elway, Joe Montana and Barry Sanders, as well as NFL legends Marshall Faulk, Jerry Rice, Deion Sanders and Junior Seau went head-to-head in a game of flag football. Local celebrities such as Jeremy Piven and Kevin Dillon of “Entourage” joined the professionals in the Madden NFL ‘10 Pigskin Pro-Am flag football game, which promoted the Aug. 14 release of the EA Sports video game Madden NFL ‘10.

Approximately 3,000 fans packed the park for the game, where the grounds crew of the San Diego Chargers professionally painted the field.

“This is a great set-up. The city has done an amazing job of maintaining this,” former NFL running back Roger Craig said about the field.

Athletically, the most anticipated celebrity was Piven, the star of the upcoming movie, “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard.” Piven practiced at Bluffs Park two days before the game, and both NFL star Tony Gonzalez and the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen picked Piven to be the best celebrity football player before the game.

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“I see [Piven] running on Malibu Road quite a bit,” Eisen said. “He is probably the best-conditioned celebrity in this game. He certainly has the most Emmy Awards of anybody in this game. He can raise his game to award-status.”

Among the other celebrities was Donald Faison from “Scrubs” and singer Kelly Rowland.

“Only a brand like Madden can bring this many big names out to have this much fun with the NFL,” Nathan Stewart, director of marketing for EA Sports Madden Football, said.

There was a great deal of pride on the line as the celebrities tried to prove they could play with the star athletes, and the athletes tried to show they still had their skills.

“There has to be something left. You have to figure I still have a few tricks,” said Sanders, the 1988 Heisman Trophy winner and former Detroit Lions star running back.

Active players were not eligible for the game. However, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who is on the cover of Madden NFL ‘10 with Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, and Steelers running back Willie Parker served as coaches. Fitzgerald and Parker had to make sure that the celebrities and former athletes each received enough playing time. “I try to be fair and give everybody an opportunity. We are out here to have a good time. That is my goal,” Fitzgerald said.

Likewise, Arizona Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez and Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware sat in couches in the end zone catching extra points. “Tough gig, huh? I cannot complain about that one,” Gonzalez, a 10-time Pro Bowl selection, said before the game. “I will be sliding back and forth catching touchdowns from Joe Montana and John Elway, and then I will have a front-row seat to see how these celebrities play.”

In warm-ups, former San Francisco 49ers teammates Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, who won two Super Bowls together, played catch. In addition, Marshall Faulk was able to throw the ball around with his hero, Marcus Allen. “I looked up to all running backs growing up, especially Marcus. I went to [San Diego State University], and he is from San Diego, so I know a lot about him. He could do it all,” Faulk, the 2000 NFL MVP, said.

There was plenty of trash talking among the athletes and celebrities. Ware, who led the NFL with 20 sacks last season, said the players were lucky he did not play because “I am not a touchdown-catching guy, so I probably would try to knock guys out.”

Former USC Trojans and San Diego Chargers linebacker Seau warned, “I never got to hit Joe Montana so, if there happens to be a late hit on him, it was me.”

Fortunately for some of the older athletes and celebrities, the game was played on a 40-yard field rather than a typical 100-yard football field. “I physically look in great shape, but I have not run in a while, so conditioning-wise I do not know where I am,” Allen, the 1981 Heisman Trophy and 1985 NFL MVP recipient, said. “But competition is like riding a bike; you never lose it, you just get back in the flow.”

The game featured many unique rules, which made broadcasting the game a challenge. “With this broadcast, you have to go with the flow,” Pro Football Hall of Famer Rod Woodson of the NFL Network said. “There is no strategy. You just have fun, and call it how you see it.”

The NFL prohibited anyone from publishing the final count, but the game was high scoring. The game, as well as musical performances by the band Third Eye Blind and singer Jesse McCartney, will be broadcast on NFL Network, ESPN2, VH-1 and SPIKE in the days leading up to the Aug. 14 release of Madden NFL ’10.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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