Playground Football / by Maxwell Young

"Whatever you think about your little back-door tournaments where you just tag 'em, no.  This is damn near tackle without equipment."  ~ O.G. Pamz, Carver Mobb

 Rice Cakes Turkey Bowl 6 Champions, photo by Alex Young

Rice Cakes Turkey Bowl 6 Champions, photo by Alex Young

Being from Western Pennsylvania, football runs through my veins.  From my earliest memories of making game-winning interceptions against an older third-grade class on the playdeck of my elementary school to experiencing two Super Bowl victories by my six-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, football has always gotten my adrenaline pumping.

Naturally, a lot of people feel this way.  The NFL virtually owns a day of the week and on every fourth Thursday in November, friends and families gather to compete in their annual Turkey Bowls.  Things are different though, for the participants of the Street Bowl Championship.

Football is not always an outlet for people who live in the inner-city, especially in New York. There are basketball courts in practically every park in practically every neighborhood within the boroughs, but the Concrete Jungle doesn't offer many locations for the gridiron.  The lack of grass to play pick-up football was just a slight inconvenience for the teams of the street football leagues that emerged from the Bronx in the 1970s.  In the infancy of this pick-up phenomenon, teams from bordering projects would gather to play on concrete with elbow-pads while having no regard for their opponent's safety let alone their own.  

It was NFL Street in real-life.

Competition and intense rivalry brewing throughout the New York City squads coupled with the crack era led these football leagues to take on a whole new life of their own.  Much like any other game played in the streets--basketball, dice, chess in the park--games where teams played for pride and street-cred turned into games of money and betting.  Now, earnings between $70k and $100k for a full year's worth of playground football is enough to have every inner-city neighborhood forming a team.

After fifty plus years of wins, losses, and squabbling, organizers have decided to settle the debate of New York's best football team on the field.  In Vice Sports' six part video series, Kings of the Underground, the drama of these storied pick-up games unfold as the best eight teams in New York gather to play in the Street Bowl Championship.  The series will follow these teams on their two-day journey to immortality and $16k cash prize. Check out episode one below, and be sure to return as more of the videos are released. 

P.S. If you're interested in seeing how the games panned out, YouTube user, Don Holman, recorded several hours of game footage here