Team USA took home the first-ever gold medal in men’s flag football at the 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, on Thursday with a victory over Italy. The men’s team went undefeated in the competition, winning a total of six matches that included a quarterfinal victory when the German team was forced to cancel participation due to positive COVID-19 tests.
Both teams scored six touchdowns in the men’s final match, but the ability to convert the point-after-touchdown (PAT) sealed the deal for Team USA. The men’s team won 46-36 and converted five of the six extra point attempts, each for two points. Italy failed to convert any of their five PAT attempts, and an interception thrown late in the fourth quarter sealed Italy’s fate.
“Unbelievable. I’m holding in tears because I really don’t know how to feel,” U.S. quarterback Darrell Doucette told NFL Network’s Stacey Dales after the game.
Doucette threw for four touchdowns and caught a touchdown pass in the game. Three of his touchdown passes went to Bruce Map, while Laderick “Pablo” Smith had a rushing score and threw the touchdown pass caught by Doucette.
All seven opening possessions resulted in touchdowns, with little defense to be seen. The teams were tied 24-24 at the half, despite Italy having scored one more touchdown than their opponent. Team USA had made three successful two-point PATs by halftime.
Team USA established a lead on the first play of the second half with a 45-yard touchdown pass from Doucette to Map and never relinquished the lead through the remainder of the game. Italy had a chance to come back late in the game after going down 38-30.
The only defensive stop came on the ensuing drive when Italy threw an interception. Team USA scored another touchdown on the following drive to push the score to 46-30, a large enough lead to ensure victory.
Both men’s and women’s flag football U.S. teams were pre-qualified for the new event as both are reigning World Champions. The women’s team had more narrow victories in the quarter and semi-final matches, ultimately losing to Mexico in the Gold medal final. Mexico won with a dominant score of 39-6.
The NFL has been working with the International Federation of American Football with the goal of getting flag football recognized by the Olympics committee for inclusion in the 2028 Olympic Games. This was the first year that flag football was included in the World Games, which feature sports not included in the Olympics.
Flag football has grown in popularity in recent years, with numerous high school campuses developing flag football teams. The sport is also gaining traction at the collegiate level as a non-contact alternative to traditional football.
Mexico won the bronze medal in the men’s competition with a victory over Austria. Panama defeated Austria for the bronze in the women’s flag football event. Before the World Games, flag football was administered by IFAF, with USA Football as the national organization identifying players and forming teams.
The World Games will continue through July 17. The Games were originally scheduled for 2021 but were postponed when the 2020 Olympic Games were pushed off to 2021 due to COVID-19.