Panthers take it !!!


Eric Marty knows. You won’t see those words printed on a -Tshirt,

quarterback makes one himself, but he does know what goes on in American football, European style. Having twice lost to the Parma Panthers in the Italian Super Bowl (2011 as a member of the Bologna Warriors, 2012 as a Catania Elephants), he knows what is at the root of the Panthers’ success: as he tweeted in the aftermath of Parma’s 51-28 win over the Milano Seamen in Super Bowl XXXIII on Saturday, which gave the defending champions their fourth consecutive title: Bingo. The hallmark of a truly great organization, indeed. Andrew Papoccia has now coached the Panthers to four titles in seven years, helping them turn around the pathetic perception that they could not win the Big One (how does that reputation look now?), after heartbreaking Super Bowl losses in 2006 and 2007 to powerhouse Bergamo Lions.

He did it by sticking to his principles and minimizing the effect of the 2011 transition from an American to an Italian quarterback, then 20-year old Tommaso Monardi. When the Panthers president, Ivano Francesco Tira, made that dramatic decision, few were willing to give him credit: many insiders believed he made that change because he felt he could afford to go through a transitional period once he’d won a title at last in 2010 with Joe Craddock under center; in fact, Tira was merely looking to improve his team, which duly happened. Monardi was still eligible to play for the youth team at the time, but barely skipped a beat in his first season as a starter and now has three Super Bowl titles in as many years, although the Mvp award has always eluded him as each time a teammate seemed to do something more outrageous and striking: it was the Alessandro Malpeli-Avalli/Ryan Christian running back combo stealing the limelight away from the soft-spoken but hard-willed Monardi this time, with a dominating rushing performance owed in part to the Panthers great offensive line. Malpeli Avalli, himself only 22, rushed for 156 yards in 20 carriers – finishing with 247 all-purpose yards – while his teammate, and former TCU utility man, had 171 in 16. Monardi’s 10 touchdown passes, all of them pinpoint strikes to Tommaso Finadri (2), Jared Karstetter and Christian, almost became an afterthought in the light of Parma’s 331 total rushing yards, which helped them establish a 26:47 to 21:13 possession margin, although most of it came as they ran out the clock in the second half.

The tone for the game was set on the second play from scrimmage: having elected to go long on first down, only for Seaman qb Blake Bolles’ target to slip and fall before he even had a chance to shift gears, they chose a running play next, but ball carrier Flavio Piccinni, who replaced the injured Danilo Bonaparte, was stripped of the pigskin by Karstetter and the ball was recovered by the Panthers’ Matteo Reverberi on the Seamen 29. Monardi found Finadri from 11 yards out for the opening td, and while the Milan side struck back immediately on a 31-yard pass from Bolles to Stefano Di Tunisi, the Seamen always looked to be on the back foot, and one big play away from breaking down.

Monardi threw another td pass – a 51-yarder this time – to Finadri only 2′ later, and after the ball changed possession on consecutive interceptions, the latter giving the Seamen a first down on their own 6-yard line, Bolles was tackled in the end zone by Simone Bernardoni – the 2013 IFL Mvp as a defensive lineman this season – for a safety . Monardi found Christian on a fade route from 13 yards out to make it 23-7 at the end of the first quarter. The Seamen kept battling and scored on a 51-yard pass from Bolles to Lorenzo Vezzoli who made it 23-13 (the 1-point try was blocked) but it took the Panthers all of two plays, runs of 34 yards by Christian and 41 by Malpeli Avalli, to increase their lead to 30-13. Another 51-yard pass from Bolles to Di Tunisi, after a rare mistake by the excellent Parma special team on a punt gave the Seamen a first down at midfield, made it 30-20 3’02” before halftime, but the Seamen let the chance to get some rest with only a 10-point deficit slip away by allowing the Panthers to go 60 yards in 2’21”, Monardi scoring a rare td on a 5-yard scramble for a 37-20 halftime lead. When Parma took the second half kickoff to their own 32 yard line then had a time-consuming 68-yard drive capped by a 11-yard Monardi-Karstetter pass, making it 44-20, it was clear to everyone inside the stadium, and those watching at home on Eurosport, that as far as the outcome, the game was over.

The Panthers increased their lead to 31 (51-20) on another td run, this time a Christian 54-yarder, and the Seamen only put points on the board on a 36-yard catch and run by Jeff Souder with 3’33” to go, before the Panthers ran out the time, while missing the unfortunate Karstetter, who had broken his forearm while making a tackle early in the final quarter.

It was title number four for the Panthers, and that old sage Marty tweeted a few hours later, “Italians better figure it out and find a team that can knock them off the throne”: judging by their celebrations, Parma will not rest on their laurels and stop working, feeling they’re so much better than anyone else they will not need to work harder than ever.

As for the Seamen, they did not expect to be in the Super Bowl – beautifully organized in all details by the Aquile Ferrara and the local organizing committee – but once they got there, and deservedly so, they went for it. Their defense, which had been the IFL’s worst yard-wise and had allowed 387 and 349 yards to the Panthers in two runaway regular season losses, gave up 494 on the night, frustrated by the opponents’ ability to run the ball and find creases in a backfield in which Shawn Abuhoff, who had been voted the IFL’s best foreign player, was perhaps too worried about Karstetter’s receiving threat to be able to help.

They now go into the long offseason with a better knowledge of themselves and their potential. It’s up to them and their enthusiastic top brass to make sure this was not a one time chance.

Author: Roberto Gotta


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