Isaiah’s New Flag Football League
Isaiah Kacyvenski still remembers having pre-game butterflies.
Not from seven seasons in the NFL, six of which were spent with the Seattle Seahawks. Not from serving as a game-day captain on the Seahawks squad that played in the franchise’s first Super Bowl in 2006.
Some of the earliest memories of pre-game jitters came from flag football. It was a big deal in Endicott, New York, where the pro football player turned Harvard standout turned entrepreneur first grew fond of the sport.
There was a draft, scores and records posted after games, a league commissioner, postseason tournament and a Super Bowl with a cash prize.
“That’s how serious it was,” Kacyvenski said, reflecting on his childhood moments as a wide receiver and occasional quarterback during his grade-school days.
“From my perspective, any situation, any athletic endeavor, any sport, if you’re getting butterflies before it starts, that’s a serious endeavor,” he said. “I remember getting butterflies before every single game.
“I fell in love, in a really deep way, with the game of football as well. We had a very serious flag football league at my school.”
So of course the retired linebacker is on the board of advisers of the American Flag Football League, a professional organization set to host its inaugural game on June 27 at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, California.
“What this provides is a different way to consume a sport that so many people love,” Kacyvenski said.” It feels like that aspiration idea of ‘I can play. I can see something on TV or through digital media in some way that I can do also. It’s my grasp to reach.'”
The inaugural game in June will feature former NFL players such as Michael Vick, who’s serving as a player and league adviser, and former Seahawks running back Justin Forsett.
After the debut game this year, there will be a nationwide tournament with a cash prize for the champion, featuring eight league-owned franchises comprised of former premiere athletes competing against a host of other teams formed by players through a tryout system, beginning in the summer of 2018.
Each team will have 12-man rosters, with the offense controlling the inflation of the football (it’s worth noting that the AFFL is completely separate from the NFL). Games will be 60-minute, 7-on-7 competitions. The AFFL, founded by Jeffrey Lewis, is the first-ever professional flag football league.
According to the latest numbers from USA Football, 2.2 million kids ages 14 and under play tackle football, while 1.7 million play flag—considerably closer figures than one might expect. For high schoolers, flag participation rose 10.5 percent from 2014 to 2015, a trend that seems likely to continue as concerns about player safety in tackle football endure.
“The AFFL makes professional football more accessible to a wide variety of athletes, not just veterans of tackle football,” Lewis said in a press release. “The league eliminates the traditional physical limitations of tackle football, creating a platform for players who have elite athletic ability and speed, regardless of their size.”
Kacyvenski, whose NFL career ended in 2006, won’t be a participant, instead playing an executive role. He’s still an avid football fan, though. After playing for Seattle from 2000-06, his heart remains in the Emerald City.
His children, Isaiah Jr. and Lily, were born in Seattle. They’re all hardcore Seahawks fans. That hasn’t changed since Kacyvenski played for the team that lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL (and to this day he can’t stand to watch a Steelers game).
He’s still friends with general manager John Schneider and has ties to nearly every part of the organization, from front office personnel to members of the equipment staff. He raised the 12th Man Flag before a game against the Arizona Cardinals in October 2010.
“The Seahawks have been amazing to me and my family,” Kacyvenski said. “It’s been great to watch. I’m always proud to say that I played in Seattle and was a small part of something that started, really, as a winning franchise and a winning team, that really had never experienced it to that extent.”