Calvin Johnson will go down as one of the greatest football players in history who never appeared in a Super Bowl. That unfortunate circumstance has not diminished his star power here in the states, but many probably didn’t realize he was such a star overseas. On Saturday, July 8, Calvin Johnson will deliver the game ball for the Italian Bowl, which was formerly known as the Superbowl Italiano, the championship of the Italian American Football League. The official game ball normally arrives via a paratrooper who chutes in to deliver the ball to the center of the field. It’s hard to upgrade from a paratrooper delivery, but bringing in a Megatron is a great way to top it!
This announcement came from FIDAF, the “Federazione Italiana Di American Football.” This is the NFL of Italy, which started in 2002 and has been growing ever since. The league has several different divisions, but their premier league is their Division I, consisting of 11 teams from 9 cities. Having a star like Calvin Johnson deliver their game ball offers some international recognition for the sport in Italy, and since this directly touched one of the greatest Lions to ever don a pair of cleats I thought it was worth taking a dive into the 2017 season and the upcoming Italian Bowl.
The game will be played between the Milan Rhinos and Milan Seamen, who obviously share a city and are often referred to as “cousins.” This game would be like seeing the Jets and Giants play each other in the big game, but the teams have taken significantly different paths to get to their championship.
The Rhinos have existed since 1984, predating their present league, but actually closed as a club in 1998. They would return a couple years later as a flag football team, working up the ranks until they became a member of Division I in 2007, but it wasn’t until 2012 that they found themselves as a playoff team. The team tanked the next season before going .500 in 2014 and 2015. They thundered into 2016 going undefeated and winning the Italian Bowl against the Bolzano Giants. Their 2017 season saw them once again going undefeated, and they hold the league’s longest current win streak of 24 straight games.
Unlike the Rhinos, the Seamen have been a prolific playoff team for years, losing the Italian Bowl in 2013 before bounding back to defeat their rivals the Parma Panthers in a rematch in 2014. The teams would collide again in 2015 with the Seamen coming out on top, though their cousins the Rhinos would oust them from the playoffs during their 2016 undefeated season. The Seamen lost only two games in 2017, one against their long time rivals the Panthers and the other against their current opponents the Rhinos. The Seamen faced an uphill climb in the playoffs, coming out of halftime against the Panthers in the semifinals down 20-3. They would hold the Panthers scoreless for the entire second half and score 24 points uncontested to win and punch their ticket to the championship.
I had the pleasure of watching the Milano Seamen and their epic comeback victory against the Parma Panthers during my research for this article, and had a lot of fun looking into how the sport we all love is appreciated abroad. Italy isn’t the only other country with their own American Football League, but it’s always interesting seeing the sport in a new light. They even have their own Lions team, with a pretty stellar logo and stylish black and gold uniforms. Our hope as fans, of course, is to see our own Detroit Lions in their own Super Bowl. I think it would be a special kind of poetry if, when that happens, the game ball is delivered not by parachute but by Megatron. Or maybe Megatron by parachute. That would be pretty cool.