Most fall football players are decked out in full pads and a helmet. But on Saturday at Rogers Park in Brighton, Mark Mitchell preferred a shiny gold suit.
The 38-year-old former college football player, who played for Dean and Mount Ida colleges, was in his fourth year with Three Piece Suit Football. The annual charity event has been held every October in Boston since 2014 after starting in Atlanta. And, as the name suggests, all of the players were dressed in formal wear that went through the bell of full-contact football.
Mitchell, who played quarterback for the red team (the other team was aptly called the blue team), had unique insight into how difficult it was to throw the ball in an outfit that was more club-appropriate than the grill on what turned out to be an abnormally hot day.
“Especially in that metallic suit, it’s really hot. It’s like an oven, man. It’s really hot,” Mitchell said, adding that the heat wasn’t the only challenge. “Throwing a soccer ball in a suit, because you can’t get full range of motion in your arm…that’s probably the hardest part.”
It was a scene unlike most others in the history of the sport. But for those involved, there was good reason to put their bodies at risk while dressed in their Sunday worst.
The purpose of the event was to raise funds for Operation Delta Dog, a New Hampshire-based nonprofit that trains rescue dogs to be service animals for veterans with stress disorder. trauma, traumatic brain injury or military sexual trauma.
Cameron Miller, who grew up in Georgia, brought three-piece football to Boston as he completed his doctoral program in psychology and worked at veterans hospitals in Jamaica Plain and Brockton. While Miller was here, his Boston friends saw what the Atlanta chapter of Three Piece Suit Football had become since the start of 2009, and they wanted to start a local branch.
Victor Morency, one of Miller’s friends, lived throughout the Boston area and helped get Boston’s game off the ground. At least 200 people gathered in the park on Saturday to watch the game – something that would have seemed like a long shot when Three Piece Suit Football came to town in 2014.
“I mean, when we started, there were maybe five to six people, and they’re just our closest friends,” Morency said. “I don’t know the exact numbers for this year, but I think it’s the most people we’ve ever had and also consistent attendance, which is good too. Like, we still have people who register, like, in the fourth quarter, which never happened.
The event, unsurprisingly, had a carnival atmosphere with some quirky outfits, ranging from a leopard print outfit to a more classic prom look. On the sidelines, Morency wore an Eddie Murphy-esque McDowell uniform in “Coming to America.” Then there was the game’s mascot, Ronnie Peaches, who wowed the crowd with a custom fishing jacket, hat, and rod.
Players make a tackle during the football game in three-piece suits at Rogers Park
The blue team line up to play during Saturday’s three-piece suit football match at Brighton.
Ronald Gupton, better known as Ronnie Peaches, stands at the three-piece football game.
Juno sits at the Three Piece Suit football match in Brighton. Juno is the service animal of Heather Kosakowski, who served five years in the Marine Corps.
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The game itself was just as bizarre as the outfits. Seven players from each side battled it out on a 70-yard field as two hosts made commentary that doubled as friendly heckling from the touchline. Although there were officials, the contest was more like a backyard football game, with lots of scrambling by quarterbacks in the backfield looking for receivers to open up and numerous fumbles. .
Emily Mangiaratti, who plays roller derby and played her first match in a three-piece suit on Saturday, is a dog trainer with Operation Delta Dog. Mangiaratti said she enjoyed the physical nature of the game.
“It’s intense,” she said. “These guys really roll here, we really play real football, which is great, because I don’t know the rules of football very well, but I pick up on it quickly.”
Mangiaratti said the event brought more attention to what Operation Delta Dog does.
And the results speak for themselves: Founder Miller said he raised approximately $60,000 for Operation Delta Dog over the past seven years through the Boston event.
Heather Kosakowski, who served five years in the Marine Corps and suffers from PTSD, directly benefits from this partnership. She recently graduated from Operation Delta Dog with her service animal Juno, a 3-year-old black lab mix rescue from Alabama. They were both at the game on Saturday. Kosakowski said it was humbling to see the crowd.
“Like, there were a lot of years where I just felt lonely and isolated and no one understood or cared,” Kosakowski said. “But through Operation Delta Dog and events like this, I can see that there’s a whole world of people who, even though they can’t really relate, really care. And so that, I don’t know, gives me chills. It’s really cool that there are so many people with so much heart.
At the end of the day, there wasn’t a suit on the field that wasn’t torn, stained or bloodied. The blue team defeated the red team 31-20 in what was described as one of the most competitive matches in the history of the event. But afterwards, the two teams came together to shake hands and stand together in midfield, having accomplished so much more than just a game of bizarro football.