You know the sport everybody else in the world calls "football" has a World Cup, but so does the sport we call "football." The International Federation of American Football (IFAF) will hold its World Championship in Canton, Ohio, from July 9-18. A squad of American players will try to take the gold medal, proving America is still the best at its most popular sport.
It's tough assembling a roster. The game is gaining popularity across the globe, and America's best -- NFL and Division I players -- aren't available to play. In 2007, the host nation Japan pushed America to double OT in the gold medal game. But Team USA won that tournament, and won in Austria in 2011, and now they're looking for a three-peat.
Former Boise State and Colorado coach Dan Hawkins is the head coach of this year's squad. We asked him about why he got involved, what he's looking forward to, and how he assembled a roster worthy of representing the United States.
What goes into selecting Team USA?
It's a little bit like recruiting in college. I certainly call a lot of players that I know, call a lot of coaches that I know, call places and see if their guys might fit in. I talk to a lot of NFL scouts and NFL coaches, a number of the guys that we have are guys that just missed on NFL teams or been in and out of NFL teams and rosters. A number of the guys are playing internationally, so we're scouting the international scene and seeing which Americans are playing over there. Some are out in Canadian leagues, some are out in arena leagues. We wait until the draft and free-agent signing period gets over, because there's a number of players that if they don't have an opportunity to play professionally will play in this.
What's your pitch to come play for USA Football?
I think it's a chance again to play football. Some guys want to get in film, some guys want to keep their career alive. Part of it is playing for the United States. It's a chance to play for a gold medal in football, and sort of the Olympics of football, which is a unique opportunity. Primarily, it's just keep your career alive, to play for the United States, to support football internationally, to be a good ambassador. You make connections around the globe, and who knows where that may lead where there's football opportunities or just friendships. We're looking for a well-rounded guy that wants a well-rounded experience.
What do you expect from the teams you're going up against?
I think it's very competitive. Japan has won this thing, Australia, they have a ton of great players and are looking to improve. Football [around the globe] is a lot better than most people think. Those coaches travel over here and have contacts over here. A lot of those teams have American coaches, so it should be a good showcase for those countries and the football played there.
Why did you get involved with USA Football? How did you decide to take on the responsibility of being the head coach of the USA's national football team?
I had seen the team play in Austria [in the 2011 World Championship] in Innsbruck. I went to the championship game. My son was on that team. I was watching football in Sweden where he was playing. He and I went down to Australia last year and coached their junior national team. I've had former coaches who have coached internationally, I've got a lot of ex-players who have played internationally, and they love it. It's a combination of getting back to the game, helping support football internationally, which is actually growing, and big in many spots.
What did your son tell you about his experience playing?
He loved it. He thought all the guys on the team were great. They all really loved to play. The guys that were playing weren't just football players -- they were ambassadors for the United States, ambassadors for football. You're looking for a well-rounded person. Cody had a blast. He loved every second of it. When we went to the game in Innsbruck, they had huge tailgaters, a lot of people running around, a lot of excitement, a pretty big stadium, and a pretty good crowd!
Do you find out what types of guys you have, and then go from there? Or do you pick players with a certain strategy and playing style in mind?
A little bit of both. You need to do things that your quarterbacks are familiar with. As we figure out our roster, we solicit good ideas and things they like and things they're comfortable with. Whoever ends up being the primary quarterback will have a huge say in that, because it starts with the kind of players that you get. [Editor's note: the team's three quarterbacks are former Army QB Trent Steelman, former Tennessee-Martin QB Dylan Favre -- yes, Brett's nephew -- and former Mt. Union QB Kevin Burke.]
If you go into an American football competition and you're Team USA, you're expected to win, because you're the country that has the most experience, the most infrastructure. How do you expect to handle being the team everyone's gunning for?
I don't care what level of football you play, you're always just trying to play your best, put your best foot forward and that'll be the message. Practice great, play great, give a great effort, do the things football teams do. That'll be the message. At the end of the day, if you get the gold medal, that's great. But we're just going to worry about being good, being fundamental football players, taking care of the things that they can take care of.
Are you looking forward to coaching again?
I love the whole thing. I've got some guys coming from other teams around the globe that I know, and it'll be good to see those people, good to connect with the international coaches, with the players, being part of that community and support of IFAF and the international game. I love to coach. I still want to coach. This is an opportunity to put a good practice together, be around a bunch of guys and go out and compete. That's always great.