Football-playing cops relive gridiron dreams

They're not as well known as "da Bears," but members of the Chicago football team known as "The Enforcers" are everywhere.

It is possible to run into running back Chris Ware or defensive linemen Alfonse Dubose almost anywhere across the city.

Like their teammates, Ware and Dubose are Chicago police officers.

Chicago Enforcers Practice April 15th at Chicago Indoor Soccer / Photo by Sarah Rivers

And if officer John Smith has a slight limp to his step, it's not because of an injury sustained in the line of duty. Smith sprained his ankle playing running back at the Enforcers season opener.

Although Smith had to watch Tuesday's practice from the sidelines, he insists he'll be "one hundred percent" by the team's next game against the Phoenix Thunder.

The Enforcers play in the National Public Safety Football League, a 20-team league with clubs around the country made up of law enforcement members and fire fighters. The goal of the NPSFL is to raise money for various charities.

The team began a five-game season April 5, losing to the Cleveland Warriors.

The Enforcers' charities include the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation, The Mercy Home for Boys and Girls and Gold Star Families, which raises money for the families of officers killed in the line of duty.

Offensive Linemen Andrew Napolitano / Photo by Sarah Rivers

The Enforcers raise money through ticket sales, charitable donations, advertisements and player fees.

Unlike the highly-compensated members of the NFL, these players have to pay to play. For a rookie, the fee is $500. All the profits go to charity.

According to head coach Sgt. Jim Ade, who is also an assistant coach for the Brother Rice High School Crusaders, the idea for a football team came from watching an ESPN broadcast of the New York City police and fire department teams in 2002.

It took four years of organization and planning before the first mini-camp was held in 2006 and the Enforcers officially joined the NPSFL.

"We're just a bunch of guys who love the game of football," Ade says.

Special Functions officer Fred Coffey says playing with the Enforcers gives him "one last chance to play contact football."

Tight End Dave Blyskal / Photo by Sarah Rivers

"Big Coffey," as he's known to his teammates, played offensive tackle in college for the NCAA Division 1-AA Western Illinois Bulldogs.  Since joining the Enforcers he's been shifted to defensive tackle.

"It's strange to think, twenty years ago I used to be in South Town every Sunday," Coffey says, recalling his high school football practices, "and now here I am."

Team captain Jemel King, also a Western Illinois graduate, says he jumped at the chance to play.

"I always had the dream of getting one last call where my coach tells me I have one more year of eligibility and he wants me back on the team."

The call never came, but when he learned of the Enforcers, King became one of the original players.

A Chicago Enforcer rests during practice / Photo by Sarah Rivers

Not everyone on the team has played organized football before.

Vince Burch, the Enforcer's seemingly ageless 50-year-old defensive end, never played football before joining the team.

"It's great…I'm still learning new things about the game," Burch says.

As anyone who has played football knows, it's not all fun. There is the grind of practice, and the always-present threat of getting hurt.

King says his experience has been both "a dream and nightmare."

He loves being able to play football into his 30s with a group of men he describes as brothers. But he's also suffered an acute hip fracture, dislocated finger and a fractured rib.

"I probably only have one more year after this one, then I might join the coaching staff," he says.

The Enforcers' next game is at 1p.m. May 4 at St. Rita High School at  7740 S. Western Ave., against the San Diego Enforcers.