Quarterbacks in the American Flag Football League Tournament include Vince Young, Michael Vick and Danny Wuerffel.
And then there’s Chris Hughes.
The same Chris Hughes who is coach of the Fairview (Tenn.) High football team.
The same stocky 50-year-old Chris Hughes, who is 5-foot-8 and weighs 215 pounds, is not very mobile and never played football in high school or college.
Yet Hughes has turned out to be one of the best of the bunch in the 7-on-7, NFL-sponsored tournament.
He’s led the Mean Machine, a team comprised of local players, to the final eight, some big earnings and the chance to win $1 million more.
To call the Mean Machine an underdog is an understatement. And Hughes was the reason it was overlooked early on.
“I had to apply three separate times before they finally let us in,” Hughes said. “We were the 127th out of 128 teams they let in because they saw me with no college experience. They were looking for ex-college and pro athletes who run 4.4 and have some recognizable names.”
Hughes was 5-4, 97 pounds when he graduated from Fairview in the 1980s. He played baseball and rode the bench in basketball, but did not play football beyond the eighth grade.
“I always had a love for the game, I just wasn’t big enough,” Hughes said. “That’s why flag kind of fit me.”
In a recent game Hughes completed 27-of-29 passes for 369 yards and five touchdowns.
He started playing flag football in local leagues when he was 20 and has developed into an outstanding quarterback over the last 30 years.
“I see the field real good,” Hughes said. “I’m not the most athletic, but I’ve got those fast guys and I just get it to them in space and let them run. I run scout team and throw against my high school team when we do 7-on-7 drills and I tear them up throwing the ball. They get so frustrated. I tell them, ‘Look guys, when I play flag it’s like this and I’m a really good quarterback. Don’t get frustrated.'”
Telling his players he was a good flag football player didn’t help in the past. They still got flustered when he would pick them apart.
That has changed, however, with the success Hughes has had in the AFFL Tournament and the national attention he has received. He was interviewed recently on the NFL Network by Tony Siragusa.
“They used to say, ‘Flag football — whatever,’ ” Hughes said. “Now, since we’ve played so well in this tournament, I’m getting some respect. I had one say, ‘Coach, you were on my MSN Timeline.’ I don’t know what that means, but apparently my name came up for being a 50-year-old quarterback. I was like, ‘See, I told y’all.'”
Hughes put together the Mean Machine.
He signed up former Denver Bronco Jerodis Williams, who now lives in Nashville, Sancho McDonald from Middle Tennessee State and Jeremy Stephens from Tennessee State along with several other former college players from Cumberland.
In most of the leagues and tournaments Hughes’ teams have played in, there is a straight rush. In the AFFL Tournament there is a two-second delay, which has given the Mean Machine an edge.
“That two-second clock really plays to our advantage because that gives me about four to throw the ball and really fits our style because of me,” Hughes said. “Because my mobility is not the same as my other guys.”
The team already has collected $25,000 for winning the first three rounds. It will play again on July 1 in Pittsburgh in the final eight against Code Red, a team from New York, with $50,000 on the line.
The prize for winning the tournament is $1 million.
The Titans invited Mean Machine to practice Monday in their bubble. The NFL Network came to town to do a feature on Hughes and the team that day.
“It’s just been a lot of fun for me,” Hughes said. “All these guys who are playing with me, they’re like gung-ho serious. But I’m just having a good time. It’s been awesome.”