WASHINGTON — It’s never just a game, no matter the level of the competition.
The playmaking abilities fall somewhere between Pop Warner and junior varsity at the Congressional Football Game, a two-hand touch contest (because flag football proved to be too violent) between lawmakers and the Capitol Police. The NFL this is not — although a few retired pros do bolster the representatives’ ranks.
But sports don’t need to be played at the highest level to still have meaning, or for emotions to run high.
That’ll be especially true at this year’s charity game, following the assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6, which injured at least 134 police officers and killed one, Brian Sicknick, and another attack April 2, which killed Officer William "Billy" Evans. The game raises money for three charities, including the Capitol Police Memorial Fund.
“You bring in what the Capitol Police did for all of us who were in the chamber on Jan. 6, and what we saw they did outside the chamber and on the Capitol grounds — it is going to be a very special event,” said Rep. Rodney Davis, an Illinois Republican and members’ team co-captain, who, like everyone interviewed for this story, spoke to CQ Roll Call before the April 2 incident.
The game has always had a commemorative quality to it, said Jim Davis (no relation), a retired Capitol Police officer who has played in every game and now helps organize it. The matchup began after the on-duty deaths of Officer Jacob “J.J.” Chestnut and Detective John Gibson in 1998. Davis had worked with Chestnut until transferring to the canine unit just before those shootings.
“For me, the game every single year has great significance,” he said. “This year, for the younger guys that are playing, they’re probably going to have a greater understanding of the meaning behind the game, because it’s something that until you’ve gone through that, you don’t really understand.”
The 1998 shootings were the first fatal attacks on Capitol Police officers, and the last until this year.
It took a few years to get the game going before the first kickoff in 2004. I asked Jim Davis if part of the delay was making sure injuring a congressman isn’t a fireable offense for Capitol Police.
“The first game, trust me, if that was the case, there would have been a couple of us fired because [Rep. Bill] Shuster got half of the ear ripped off the first game,” he said. “There [were] a couple of guys that had pretty serious injuries — a torn ACL and whatnot.”