“I’m losing my voice from all the screaming,” Huddleston said Sunday morning, a few hours before the parade stepped off in Uoptown.
Huddleston, a former Chicagoan now living in Denver, had plenty to shout about during what turned into a homecoming weekend to remember.
He’s a captain for the Denver Summit I flag football team, which beat the three-time defending champion Phoenix Hellraisers 33-32 Saturday afternoon at Montrose Fields to win Pride Bowl V.
It was a stunning finish to the biggest Pride Bowl ever, in more ways than one. Denver had never advanced to “A” bracket play — the highest level of competition — in any tournament it had played, let alone won a championship.
“We have talented guys,” Huddleston said. “We just haven’t been able to push it forward.”
And even the Summit players weren’t sure how far they’d be able to go once they found out their title-game opponent. “When they won (in the semifinals), it was ‘Shit, now we have to play them.’”
And it didn’t look good for Summit, which found itself down by a touchdown with time running out. But the Summit’s two-minute offense — or in this case, 45-second offense — was up to the challenge.
Denver quarterback Jon Bryson hit receiver Joe Patton with the game-tying touchdown pass as time ran out and Bryson then threw the decisive conversion pass to Joe Cooper to give Denver the impriobable victory.
“My nerves can’t take a game like this,” Huddleston said.
But for now, the Summit sits atop the gay flag football world after winning the title that is arguably second in prestige only to the Gay Bowl. That event, coincidentally, will be held in Denver Sept. 21-23.
The story of gay flag football’s rise in Denver is just as remarkable as that of the Summit’s success over the weekend.
Huddleston had played in Chicago for seven years before moving to Denver four years ago. The sport was just taking hold there then with loosely-organized pickup games.
Now there is a 20-team league that is so popular, registration is open for just a few hours before all the spots are claimed.
“I think it’s become a hub of the gay community,” Huddleston said.
The same seems to be true of Pride Bowl, which has doubled in size from 12 to 24 teams since its inception in 2008.
“I always liked Chicago’s league,” Huddleston said. “It was competitive, it was well-run.”
That’s why he not only pushed to get Denver into Pride Bowl, he wound up getting three teams from his current hometown into this year’s tournament.
Huddleston was hardly the only one happy with how Pride Bowl V turned out.
“I had very few fires to put out,” tournament director Brian Kupersmit said. “It was arguably the best it’s been in five years.”
Assuming additional fields can be secured in 2013, expect Pride Bowl to be even bigger in 2013.
“Our plan is to continue to grow and expand the tournament,” Kupersmit said.
Notes: The Cleveland Rockers beat the Denver Summit II 19-7 for the “B” Division title. … The Chicago Wreckers reached the “A” Division semifinals before falling 25-21 to the Hellraisers. Another local team, the Mary’s Attic Assault, beat the Toronto Mounties 26-6 for 17th place.
Photo: Courtesy Brian Kupersmit.