Under bright lights at Adelphi University on Monday night, a group of young men in green jerseys huddled on a turf field moments before their most important matchup of the season.
Except for one, a tall teen who was a few yards away from the group, leaning over the fence to talk with the small crowd in the stands.
“Peter!” a coach yelled to him.
“I’m talking to my fans,” Peter Calabro answered as he jogged back to the group. “I’m Eli Manning over here!”
That was even before Calabro, 19, of Westbury, scored two touchdowns for his team in a turning point for the Nassau Knights, Nassau County Police Activity League’s special-needs flag football team.
The team of 14- to 28-year-olds with varying disabilities played its only real game of the season against a group of Kappa Sigma fraternity brothers from Adelphi who agreed to host the team. Ordinarily, the Knights split into two groups and learn the game by playing each other.
“There aren’t any other teams like ours,” said Harvey Pollack, one of the team’s coaches. “They don’t have any other teams to play. This is like the Super Bowl.”
Robert Pope, of North Merrick, was on the sidelines watching his son, Matt, who has Down syndrome, play. Pope said the progression of all the players has been incredible, athletically and socially.
“It took a long time to get him to where he could be in with a crowd,” Pope said of his son. “He has no problem whatsoever today interacting with everyone else. This has done wonders; everybody gains from this program.”
After nearly two hours of play, the Knights scored in the final minute to win 26-25.
“We lost by one point,” said Alec Wishely, president of the Kappa Sigma fraternity. “But we showed up, we had a great time, and we’d do it again.”
Pollack said the win was a great morale booster, but his team was just there for the experience.
“When I was a kid and I wanted to play football, I’d just go out to the street for a pickup game,” he said. “These boys can’t do that. This is just a great night for them.”