For half a century, a group of men would meet every Sunday on a field in North Miami Beach to play football.
They came from all backgrounds, races and religions — but right at kickoff, they were teammates, united by the desire to play a good game of football.
“When we stepped in the huddle, it didn’t matter who we were,” said Kraig Geiger, 49, who began playing the game when he was about 13 after watching from the sidelines for most of his childhood.
This year marked the end of the Geiger Games. For the first time since 1962, the pickup games didn’t start with the NFL season.
“This is the first year of my life I am not waking up every Sunday morning going to the game,” said Geiger, 49. “It’s been 11 or 12 Sundays in a row that I am not going to the field.”
This was not a low-key game of football — these guys gave it their all on the field. Broken bones, scrapes and bruises were just a part of the game.
“There were no Mississippis, the ball snaps, and it’s full blocking,” Geiger said. “It’s a rough game. And it’s not for the meek of heart. You are going to fall down, you’re going to get hurt, you’re going to break bones sooner or later.”
But even though the game could leave players somewhat bruised and broken, bonds that were created on the field have lasted.
“It’s a brotherhood, it’s a family. We created a small community, and we created such a brotherhood that we created a family and everyone knew us,” said Jeremy Otmezguine, 41, of Aventura, who had played for two decades. “That was what I loved about it. When we were playing, we gelled together, we melted together.”
Geiger’s father, Paul Geiger, began the game in North Miami Beach after the avid football player convinced the group of men he would play weekend games of softball and switch to football in the fall.
Ever since, dozens of men would show up every Sunday to play in what would later be dubbed the Geiger Game.
Over the years, they played at Allen Park, John F. Kennedy Middle School and North Miami Beach Senior High School, where the final game was played.
The seasons ran in conjunction with the regular NFL season — only these guys didn’t get a bye week.
“We would physically have to rest for 25 Sundays in a row ’cause we were all so beaten to death,” said Geiger, adding that they even played a Super Bowl-type game, called the Geiger Bowl, and a Pro Bowl-type game at the end of every season.
“Everyone had their positions set,” said Otmezguine, who played left guard. “It was terminus — it created a balance of a sort of fantasy where I could get away from everything and forget about my whole week, or how bad my whole week was and let it out every Sunday. I loved it.”
Alan Fein and Geiger were full-time quarterbacks and would start each game off by picking their teams.
Anyone was welcome to play, but to remain in the game, a player was required to have the right stuff and regulars to the game had to know their roles.
“After so many years, it became a very competitive game because of all of the athletes in the game. The game was so well organized — the continuity of the game made it so special because it was so well organized, it felt like you were playing in a real pro football game,” said Geiger.
While it was a pickup game, there were rules: Being on time was a must, and everyone had to remain respectful on the field.
Racial slurs were not allowed on the field, and when they were used, Geiger would make it a point to call people out for it.
They played their last game in February.
Now that the game is over, the players still think back to their time on the field and miss it.
“It came at a part of my life [in which] I would organize my whole schedule around this game,” said Otmezguine. “When I get back on the field now, I can remember every play, every touchdown, it’s like a film that comes back to life.”
He added that he understands why the game ended — it changed.
“A lot of people moved away, life progressed,” said Otmezguine. “I was hoping it would never end, but we knew one day it was going to end.”
Fein echoes those feelings, saying that his Sundays are not the same without playing in the game.
“I miss hanging out with those guys. I can still picture it when I am in bed,” said Fein, 49, of Davie, who started in the game at 15 years old.
He said the thought of making a good play, the smell of the field and the feeling of playing in the game are still with him.
“I bet in the whole country there has never been a pickup football game that has lasted 50 years,” Fein said. “Can we go back in time?”