AS THE EAGLES took the field at the Linc for pre-game warm-ups against the Buffalo Bills yesterday, athletes from another Philly team were heading to their homes for a well-deserved rest.
On Saturday, a team of 11- to 15-year-olds fielded by East Germantown's Northwest Raiders took home the 2015 Pop Warner National Super Bowl Championship in the Midget category, swamping Baltimore's Old Town Gators, 34-19, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Fla.
The team, which shares nine players and a field with Imhotep Institute Charter High School, is now a back-to-back champ after winning it all at the ESPN complex near Walt Disney World last year.
The Raiders, accustomed to holding the lead in games, rallied after a frustrating first quarter in which the Gators scored touchdowns on two fumbles, helping them take a 19-0 lead.
"I told the kids, 'We've got to keep our composure,' " said head coach Duane Watson, an officer in the Philadelphia Police Narcotics Unit who was a running back at Roman Catholic High School in the early 1980s.
By halftime, the Raiders were down by only 19-14, and by the final whistle they had scored 34 unanswered points to capture the trophy and do Philly proud. A crowd of parents also had made the 1,015-mile trek from the Raiders' home field to the Orlando sports complex.
"Once we got that first touchdown, we just kept the momentum going," Watson said. The kids "listened, didn't get frustrated about what was happening, and stayed on course with what we were trying to do."
The team stayed in Florida for only a few hours afterward, arriving in Philly around 8:30 a.m. yesterday after an 18-hour bus ride with the Pop Warner Division I trophy.
Once they entered Philadelphia, a police escort took them back to the team's headquarters at the Lonnie Young Recreation Center, on Chelten Avenue near Ardleigh Street, where the players parted ways to take naps and celebrate with relatives.
"It's a good feeling, to say the least," Watson said.
In 20 years - 16 as head coach - Watson has won five local championships, four regionals and now two nationals for the team, founded in 1971 by a group of football-savvy Philly cops.
He's watched the team grow into a feeder program for Division I college football programs too, with former Raiders now playing for schools including Arizona, Utah State and Temple.
Raiders safety and Imhotep student Isheem Young is already being scouted by Wisconsin and Temple, according to scout.com. He scored four touchdowns in the championship win last year.
"This is about more than football, though," Watson said. "It's about giving back to those kids, and teaching them life skills . . . they're good students as well as athletes."
"And I'm seeing the end result of these kids getting scholarships to colleges."