It’s a rookie year all over again for Chris Pazan. The former Brother Rice and University of Illinois quarterback from 2002 to 2006 has found his way back to the football field as the quarterback for the Chicago Enforcers, the football team fielded by the Chicago Police Department.
“This experience has been great,” Pazan said. “It’s a second chance to come out and play football. Everything goes toward charity, yet we get to live the dream again, and get to play football.”
On Saturday, the National Public Safety Football League’s opening day will also be a homecoming for Pazan as he and the team kickoff at 1 p.m. at Brother Rice against the Cleveland Warriors, the Enforcers’ oldest rival.
Pazan is also a rookie Chicago police officer who entered the police academy after coaching stops at the University of Illinois and St. Joseph’s College, and a teaching stint at Hillcrest High School in Country Club Hills.
“I just felt as if I wanted something more; to do something more and to serve in a different capacity,” he said.
His homeroom teacher at the police academy heard about his background and suggested he come out to play with the Enforcers.
“And now I love it. I love the camaraderie among all the guys. I missed that from my playing and coaching days. We have such a family atmosphere among the team. Yet, we have a chance to play, have some fun and it’s all for a good cause,” said Pazan, who now serves in the Englewood neighborhood.
The 60-man roster is entering its 11th season. The National Public Safety Football League is made up of 21 teams from all over the country which play by NCAA rules. “This is full-contact, all-out football, and we have some pretty hard-hitting games,” said Tim Kucinski, team president and defensive coordinator. “We had a couple of injuries last year. But the guys take those risks. But you can get hurt on the job or even at home. These are guys who are ready to risk it to raise money for charities.”
The majority of the Enforcers are sworn Chicago police officers. However, when hiring at CPD declined, the team allowed in other full-time sworn officers from other jurisdictions about three years ago.
“We were getting to be a pretty old team. Then, our average age was 35. Now, it is about 30,” Kucinski said.
Today, officers from the Cook County Sheriff’s Department, the Illinois Department of Corrections, and the police departments of Riverside, Forest Park, and McCook are represented on the team.
Last year, the team had a 4-1 record. While the fun happens on the field, the main focus of the team and the league is charity, Kucinski said
“The guys love playing football,” he said. “Whether they played in high school or college, they always think they can do more and want to do more. So they come out and have fun, and raise money for charities.”
All money raised through fundraisers, ticket sales, an ad book and raffles are distributed among the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation, the Chicago Police Gold Star Families, Mercy Home for Boys and Girls and the Chicago Police Chaplains Ministry.
“We have made a lot of individual contributions to officers who were injured or to the families of officers who died,” Kucinski said. “We take our fundraising very seriously.”
The team was formed 11 years ago by John Curry, Jim Ade, and Jim Sherlock. The three saw what the New York Police Department had done with their football team and wanted to model the same thing in Chicago. Curry recruited Kucinski, who needed little coaxing.
“I met up with him at a bar, said I want to start a police football team and he immediately said, ‘I’m in.’ I said I haven’t even told you the details, and he said, ‘I don’t care. I’m in,'” Curry recalled.
The first couple of years were lean, Curry said, but the idea caught on.
“People started showing up to watch — wives and girlfriends — and it just became a culmination of everyone’s effort. We started off small and morphed into this idea where we now have given more than $120,000 to charities over the years,” Curry said.
The team pays for all equipment, but members have to fund-raise and take on the expense of one away game trip.
After opening day, the team will travel to Ohio to take on the Columbus Marauders on April 23. The team will host the Orange County Lawmen from California at Brother Rice on April 30 in what is called the “Gold Star Game” which honors members of CPD who paid the ultimate sacrifice. On May 21, the team will face the NPSFL defending champion Charlotte Cobras in North Carolina.
Thousands are expected for the big match-up between the Chicago Enforcers and the Chicago Blaze, a team of firefighters, on June 5 at Brother Rice at the “First Responders Memorial Game.”
Bobby Slechter, formerly of Evergreen Park who now serves on the Northwest Side, has been involved with the team since its inception and is one of four players who have stuck it out since 2006.
“This keeps me young,” laughed Slechter, a running back for the team. “I like going to practice and meeting up with the other players. I will do it as long as I can stand it. These are my guys.”
Patricia Trebe is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.