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Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Updated: January 29, 8:55 PM ET
Game 1: International incident

By Carl Ehrlich
Special to ESPNBoston.com

Editor's note: Carl Ehrlich, who was the captain of the 2009 Harvard football team, is in Spain to play football. He'll chronicle his experiences on and off the field for ESPNBoston.com. Today we learn about his first game with the Valencia Firebats.

Que es expulsado? Que es expulsado?!

With three minutes left and the Badalona Dracs driving to cut the Firebats' 14-0 lead, play has been completely stopped and every person in the stadium (all 200 of them) is yelling at me. I have no idea what they're saying.

Estas expulsado! Estas expulsado!

The referees are yelling this angrily, the opposing team is yelling it mockingly and my own teammates are yelling it as if the language barrier can be broken with volume alone. Everyone in the stadium is staring at me and waiting for a reaction.

I, meanwhile, am waiting for an interpreter.

After a few moments of this, Jason Brisbane, our British middle linebacker (and defensive coordinator) runs up and does some quick translating.

Ejected. Expulsado means ejected.

Before the game, Jason warned me about Spanish referees' "quick hook," as they say in baseball, but now I was learning firsthand. Jason, incidentally, also was ejected from his first game. The referee told him that he was ejected for hitting with "bad intentions." Whatever that means.

In all fairness, I was in the wrong, but I figured I would pick up a penalty and live to see another play. That play, it turns out, will be in a month. An ejection carries with it a one-game suspension, and after next week's contest, we have three consecutive weeks off.

Three days into my trip and I was already serving a suspension. Como se dice "paid vacation"?

The play in question was supposed to be a quick, second-and-long screen to a Dracs wide receiver. Instead of heading to the sideline to pick up the first down, the receiver, who probably was 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, decided to cut back inside and weave his way through traffic. But as any receiver will tell you, cutting across the middle of the field can be a dangerous endeavor. This was no exception.

As a defensive lineman, I salivate just thinking about receivers cutting back across the field. With me standing half a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier than said receiver, the physics were not on his side. To avoid being on the wrong end of this physiological mismatch, the receiver cut upfield when he saw me coming. Unable to hit him with my shoulder pads but not wanting to let him gain any more yards, I instinctively stuck out my arm to stop him. Unfortunately (for all parties involved), my arm was about head high on him.

As it turns out, WWE-style clotheslines are not allowed in the LNFA. (Video footage of the play can be found here. I'm No. 60.)

I tried to apologize immediately after the play but ended up making things worse.

In my effort to tell the opposing team that it wasn't my intention to hit the player in the head, I said, "No intiendo" (which means "I don't understand"). This made the other team even angrier. Thinking that I was playing possum with them, the players shouted back, "Si, tu intiendes!" ("Yes, you do understand!")

In some ways, the referees might have actually helped my cause by ejecting me. I'm not sure what the record is for the most penalties in a game, but I imagine I was pretty close by the time I was thrown out.

In Spain, they throw a flag for everything. I'm pretty sure you can get penalized for being penalized.

All in all, I had seven penalties: one clothesline, three holdings, one late hit, one offside and one illegal forward pass. Rewatching the game film, I'm still not convinced (except the offside -- I'll own up to that).

The illegal forward pass was probably the most egregious of the calls. After one of our defensive linemen picked up a fumble in the third quarter, I grabbed the ball out of his hands and ran for an extra 30 yards before having it all called back. (Not sure where the "pass" was there.)

But what we lost in yardage, I more than gained in confidence in my Spanish. Seeing our husky defensive tackle headed to the ground with the ball, I shouted, "Dame la pelota! Dame la pelota!" ("Give me the ball! Give me the ball!") and it worked! Spanish in action!

It wasn't all bad. While I did set a career high in penalties, I also had career highs in tackles, tackles for loss and hits on the quarterback. And, most important, we won.

After the game, I made sure to apologize to the opposing team as well as its coach. The referees, though, had already left the field before I got a chance to clear my name.

No worries, though. Sitting at a bar the next day to watch the Jets-Colts game, who was on the stool next to me but the same ref who had thrown me out no more than 24 hours earlier?

The next round is on me -- I've got some vacation time coming my way.

Salud!