The Nerd Bowl II trophy looks, well, nerdy—it’s a football adorned with geeky horned-rim glasses with cloth tape wrapped around the nose bridge. All it lacks is a pen-filled pocket protector.
But to members of Lawrence Livermore National Lab’s Lazer Cats flag football team, the modest trophy is a shining symbol of the sweat and sacrifice they expended while working toward one collective goal—to bring home a title that eluded them a year ago.
“We kind of had a tough loss last year, so it’s good to come back out here and get the win and take the trophy home this year,” said the NIF & Photon Science’s Alex Aguirre moments after the Lazer Cats won Nerd Bowl II by defeating SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory’s SLAC Attack 38-6.
The Lazer Cats used a high-powered offense and a stifling defense to capture the second annual Nerd Bowl, a flag football tournament that this year featured SLAC, the Ballistic Thunderbirds from Sandia National Laboratories/California and Facebook’s defending champion Cache Money.
The tournament, hosted this year by LLNL Jan. 26 on the Livermore High School football field, is a friendly competition pitting entities that normally field the brightest minds in physics, lasers, and computer science.
The idea started as a lunchtime social activity at LLNL and blossomed into a showcase for the work-life balance at the labs and at the social networking giant. The combatants proved they can bring it in an athletic setting, while having fun and making new friends along the way.
“We saw a lot of other familiar faces this year from Sandia, SLAC and Facebook,” Aguirre said.
Still, the Lazer Cats went on a mission after losing the Nerd Bowl I title game to Facebook last year at Stanford. This year’s squad was a fusion of last year’s two Lab teams, including many players who work for the NIF & Photon Science Directorate, and they bonded over regular lunchtime practices.
“We practiced all year,” Aquirre said. “We come out for lunch and just have fun. The last few weeks, we were running drills, and we came out today and executed them.”
Indeed, the practice paid off. The Lazer Cats jumped out to an early 20-0 lead in the semifinal game against Sandia, enroute to a convincing 46-16 victory. Meanwhile, SLAC held off a valiant Facebook charge to win the other semifinal contest.
In the title game, the Lazer Cats again moved the ball with laser precision early, forging a 19-0 halftime lead behind long touchdown passes from quarterback Jason Laurea to Brandon Dempsey, Aquirre and Nick Konradi. Right before the end of the first half, newcomer Logan Hoff pressured SLAC’s quarterback into throwing an interception by Gabe Davalos.
In the second half, it was more ‘Cats. Laurea threw a sizzling slant pass to Konradi, whose used nifty moves to elude two would-be flag-snatching tacklers as he streaked down the sideline for another score.
“I watched SLAC Attack earlier in the day and they played very well together, with a lot of energy,” Laurea said. “They covered the field well against us early. But we were able to find some openings and kept chipping away on offense and didn’t allow big plays on defense.”
Later in the game, Gino Aluzzi took over at quarterback and hit Jacob McCormick for another touchdown. SLAC drove down the field to get on the scoreboard late in the game, but LLNL’s Julie Wurzbach knocked down the attempted extra point.
“We were disappointed last year, we thought we could have taken it,” Laurea said. “But this year, we had to protect home field. It’s only right that the trophy stays right here with Livermore Lab. It’s not going back to the Peninsula.”
LAZER BEAMS: Sandia’s Ballistic Thunderbirds captured the third-place game over Facebook’s Cache Money.
Some of the loudest cheers of the day came at halftime between the semi-final and title games when the Livermore Laboratory Employee Services Association’s (LLESA) U-JAM Fitness Group delivered an energetic aerobic dance performance to singer Bruno Mars’ hit song “24K Magic.”—Benny Evangelista