Emirates American Football League: Vivaldi directs a stirring victory in Desert Bowl

Abu Dhabi's two-way player scores twice on offence and intercepts two passes to lead Wildcats to a 21-12 victory over the Dubai Stallions and the inaugural EAFL championship. Steve Elling reports.

Vivaldi Tulysse, right, was too much for the Dubai Stallions to handle in the Desert Bowl, running for two touchdowns and intercepting two passes to lead the Abu Dhabi Wildcats to the inaugural EAFL title with a 21-12 victory.
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Small wonder that Vivaldi Tulysse can flat-out fly. In certain parts of the United States, being named after a famous Italian composer can get a guy teased and tormented a little.

Like, say, Miami, where Tulysse grew up and learnt to play American football. It is probably where he first learnt to avoid pursuit, too.

His father came up with the name.

"I used to hate it," Tulysse said. "Now, I love it."

The Floridian was a maestro in leading his Abu Dhabi Wildcats to a 21-12 victory Friday night over the Dubai Stallions at the Jebel Ali Shooting Club in the inaugural championship game of the Emirates American Football League.

In a fledgling league, with representatives from 35 nations, there were no lingering questions about who had the best team, or the best individual player, for that matter.

Tulysse, who played at North Miami High School and ran track in college, seemed to be everywhere, intercepting two passes on defence and scoring two touchdowns as the starting tailback as Abu Dhabi finished the season with a perfect 8-0 record.

"When we started, back in September, this is where we said we wanted to be," Tulysse said as the championship trophy was hoisted aloft by his teammates. "We have come a long way. A long, long way."

He did not mean the nine time zones from Florida, either. The EAFL's first Desert Bowl was the culmination of plenty of hand-wringing and sweat by players and league officials who launched the team with no guarantees that it would end with such a promising finale.

The event had all the trappings of an American football weekend, with concession stands, a merchandise tent and a ball delivered to midfield before the opening kickoff on a trio of motorcycles.

Having come together seven months ago as an assemblage of weekend warriors, some of whom had never played the game, the end result was a fairly polished affair for Abu Dhabi, who finished with a 3-0 record against the Stallions.

Players from widely disparate backgrounds acted like cousins on the sidelines. After all, it is not every day that fans get to hear players engaging in good-natured trash talk in English and Arabic. Some of the Abu Dhabi players really had no business being on the field because of dings and dents, including a guy nicknamed "Hulk", the Jordanian native named Muhamed Emad, who had two sacks despite playing on a badly damaged right knee.

He put off the surgery so he could play alongside his new best friends in the finale, and even after he was all but dragged off the field, as his knee finally gave out, he could not have been happier. His right cruciate ligament will need some work, but there was no way he was sitting this out.

"Because it's the final game," he said. "I'd risk anything for this team. This is my family, and we started from zero."

So did the score, but not for long.

Tulysse intercepted a pass from the Dubai quarterback Chris Wentzel, the best passer in the league, on the game's first series and returned it 60 yards to the Stallions' 5-yard line, where he eventually scored on a 2-yard run. Tulysse, who played at quarterback earlier in the season, gave Abu Dhabi a 14-0 lead with a 32-yard run in the second quarter on his way to 108 yards rushing on 19 carries.

"He can quarterback, he can run with it, he can play defensive back," said Wentzel, a former baseball and rugby player from Connecticut.

"He was phenomenal."

Even though Abu Dhabi turned the ball over four times, the overall result was satisfactory, too. Dubai, which had managed a forgettable 25 yards by halftime, trailed 21-0 before Wentzel completed his second pass. The Stallions ended the season with a 5-3 record.

"I told the guys when we started in July that it was possible to have a perfect season," said Charles Gillespie, the Abu Dhabi coach. "If you set goals and push toward them, and work hard enough, if you really do the work, you can accomplish anything.

"I could not be happier that the first championship of this league was won by Abu Dhabi."

For a league that began with few financial underpinnings, it was a memorable first finale.

"It has been a nice, steady evolution," Wentzel said. "We had players who played the game, plenty who hadn't, several different nationalities, and by the end, things got more and more fluid."

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