Unicycle football is all the rage in the small city of San Marcos, Texas, home to the world's first and only Unicycle Football League (UFL), watched by hundreds of fans every week.
Founded by aquatics biology student Marcus Garland in 2007, the rules of the game are similar to NFL football – only that players must be mounted on unicycles while they carry the ball or even when they make a tackle (or "flackle" in Unicycle-speak). Their field of play – the hard pavement of vacant parking lots.
“It sounds like a silly sport, but no one is laughing out there on the asphalt,” the 34-year-old told Metro.
Garland spoke to Metro about the ins and outs of this unconventional sport.
How did you come up with this sport?
As a child I used to be a juggler on a unicycle. I was also a huge fan of the American football team the Houston Oilers. I used to fantasize that I was playing on the (Houston) Oilers, except all the players were on unicycles. This was my childhood daydream.
When did you start it as an actual organized sport?
Back in 2008, when I entered college here in San Marcos, I started the sport with a juggling club I founded. In a deal with a local bike shop, we managed to sell over 100 unicycles in the area. Now there are so many unicycles in the city that folks have stopped noticing them.
At our first games, we had about 40 attending. Now we have up to 400 on any given Sunday. The unicyclists are dedicated – some of them get tattoos of their teams on their arms. Players each have their own comical stage names for the sport – this supports the idea of an alter ego for the world of unicycle football.
It must be bloody hard to ride a unicycle...
Actually, you'd be surprised, we prefer people who don't know how to ride a unicycle. At training, we teach newbies how to ride a unicycle, which normally takes a day or two. The most important is to get on the bike extremely fast – we call it a "quick mount."
Playing tackle football on asphalt must surely mean you need plenty of safety pads. What kind of equipment do you need?
It all depends on the position you play. Shin pads are good, especially if you’ve previously been knocked in the shin by a pedal – that's good motivation to get them. The helmet is mandatory. We don't allow football shoulder pads. Everything else is optional. I'd just try not to land on my elbows (laughs).
Detractors of your sport would say it’s spoiling the original American football. What do you answer to those who say it's just a circus game?
At first, I actually intended unicycle football to be like that! At the first few games, everyone was giggling and the crowd was amused. Now, no one is laughing out there on the asphalt. Everyone is out there trying their hardest with full-blown diving on the pavement.
Have you been in hospital for any injuries?
I don't have health insurance so I try to avoid hospitals as much as possible. But I have dislocated my right shoulder probably [pauses] 15 times or so. Other players have had knees out of sockets, broken collarbones, broken noses or mangled fingers. Touch wood – we have never had any spinal injuries.
But I think it's a lot safer than what we call 'pedestrian football' – with a knee injury, I could still pedal around on my unicycle, I'm not running on it. I even played with a badly sprained ankle for a whole game, and didn't notice it was so until the next day.