Risks worth rewards for these Gladiators
You have to wonder about guys who get knocked down and get up, just to get knocked down again.
You have to wonder about guys who risk injuries on Saturday, knowing they have to report to jobs on Monday in upright positions.
You have to wonder about guys such as Janesville's Carter Linnemann and A.J. Albrecht, who pay to play football for fun.
Linnemann and Albrecht are co-owners of the Rock County Gladiators, a semi-pro team in the 11-team Ironman Football League. No, Tony Stark is not the league commissioner.
They are a couple a blue-collar guys. Linnemann is a plumber, and Albrecht is a corrections officer for the Walworth County Sheriff's Office.
You won't see them in a luxury box sipping sparkling water from designer bottles on game day. Linnemann plays linebacker and fullback, while Albrecht is a lineman.
"I'm 47 years old," said Albrecht, who stands 6 foot, 5 inches and is 330 pounds. "I've had 22 knee surgeries, and I still can play right tackle."
Albrecht resumed playing football at 43 when the Gladiators started in 2006. The 1981 Craig High graduate tried to play football at UW-Stout, but his knees stood in the way.
"My knee problems wouldn't let me play," Albrecht said. "I tore my ACL after 2½ weeks of practice my first year, and I tore it again after two practices my second year."
The 36-year-old Linnemann enjoyed a successful high school football career at Janesville Parker and played a season at UW-La Crosse. Linnemann also was a state-ranked wrestler and competed in track for the Vikings.
Linnemann said he found his niche with the Gladiators.
"I'm having the time of my life," he said. "I'm having more fun than high school and college.
"Everybody playing with me, they are there for the love of the game," Linnemann added. "In high school and college, it was a lot different."
Linnemann started the Gladiators, and Albrecht became a part-owner a year later.
"I love the game, and I love the sport," Linnemann said. "I have a great supporting staff from my wife to A.J. to A.J.'s wife."
Linnemann and Albrecht agree that playing the game is the easy part. Running the team is a headache.
"There is more behind the scenes in ownership than playing," Linnemann said. "If I could just show up and play, my wife would love it. I'll tell you that."
Albrecht said his stamina is put to the test off the field.
"Life has taught me you don't get into this kind of thing and have free time," Albrecht said. "You have to recruit players, meet the public, vendors, equipment and stock concessions. It is just nonstop."
Through all the work, Albrecht stands behind the product that he and Linnemann put on the field.
"This isn't just a bunch of guys playing in another beer league," Albrecht said. "You have to be able to play football. It's not for everybody, and players come to realize it."
The Gladiators open their fourth season facing the Milwaukee Storm at 6 p.m. Saturday at Monterey Stadium. It will be the first of four regular-season games at Monterey. A fifth home game will be played at Milton High School.
"We want families to come and have a good time," Albrecht said. "We think we have a team worth seeing."
Albrecht and Linnemann are team players in a team sport. They also are team owners who willingly pay the price with their bodies for a healthy bottom line.
Ken Veloskey is a sports writer for The Janesville Gazette.