Mike Galindo, a physical education teacher at Sennett Middle School, doesn't hesitate when asked why, at 35, he's still playing football.
"I really enjoy running out on the field and hitting people," he says. "I'm a shell of the athlete I used to be, but I think I did pretty well last year. Of course, 10 minutes after my first game, I could barely walk."
Galindo is now training for his second season with the Madison Mustangs, the local amateur team that competes in the 14-team Ironman Football League. He is, at 5'7", the Mustangs' shortest player, in addition to being the oldest. But according to team owner and head coach Bob Gingras, Galindo's attitude and drive make him a perfect fit.
"I like to say that our team's tag line is 'For the love of the game,'" says Gingras. "That's why these guys are out here. They're not getting paid or anything. They really just love football."
But they also strive to compete at a high level. The Mustangs' roster includes several athletes who played in college and a few who have suited up for various semi-pro and arena football teams. Cornerback Jason Suttle, who started for the Badgers and spent time on a few NFL rosters, has signed with the Mustangs this year. Some of his teammates want to get to where he's been.
"I still have that dream to take it a step further," says safety Jackson Clerveaux, a 30-year-old construction worker. "If it's [the Arena Football League] or higher than that, just to play a year or two in the pros, just to say that I did it."
Wide receiver Reggie Davis, 28, has played with the semi-pro Racine Raiders and, more recently, the Milwaukee Bonecrushers from the Continental Indoor Football League. A graduate of Madison East and UW-Platteville, Davis thinks older players like himself need to summon even more passion than college or pro players.
"As you get older, you have to work out more to stay in shape," he says. "When you're younger, it's not as important because the natural stuff takes over." And as players get older, "the hits hurt a little bit more."
For Galindo, the Mustangs represent an opportunity to make up for lost time. He was injured during his senior year of high school and was too busy studying and starting a family while attending UW-Eau Claire to try out for the team. As an assistant coach with Madison Memorial, Galindo often found himself participating in drills with his players. They started suggesting that he could still play.
"I always told them no, I was too old," says Galindo. "Well, I was 28 at the time. Now I'm 35. I kind of felt like it was my last-ditch hope, and I should go out there and give it a try."
Gingras, a prominent local attorney, bought the Mustangs in 2006, when they were known as the Verona Trojans. He moved the team to Madison and renamed it to honor the semi-pro Mustangs who played at Warner Park and Camp Randall Stadium in the 1960s and '70s.
"The old Mustangs were a really good football operation," says Gingras. "They attracted 6,000-8,000 fans. Last year, when we had our first home game ever, we brought back a lot of the old Mustangs, which was really cool."
In 2007, his first year running the club, Gingras led the Mustangs to a 6-4 record and second place in the Ironman league's National Conference. The Mustangs were also named the league's Franchise of the Year. But the Mustangs lost a tough, overtime game in the playoffs to the Muskego Hitmen, their archrivals. Adam Smith, the team's director of football operations and offensive coordinator, says that loss set the tone for the 2008 season.
"We ended last season with a bad taste in our mouths," says Smith. "How we lost and the team we lost to led to a lot of motivation for these guys to work hard in the off-season."
Clerveaux is more blunt about how the players feel toward Muskego.
"On the field, I'd say we hate them to the highest level," he says. "I won't say there's no respect for each other, but in competition, we don't really care that much for them, and they don't really care too much for us."
Fortunately for fans, the Mustangs will face the Hitmen in their first home game of the season on Sunday, June 8, at Middleton High School's stadium. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m.
For a season schedule and more, see madtownmustangs.com.