Battle of the Nerds: Lab pride on display at inaugural Nerd Bowl flag football tournament

Feb. 2, 2018
Nerd Bowl

Facebook's Cache Money team took home the Nerd Bowl trophy, a football wearing taped glasses. Photo by Jeremy Thomas/LLNL (Download Image)

Battle of the Nerds: Lab pride on display at inaugural Nerd Bowl flag football tournament

The eight teams participating in the inaugural Nerd Bowl tournament had no idea they were making history.

As the sun rose in Menlo Park, players representing Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories/CA and Facebook volunteered their Saturday to prove their nerd supremacy at the inaugural Nerd Bowl flag football tournament. They played with full hearts and skinned knees, and after 12 games split between a championship and consolation bracket, they had created what appears to be a new annual tradition for laboratories and tech companies in the Bay Area.

In the end, Sandia's Ballistic Thunderbirds took third place, Lawrence Livermore's Lazer Cats took second and Facebook's Cache Money team stood with the Nerd Bowl trophy, a football wearing taped glasses.

The flag football tournament grew from a group of LLNL employees who play during their lunch break. The idea for a tournament was an opportunity to talk about the Lab's work/life balance and promote camaraderie between other Bay Area national laboratories and private industry tech companies. In the spirit of that other big game, the Super Bowl, companies were challenged on social media at the beginning of the National Football League (NFL) season.

LLNL's teams, the Lazer Cats and Nasty Neutrons, had 20 players representing the National Ignition Facility (NIF), Environmental Safety and Health, Weapons and Complex Integration (WCI), Engineering, Computation, LivIT and Public Affairs.

Nerd Bowl
Livermore Lab's Lazer Cats and Nasty Neutrons. The Lazer Cats went on to finish second in the tournament. Photo by Ray Iaea/LLNL

"As an LLNL Nerd Bowl-er, I can't emphasize enough how important silly things like this tournament are," said Nolan O'Brien, Nasty Neutrons receiver and WCI public information officer. "Not only is our work meaningful, but we are blessed to be able to come together during our off hours to play a little."

The unique event not only stoked competitive zeal from employees. LLNL Director Bill Goldstein and Deputy Director Tom Gioconda got into the spirit with SLAC Director Chi-Chang Kao, exchanging messages and looking forward to next year's games.

"It's amazing to know that we could possibly be the pioneers of a new Lab annual tradition," said Jason Laurea, Nasty Neutrons quarterback and NIF web developer and photographer. "My favorite memory was watching my teammates run around making plays on the field like we are kids at recess; that's what it's all about. I know everyone had a lot of fun, and it adds a lot of new excitement coming to work on the days we play during lunch."

Videos leading up to the event and the championship game's live broadcast provided an opportunity to examine the science behind the sport such as the physics of a football's spiral and center of mass.

Nerd Bowl will almost certainly grow in 2019. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has already voiced interest in joining the tournament, and other tech organizations in the Bay Area are expected to challenge Facebook for the coveted Nerd Bowl title.

"This was a unique experience," Laurea said. "We can't wait to be a part of it again next year."

To watch the championship game between the Lazer Cats and Cache Money, visit Facebook.

See the photo gallery.