DELRAY Beach, Florida - Republican Mitt Romney ducked out of his debate prep huddle Sunday and hit the beach for an American football game between members of his staff and reporters on the campaign trail.
Romney exchanged banter with the teams on the beach, across the street from the hotel where he is preparing for his Monday night debate with President Barack Obama, but he declined to answer questions about the debate or Iran.
As Romney stood with his security detail, reporters asked if he would be open to talks with Iran, following a report in The New York Times -- one shot down by the White House -- that Iran was ready to negotiate with Washington.
"Guys, this is a football game. Come on," an aide interjected.
Romney laughed, and said, "I thought you were talking about one-on-one talks with the president. I was about to answer."
Queried about how he felt going into Monday's showdown -- the last of three presidential debates -- the Republican nominee replied: "I'm ready for football."
Romney and his wife Ann had attended church Sunday morning in neighboring Boca Raton, site of the debate, but by the time he made it to the sand he was decked out in black shorts, black T-shirt and gray sneakers.
Romney approached the two teams ahead of the first snap. "There you go -- shake hands, shake hands," Romney told his communications director Gail Gitcho, the staff team captain, and a New York Times reporter serving as media captain.
Romney tossed a coin in the air to see who played first, and when it fell in the sand, Gitcho retrieved it and called out "tails" for the reporters.
"Tails it is! That's the last call you guys are getting," Romney quipped to the press team.
Looking at the reporters and then his staff, he asked the press team: "Who's the ringer over here?"
He then poked fun at New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has stumped for Romney but was not on hand Sunday, asking his campaign staff "Where's Chris Christie when we need him? He's our line."
Senator Rob Portman, who has been playing Obama in mock debates, called for the campaign team to "huddle up." The squad gathered around Romney, who led them in a cheer of "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose!" before stepping to the sidelines before watching the game's first few plays.
Romney is by no means the first presidential candidate to engage in fun and games with a press corps, but his interactions with campaign reporters are mostly business.
Aside from a few candid conversations with reporters or his handing out snacks like beef jerky to them in the back of his campaign plane, Romney socializing in a casual setting with journalists is rare.
In the huddle on the beach, he joked with his team that it was time to "figure out which of their players are the best and take them out early," prompting laughter from his players.
"Don't worry about injuries, guys. This counts. Win!" he said.
The teams tied 14-14. Ann Romney was a late substitute and reportedly threw for a touchdown after the pool of reporters covering her husband accompanied him off the beach.
© 1994-2012 Agence France-Presse