Last week, one of the toughest football teams in the nation folded. And hardly anybody noticed.
No, the New York Giants didn’t go bankrupt. Nor did the New England Patriots or the Green Bay Packers disappear. Last Thursday, it was the Ontario Warriors who prematurely ended their season and walked away from the game.
If you’ve never heard of the Ontario Warriors, you’re not alone. They play—or, more accurately, played—in the AIF, the American Indoor Football League. The AIF is just one of many semi-pro leagues around the nation, many of which are indoor leagues and casually labeled “Arena Football” (not to be confused with the now-folded Arena Football League of Kurt Warner fame). The Ontario Warriors were the toughest team in that league, with a record of 7-0 in spring play, including a lopsided 92-0 victory over the Arizona Outlaws, a game I had the good fortune to attend.
The scoring on that matchup included four safeties, and the Ontario defense was so tough that the Outlaws’ total offense, by game end, was negative 90 yards.
Yeah. They're that tough.
But last Thursday, the Warriors were kicked out of their league. The commissioner’s office claimed the team’s dissolution was in punishment for repeated, unspecified operations violations. (Imagine if Roger Goodell could have punted the Raiders from the NFL over the antics of Al Davis?) But the team rebutted that the league repeatedly attempted to force additional financial obligations on the Warriors—the only solvent organization in the league’s West Coast division—and when the Warriors balked at having to carry the fiduciary weight of other squads, the league shut them down.
Given that every one of the remaining teams in the AIF’s West Coast division lacks a home arena at which to play—picture them as rootless, traveling carnivals—it’s possible that this move may presage a contraction of the league to its Atlantic Coast roots for 2013.
There’s no question that the Warriors were a cut above their opponents in the AIF—to wit, the Arizona team so thoroughly beaten by Ontario didn't just lack a home arena: they also failed to design a logo, have their names on their jerseys or even provide their team members with matching helmets, all ostensibly due to a lack of available funds. Therefore, given their unique status as a clear league powerhouse and a financially-sound franchise, it’s a shame the AIF had to shut Warriors down.
Despite the setback, the Warriors’ front office has promised that the team will return next year, perhaps in a different, better-organized league. For now, all Southern California football fans can do is hope that’s true. Because given the recent performance of the Chargers and the Raiders, a return of the Warriors to the indoor gridiron might be Southern California's best hope for pro football greatness throughout the foreseeable future.