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Arena Football and March Madness: In April?

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Arena Football and March Madness: In April?

As if watching football in April wasn’t fun enough…

My first Arena Football League experience came Saturday night as the Columbus Destroyers took on the Tampa Bay Storm. Thanks to my friend Taylor, who works for the Destroyers, my other buddy Dan and I had free tickets behind one of the endzones.

I didn’t really know what to expect. I mean, I’d watched some Arena games on TV every now and again, but never for more than a few minutes. I could name probably about eight or 10 games who had played in the league, and I could maybe name half the teams.

Here’s some random observations from the game…
1. The first thing I noticed at the game was the “chain gang”. At the start of each possession, they sprinted from the endzone to set the chains up against one of the side walls before sprinting back off before the start of the play. One of the guys then had to run out after every down to move the and change the down marker. I definitely was not ready to see that.

2. I also loved the excessive sponsorship. Every penalty was an “1800 Tequila Yellow Flag” – imagine parents trying to explain thatto their kids. The PA announcer, who was ridiculously over the top to begin with, was going nuts with all these sponsorships. I never want to hear the words Germain or GetGo again.

(Kids at Saturday’s game might have been traumatized when, during a mascot relay race, one of the mascots head’s fell off, exposing the guy underneath. The best part was that about three of the other mascots ran over to cover him up while he scrambled to pull his furry cover back over his head. Priceless.)

3.  In the Destroyers’ own game notes, they praised running back Harold Wells for his “torrid” rushing pace. He was second in the league, entering last night’s game, with 39 carries for 114 yards. 

(For you non-math majors, that works out to less than three yards per carry. Apparently, by AFL standards, that qualifies as “torrid”. For the record, he had five carries for one yard last night. Torrid, indeed.)

4.  Being a running back or defensive back in the AFL might be the most worthless and thankless positions in all of sports. But linemen have to love playing in the league because teams – well, at least Tampa and Columbus – run so many throwback passes to tackle-eligible receivers. It reminded me of a flag football game.

5. Could you imagine a quarterback like Peyton Manning playing in the AFL? Good grief, he would massacre league records. After all, this is a league that has Justin Zwick on a roster, for God’s sake. Last fall, I was covering a high school football playoff game in Ashland and Zwick was there announcing it. Now, he’s a backup QB and placeholder on a professional roster – though to his credit, he did a great job snagging an errant snap on the final kick and got the hold down.

6. Rasheed Marshall, a receiver who has been on an NFL roster before, never had a pass thrown his way by the Destroyers. Quarterback Matt Nagy didn’t even look at him. Marshall also got lit up on a kick return that knocked him into next week.

7. I’d never seen a false start penalty called on the defense before, until last night.

All in all, it was a fairly enjoyable experience for us. I would love to go back to another game sometime, especially if it means watching Harold Wells break off a run of longer than two yards.

Some other reflections on the weekend in sports…

1. Nothing makes me happier than Carolina going down. I don’t know if it’s better that they were getting waxed and almost came back before Kansas blew it open again – making it more heartwrenching for the Tar Heel fans – or if Kansas had simply crushed them by like 50. Either way, I’m pretty happy right now. It’s just too bad Tyler Hansbrough didn’t sob at the press conference again.

2. I had picked UCLA to win the title in all my brackets. Clearly, that was a poor decision as Memphis ran them out of the gym. I didn’t think Memphis had it in them to win the big game, but then again, it’s not like UCLA has won the “big game” either in the past two years. I think the title game will be pretty good, and it has to be in order to get something positive out of a rather pedestrian March Madness.

3. It’s nice to see the Cavs are limping their way to the finish line. With LeBron at less than 100 percent, the Cavs are a very mediocre team. Actually, they’re a pretty pitiful team. Anytime people cite his supporting cast (read: Skip Bayless) as the reason for the team’s success are out of their bleeping minds.

Sure, every once in a while someone has a big game in addition to LeBron, but let’s be honest – without LeBron, this is a 13-win Cavs team. Substitute LeBron for a solid, not-quite-a-star player – say an Andre Igoudala – the Cavs are a 20-win team. Substitute LeBron for a star – Caron Butler, perhaps – and the Cavs win 25-30 games. And substitute LeBron for the superstars – Kobe, Chris Paul – the Cavs are in the same position as they are now, the fourth-best team (by a thread) in the Eastern Conference. 

At this point I’d be shocked if the Cavs make it out of the second round. Heck, with the way they’re playing right now, even a first round win is no guarantee.  

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