Sunday, January 25, 2009

There's an AIFA?

A few months ago, Number Two and I discovered there was going to be a local arena football team. Two, actually, a men's team and a women's team. But then the economy crashed and I heard the Arena Football League was canceling the 2009 season. This weekend, I found out the local teams are still playing because the American Indoor Football Association is charging on. Who knew the U.S. could sustain two arena football leagues?

Oh, wait.

Anyway, we went to the first ever Harrisburg Stampede game last night, an exhibition game against the AIFL All-Stars. Turns out the Stampede has only had one full-speed practice. It didn't take a genius to figure that out.

For a while, I was thinking we were wasting our Saturday night. (Metaphorically speaking--it's not like our Saturday nights are rip-roaring or anything.) Getting into the Farm Show Complex was a huge joke. You go up the stairs in a mass of people and then find that somehow, you have to maneuver to two cashiers. One was labeled "Credit Only" and the other "Cash Only," but since you couldn't see the signs until you got right up to the tables, well, you can understand what a cluster-you-know-what it was. Plus, even though all the tickets for this game were the same price, we got stuck way up in the rafters, with two sections below us completely empty. WTH? Oh, well, one plus is that there really isn't a bad seat in the house. This is where they usually do ox pulls, so it's not exactly huge.

As for the rest of it, sheer amateur hour. No, that's not nice. I'll call it "Start-Up Syndrome." Instead of benches, the teams had to sit on those molded plastic chairs you find in school cafeterias. The cheerleaders were wearing black and white even though the team colors are blue and that neon gold the color of dog puke. And they mostly step-touched for three hours, with a little pom-pom shaking to mix it up. The strips of turf kept wrinkling and lifting off the field, and at one point, the chains got caught on the turf and they had to maneuver them out.

I've never watched arena football, so it was kind of weird to see so many non-players and non-refs on the field, inside the walls. Coaches joined the huddle and ran around the field between plays, trying to get the crowd to cheer. Four guys crouched on the sideline, ready to move the chains and the down marker.

On the other hand, the atmosphere was fun. They played awesome music, and the players danced around between plays. I could have done without the mascot race and the hula hoop contest during the one-minute warnings, and the sound system makes most of the announcements unintelligible.

Then there was the game itself. Harrisburg kicked off. The All-Star returner fumbled the ball. He picked it up, ran two yards, slipped, and fell. And that set the tone for the next three hours.

At first, the All-Stars dominated. But the Stampede came out a brand new team in the second half, recovering fumbles (of which there were approximately 83--I didn't realize a Nerf ball was so easy to fumble!) and intercepting passes and stopping the All-Stars on fourth down. Final score was 46-26, Stampede.

Some laugh-worthy highlights:

1. There were two penalties for hitting the hockey scoreboard during the kickoff. How did the AIFL come to build that into the rules?

2. Even though the goalposts at one end of the field, suspended by wires from the ceiling, were bowed inward and half as wide as they should be, one Harrisburg kickoff went the full 55 yards and split the uprights, giving the Stampede one point.

3. Number Two and her father went to the restroom in the third quarter. When they came back they asked what happened. I said, "There was a play, with a penalty, then a play, with a penalty, and then another play, with a penalty." I swear, they went back and forth between the 20-yard lines six times before they managed to complete a pass--penalty free--and go for a touchdown.

4. We left at the final one-minute warning because the game was out of hand. As we walked the concourse and looked through a gap onto the field, number 1 (the player, not my kid) was perfectly framed in the center, wiggling his butt.

You won't see that in the NFL.

Despite my sarcasm, we had a good time at the game, and plan to attend more during the season. I'm really happy these guys get the opportunity to play, and I'm even more excited to attend a Central PA Vipers (women's) game.


Anonymous said...

That game was not indicative of the talent at this level. It was indeed an exhibition game and it showed. The caliber of play is typically much better than what was on display that night.

A lot of the turnovers were a result of the ball. The balls used were from last season. That stock had next to no grip, making it very difficult for players to get a firm hold on it.

The player who is dancing is Archie Smith. He will become a fan favorite due to his charismatic nature. Kids and adults love the guy.

The Stampede's running back is Eugene Goodman. And even though indoor/arena football is a passing oriented game, look for a heavy dose of Eugene Goodman to mix it up. He is dangerous, and very difficult to tackle.

It is a great family atmosphere and worth the cost of admission. You can take an entire family to an AIFA game for the cost of 1 ticket to an NFL game.

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Thanks for coming by, Anonymous! I appreciate the additional information.

I'm kind of sad about the ball, though. The number of fumbles made the game more interesting. :)

Archie Smith already cemented himself as a fan favorite, for sure. His energy and enthusiasm, as well as that of a lot of his teammates, made the event.

I'll be watching Eugene Goodman!

Now, come on, 'fess up. Are you with the organization? :)

Anonymous said...

I am with a rivalry team in the same league. The Baltimore Mariners, also of the AIFA. But I was a fan of the game and league first.

I was fortunate enough to get to know Stampede co-owner and AFIA co-owner John Morris at the beginning of last season. I write press releases and news articles on the Baltimore Mariners. I maintain the team website as well.

Archie Smith and Eugene Goodman were on the Baltimore Mariners roster last year, but migrated to Harrisburg to be a part of that team.

During the 2008 season, the Baltimore Mariners were league owned and operated, so John Morris was the Baltimore Mariners owner. The Stampede have a great owner in John. It should also be mentioned that the Harrisburg Stampede is also co-owned by NFL star wide receiver Marques Colston of the New Orleans Saints and a Harrisburg native as well.

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Very cool! Thanks for the background and info. I'm looking forward to becoming a better fan!