Upon hearing the news yesterday that ESPN had purchased minority ownership of the Arena Football League, I rolled my eyes thinking of all the AFL content that was going to be jammed down my throat on SportsCenter, ESPN.com, ESPN The Magazine etc., etc. I have nothing against arena ball really. In fact, I'm sure I've been to more live arena games than your average football fan. More on that later.
Well, I didn't have to wait long for my fear of blatant cross-promotion to come to pass. While driving in to work today, I was listening to Mike & Mike (but with Eric & Stink - whatever) and they had none other than the esteemed co-owner of the AFL's Philadelphia Soul, Jon Bon Jovi, on to discuss ESPN's exciting new relationship with the Arena Football League (you can find the clip here). Eric Kuselias, playing the part of Greenberg this morning, gushed about how ESPN was going to have Monday Night Football almost all year round, as if the AFL somehow compared to the NFL. The good news is that Bon Jovi was likable and funny. They asked him if he was planning to see Rocky Balboa and his answer was that all he wanted for Christmas was for his dad to take him to that movie and buy the popcorn like he did in the 70s and 80s. I mention only because I'm preparing myself for this aging rocker to become a near ubiquitous presence at the WWL and maybe it won't be so bad (for a while). At least until they start showing AFL highlights to pick-your-Bon-Jovi -tune. And they will. Bastards.
So what's my problem here? Well, I can think of two bigs ones. First, aside from maybe highlights of the Arena Bowl, and an occasional mention in Top 10 plays etc., arena ball has been pretty much absent from ESPN and it's various multimedia platforms since the last time the network aired games 10 or so years ago. You could probably dig around and find something about it on ESPN.com but it didn't rate for a story in the magazine and I never hear it mentioned on ESPN radio. Now, less than 24 hours after the agreement is announced, the AFL is suddenly deemed interesting to the WWL and the consumers of their content? I don't buy it.
Second, this is a league where real football guys are owners or investors with teams. The list is impressive: Mike Ditka, John Elway, Joey Galloway, Ron Jaworski, Tony Boselli and it goes on. I only checked a few of the teams too. So with that much real football cred in your arsenal, you bring on Jon Bon Jovi to talk football? This is the same cross-over appeal thinking that has led to gems like Christian Slater in the MNF booth.
Anyway, on to my vast AFL experience. Right after college - 1994/1995ish - my former roommate started working for the then Albany Firebirds (when they had the old school logo you see above - they now have a fancy cartoonish one). I spent a few years in Iowa during that time and frequently met up with my when they traveled out to Des Moines to play the Barnstomers. Of course, I didn't know or care at the time, but I actually saw Kurt Warner play before he was a super-bible-thumping-MVP. In fact, [SimmonsAlert]my buddy likes to tell the story of when the Firebirds and Barnstomers went to Spain for an exhibition. This was before Mr. Brenda was born again and my friend was trading shots with him watching him get completely shit-faced. Good times. [/SimmonsAlert]
A short tangent . . . Des Moines is not a great party town. While we made out best effort to find something fun to do after the game, the real fun was the night before when we went to a AAA Iowa Cubs game, got loaded on cheap beer (at a ballpark, imagine that!) and bought two of those classic replica helmets (one Cubs, one Phillies), which we then wore on our entire drunken walk back to the hotel despite various Des Moinians honking at and mocking us. More good times.
Anyway, I also caught a couple games in Albany. The football isn't bad and they sure do score a lot, so there's that. I even have a real, live Firebirds jersey (shut up, I didn't pay for it - it's good to know people).
But my best brush with Arena Football royalty came after one of those games. I've heard here and there that, occasionally, professional athletes (even poorly paid ones) have been known to go "off the Rez" and have consenting (if you're lucky) sexual encounters with women who are not their wives or girlfriends. Well, going to these games made for a long night. There was the block party before, where there was much drinking. The game, where there was much drinking. And then hitting the bars afterwards, where there was much drinking. Needless to say, by about 2 or 3 AM, I was feeling no pain and decided I should go to bed before I threw up (ah, those were the days). So I was sleeping in my buddy's guest room - not sure how long - when I was awoken by a certain wide receiver who shall remain nameless (if you can identify him in the picture you win . . . something. Hint: It's neither of the two white dudes), with an apparently lubricated (with alcohol) woman in tow, saying "Dude, you have to go sleep on the couch."
So here I am, confronted by my very own White House situation. Granted, I was drunk and groggy, but I was aware of what was taking place here. If I had been a visionary like Bryant McKinnie or Fred Smoot, perhaps I could have gotten involved. Maybe this young groupie had a friend? Or should I warn this young lady that it was possible that this particular wide receiver already had a wife (or girlfriend, I don't remember) and that was why he had brought her to some random (to her) house for sex? What should I do, I wondered?
What I did, was sleep just fine on the couch. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my Arena Football League story.
Arena Football, It Is Now That You Kneel [Deadspin]