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Not the AFL's finest hour

Matt Loeschman
Wednesday May 6, 2015

It was a rough Saturday night for the Arena Football League last weekend.

Two plays that happened thousands of miles apart showed that the AFL still has a long, long way to go.

In Philadelphia, one individual lost total control and later in the evening, there was a complete breakdown in the desert for the officiating crew calling the San Jose SaberCats showdown with the injury-riddled Arizona Rattlers.

When your league is struggling for respect, these are the types of incidents that will continue to hold you back.

In a heated battle between the Philadelphia Soul and the visiting Portland Thunder, things got way out of hand when Thunder defensive back Quincy Butler was ejected in the third quarter of the Soul's 52-35 win.

Butler appeared to be trying to throw his helmet against the sideline wall in frustration but instead flung the headgear into the Wells Fargo Center crowd. He hit an unidentified female spectator who left the seating area shortly after the ugly incident. The fan's status is still unknown.

Not surprisingly, Portland waived Butler two days after he flung his helmet into the stands. Now we are waiting to see if the AFL will do the right thing and ban Butler for life. Paging Commissioner Scott Butera -- it is time to take a stand against this type of thing.

When you are sitting near the field at an AFL game, you are expected to be cognizant of what is going on in front of you. These are pro athletes playing a fast, physical game on a very small field of play. Players go over the boards all the time and footballs fly into the stands every game.What you never expect is a projectile like a football helmet to be hurled at you. In all honesty, it is more like a weapon at that point and Butler should count himself extremely lucky the outcome wasn't much, much worse.

Butler certainly wasn't looking to hurt anyone intentionally, but that is not the point. The AFL cannot have players flinging their helmets into the stands, where many children are sitting each and every week.

Butler has got to be gone. For good.

A couple hours later out west, the SaberCats and Rattlers renewed the league's hottest rivalry at the Snake Pit. Without injured quarterback Nick Davila, I expected Arizona to struggle mightily. For the most part, they did in a 56-34 defeat to San Jose.

But for me, this game will be remembered for an officiating crew, led by referee Scott Campbell, allowing a play to be run on one end of the field while a player was receiving medical attention at the other end of the turf.

San Jose quarterback Erik Meyer was injured and receiving medical attention while a group of clueless zebras ran an extra point conversion 50 yards down the field. This is especially troubling when you consider if an extra point kick is blocked and remains behind the line of scrimmage, the defensive team can score two points by advancing it to the opposite end zone.

What if the Rattlers had blocked the kick, recovered it and then rumbled down the field right on top of an injured Meyer?

Fans at the game reported they were trying to call the officials' attention to the situation. One official told a fan they had "no idea" Meyer was laying on the field at the other end.

This is, quite simply, inexplicable and inexcusable. The league has to do better. Everyone -- the players, the coaches and the fans -- deserve it.

Former Rattlers quarterback and AFL Hall of Famer Sherdrick Bonner was sideline reporting at Talking Stick Resort Arena for ESPN2 on Saturday. He later took to Facebook to talk about the debacle that occurred after Meyer was hurt.

"It wasn't our (AFL's) finest moment on many levels last night. Player safety has to be first and foremost," Bonner wrote on a Rattlers fan page. "Also, professional behavior has to be demanded from our guys. It's very tough to officiate those intense rivalry games, but when a guy is laid out, get help from the trainers -- you can't run a play on the other end."

The play where Meyer got hurt remains a hot topic. He appeared to go down injured after being hit on the pass rush by Mike McAdoo. Lineman Anttaj Hawthorne piled on late (Head Coach Kevin Guy called it a late hit Tuesday) and Meyer then reached for the back of his neck, appearing to be in serious pain. The stretcher was rolled out and Meyer was ambulanced to a local hospital as a precaution.

In the meantime, Campbell and his officiating crew were unbelievably overseeing an extra point try at the other end of the field. I couldn't believe it.

It was reported that Meyer flew back to the Bay Area with the team and is expected to be fine. Whether he plays this week against Las Vegas remains to be seen.

Hawthorne has been suspended "multiple games" for the late hit, but does the punishment fit the crime?

Although the league has not revealed the length of the suspension, there are rumors it could be four games. In my opinion, that is too long for a hit that was late but certainly not malicious. Hawthorne is expected to appeal the ruling.

If the big lineman does indeed sit, it will be the next chapter in a tough season thus far for Arizona. The league's best player, Davila, is on the shelf for at least a month (if not longer), and backup B.J. Coleman looked a bit shaky in his first full game, completing less than half his passes and throwing three interceptions. Do-everything ironman Kerry Reed is hurt for the second time in six weeks and wideout Maurice Purify is still several weeks away from being able to suit up. All-Arena lineman Michael Huey is off to the greener pastures of the National Football League. Rattlers fans don't know what they'll get from the kicking game from week to week.

Arizona has its issues to deal with but from a league standpoint, Week 6 was certainly one to forget.

Definitely not the AFL's finest hour.

Matt Loeschman is the business editor/city reporter at the Williamson County Sun and a color commentator for SHN Sports in Georgetown, Texas. As a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, he bleeds burnt orange but is also an avid fan of the Arizona Rattlers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Stars, Texas Stars, Houston Rockets, Houston Dynamo and Austin Aztex. With nearly 20 years of experience in print journalism and radio, Matt has covered sports ranging from high school to the pros along with local news. He has followed the AFL since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter @MattLoeschman.
The opinions expressed in the article above are only those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, opinions, or official stance of ArenaFan Online or its staff, or the Arena Football League, or any AFL or af2 teams.
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