Shock could merge AFL, af2
In 1969, the New York Jets and Baltimore Colts played in the third Super Bowl. The Jets were a huge statistical underdog in the game for a number of reasons. Truth be told, Joe Namath was never anything special as a quarterback in the NFL, and the man capable of coming off the bench if need be for the other team, Johnny Unitas, was a league legend. The Green Bay Packers of the old NFL had won the first two Super Bowls in big fashion over a pair of old AFL teams. There weren't many franchises in the NFL at that point that were as respected and dignified as the Colts were.
In Super Bowl III, the Jets pulled off a fantastic upset at 18 point underdogs, winning the game 16-7. Arguably, it was the most significant result in the history of the NFL, as it was the first time that an old AFL team had defeated an old NFL team in the new merged league.
Look, I'm not saying that the Spokane Shock are anywhere near like the New York Jets of 1969. It is pretty clear that QB Kyle Rowley is one of the best indoor quarterbacks in the AFL or any other alphabet league, and the Shock are clearly a fantastic squad that took it to the best in the league all season long. This clearly wouldn't be an upset at all, let alone an upset of that type of magnitude.
However, one team that they didn't run up against is the one that hales from Tampa Bay. Without a doubt, the Storm are the most illustrious franchise in the history of this league and indoor football as we know it. With five championship rings and six ArenaBowl appearances (eight if you'd like to include the Pittsburgh Gladiators days), no one can stack up to the behemoth that Tim Marcum currently has control over.
The age old debate this year between AFL fans and af2 fans has been whether the af2 teams deserve to be on the same field as the AFL teams. Of the eight teams that made the playoffs this year, three, the Shock, Tulsa Talons, and Milwaukee Iron were af2 teams a year ago. Four of the other eight, the Storm, Orlando Predators, Arizona Rattlers, and Chicago Rush, were in the "old guard" of the AFL. The Jacksonville Sharks were a legitimate expansion team.
What you didn't find amongst the old AFL teams though, were complete duds. The Utah Blaze were essentially run like an AIFA team that carried the AFL naming rights to the franchise, while the Dallas Vigilantes were a true startup team. The only old AFL team that failed to make the playoffs was the Cleveland Gladiators. The Iowa Barnstormers, Bossier-Shreveport Battle Wings, Alabama Vipers, and Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz were all old af2 squads.
From that standpoint alone, it is easy for one to conclude that the AFL teams were generally simply better than the af2 teams this year.
The debate could also be made that the Shock, who have only been in existence five years and made it to four arena championship games, would have already been in the AFL had the circa 2008 structure for the AFL and af2 still existed today.
This writer is clearly guilty of AFL bias. Though I am picking Spokane to win this game, I am rooting for the "old guard" per se. The Shock are the new kids on the block as far as I'm concerned, and I don't want to see these young whippersnappers come into my league and beat the best that I have to offer.
However, the opportunity is there to bridge the gap on Friday night. For the old af2 teams, the Shock beating Tampa Bay would be a fantastic result that helps bring the two teams closer together. No longer would we hear quotes like this one from Orlando Predators DB Kenny McEntyre. "There's no excuse to get beat by a bunch of Arena 2 players."
Ultimately, 41 Super Bowls later, there is no distinction whatsoever between AFC and NFC teams. They're all just NFL teams.
The Shock winning ArenaBowl XXIII could be the first step towards the distinction between AFL and af2 teams disappearing as well.