Embarrassment Starts 25th Anniversary Season
In case you haven't heard, there were a few things that happened on Friday in the Arena Football League.
First there was the threat of a players' strike. Then there was a thunderstorm that opened up in Orlando. And then there were 24 players that were released from the Pittsburgh Power. And then there were another 24 that were put on recallable assignment by the Orlando Predators.
And then came word that mac linebackers weren't going to blitz in this game. And then came word that there wouldn't be any onside kicks.
And then came pre-game warm-ups. There were players on the field, but it was anyone's guess who most of these guys were. Most were replacements. Only Collin Drafts and a couple of rookies were on the field for the Predators. Only a handful were on the field that were notable for the Power.
Things definitely didn't look pretty. There wasn't a single member of the Predators that had a last name on his uniform. Only the players that traveled with Pittsburgh had their last names. A former UCF Knights quarterback, Kyle Israel, who was on Orlando radio earlier in the week talking about what he was going to do for the Predators, all of a sudden was wearing No. 13 for Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, there were long time AFL players… TT Toliver, Marlon Moye-Moore, Kyle Rowley, and a slew of others that were just waiting outside of the Amway Center, seemingly in shock that they were booted out of the very arena that they reportedly planned to take a knee in to demonstrate solidarity that the players wanted to make more money.
But alas, after all of the festivities of the day, at just after 8:30 p.m., there was an official Arena Football League game that kicked off here in Orlando.
This writer felt like he was back at an AIFA game. Memories of my 2007 trip to a Tallahassee Titans game came back to me all of a sudden. That day, the coaches for the Gulf Coast Raiders wearing t-shirts and the players were introducing themselves to each other.
That's exactly what it had to feel like here in the Jungle on Friday night.
The Predators only had three players to start the game that were on their roster at the beginning of the day. Pittsburgh only had six. Not to mention, when the Power came out for the Star Spangled Banner, there were only 16 players in white on the field.
A scoreless first quarter featured Andrico Hines and Collin Drafts taking turns overthrowing receivers that they had probably never met before. The boo birds were already out in Orlando.
In the second quarter, the offense finally picked it up, but the Power got themselves a heck of a jolt. One of their coordinators was seen on a cell phone during a play at about the halfway point of the quarter. Suddenly, he ran onto the field, and Pittsburgh called timeout. The next thing we knew, PJ Berry, Lonnie DeWalt, and Michael Washington all came out of the tunnel and onto the field. Berry caught a pass on the first play back in the lineup, and Washington scored a touchdown shortly thereafter.
All of a sudden, the Pittsburgh offense started to pick it up. The Power scored touchdowns on seven of their final eight complete possessions. Orlando's offense did pick it up a bit as well, but in the end, this was just an ugly brand of football. Several passes went into the stands. Several were put right on the money and were dropped.
Mercifully, this game ended with Pittsburgh taking a 40-26 decision.
It was a brutal joke that this was an official game. Not only was the game not complete because all of the nuances in the game were not be used, but the Power brought in some of their best players out of the locker room in the second quarter. Washington finished the game with nine catches, 166 yards, and four touchdowns, while Berry had four catches, 52 yards, and a TD, and he was playing defensive back as well.
The good news for the 0-1 Predators is that this is just one game of an 18-game season. The bad news is that this is a game that the team is never going to get back. Pittsburgh won this game, not necessarily because it was the better team, but because it had the most players leave the AFLPU and play.
All week long, Commissioner Jerry Kurz and Orlando Managing Partner Brett Bouchy kept insisting that the level of play was going to be high regardless of whether the players in the PU went on strike or not. Sadly, all that we found out was that the AFL players really made a big difference for the visiting team.
And now we're back to watching and wondering again. The AFLPU is clearly making a stand, but there are also defections that we have seen, and it has to be a wonder what we are going to see when push comes to shove on Saturday and for the rest of the season.
Hopefully for the sake of us, the fans of the AFL, the "Year of the Fan" isn't as much of a joke as this opening night was.