Meaningless Game Brings Perfect Moments
With the team's playoff fate well in hand, I decided to do something at last week's Utah Blaze home game that I hadn't done in years. Just go. I wasn't going to worry about the team's standing, I wasn't going to worry about the arena contract, and I wasn't going to think about Tommy Grady's interception rate. I was just going to go to an AFL game. I was going to grab a ticket, sit in a normal seat, and be with my brothers, my Dad and my nephew.
It was fantastic.
Don't get me wrong, the play was sloppy, there were still too many penalties and at times it seemed like neither team wanted to win, but the evening itself was amazing. Somehow, over the course of the past few seasons I had lost some of the knowledge of how awesome of an experience an AFL game could be. Maybe it was the expectations for this team. Maybe it was seeing a lot of the major players from the past few season move on to other endeavors, but for whatever reason I forgot how good the AFL experience can be, and how it can become unforgettable.
The end of the first half featured a sequence of events that perfectly encapsulated everything I love about Arena Football. With 0.4 seconds left in the half, the Cleveland Gladiators set up for a field goal from the Blaze 10 yard line. Having not seen many field goals attempted over the past few years (as the Blaze coaching staff refuses to do them, and with valid reasons although that's another article all together), I had to remind my nephew that the ball is live if the kick is missed. “This kick is going to be missed and David Hyland's going to return it for a touchdown, just you watch” I told him.
The ball was snapped and the kicker sent the ball sailing... right into the hands of a Blaze lineman. The blocked kicked bounced out to the 25 yard line; the Gladiators kicker stumbled to pick up the ball, accidentally kicking it towards his own end zone. Players dived for the ball as it crossed into the Blaze end zone and when the dust had settled, David Hyland, the Utah defensive back, had recovered the ball for a touchdown.
“I was right!” I yelled, not really believing that I had seen what I had seen. Okay, technically I said that David Hyland was going to return the ball for a touchdown, but hey that's all semantics, I totally called it. The play was insane, the crowd was electric, the Blaze took a seven-point lead into halftime (which they promptly gave up on the first play of the second half), and the cherry on top was that David Hyland kicked the ball into the stands, right into the waiting arms of my older brother.
It was a perfect moment.
It's been a few days since the game happened and just thinking about those 0.4 seconds still brings the feelings of excitement and joy right back to me. It's one of those moments that will forever make me smile, and the best part was that I got to share it with my family.
You know, that's why I've always thought that the AFL was the perfect sport for Utah. For an affordable price you can take the family, watch some football, root for your team and then meet the players afterwards. It's perfect for kids and families. There is no other league that offers that kind of interaction, that kind of value, that kind of experience.
I will always remember the first Blaze game I went to. I remember sitting in the upper bowl and watching the plays develop. Watching Siaha Burley beat his defender and Joe Germaine thrown a perfect pass to hit him for the touchdown. Watching Orshawnte Bryant spy on the QB and know where to be to get the deflection. I loved listening to thousands of fans cheer in the Delta Center as the Blaze fought for victory, and then discussing Neal Diamond songs with Hans Olsen afterwards. I'll never forget those days.
But you know, for all the discord that is going on, for all the financial issues, and ownership issues and league leadership issues, the Blaze have still delivered those moments to me over the past four years. I'll never forget watching Aaron Boone outsmart defenders and make himself open for the catch by pure will, or watching Aaron Lesue hurdle off the dashers, or watching Tommy Grady destroy AFL record after AFL record, or watching the heart and speed of guys like Chris Bocage, or watching Caesar Rayford, and Mike Lewis dominate over offensive lines, or watching Maurice Leggett and David Hyland hustle their ways to game-changing plays, or watching Coach James jump into the Fire Pit after a victory, or watching Coach Keefe jump around like a raving lunatic, or watching the calm confidence of Coach Sauk, or even watching Todd Hammel come out of retirement in his 40s for a few more games. It's all been so amazing.
It may seem like I'm writing a farewell article, and maybe I am, with how things are going in this league. Who knows what each year will bring? The Blaze will probably be back, but who knows what that team next season will look like? It’ll be tough to see any changes in the coaching staff or players; they’re all such good guys.
Of course, while the Blaze’s season is over, the AFL continues on. So enjoy the playoffs everyone! Hopefully there’s still a few more perfect moments just around the bend.