Portland Thunder... take two
One yard and it’s all over. Hand it to beast mode. Have Russell Wilson keep it on the zone read or try the old’ QB sneak. Try a play action pass and a roll out with a keeper option…. or just hand it to beast mode. Anything, anything to make the genius in the hoodie appear the jester. The opportunity may never again be as ripe as it was on Super Bowl Sunday when Bill Belichick stood there looking, in a word …deflated.
Yes the grumpy guru let the clock run… and run, stunned that somehow another…good god another David Tyree moment, had just befallen the New England Patriots. However, Big Bill’s paralytic implosion will die a quiet death. It will be lost in the annals of football history. Why, you ask? Were you in the Australian outback? No one will ever call the Pats boss on the carpet for his brain freeze because Pete Carroll eschewed the hand off to Mr. Skittles and threw a slant. Just like that (and with a big fat karmic kiss on the mouth to one R. Sherman) the rest is history.
I have a theory worthy of an Oliver Stone movie here folks.
William Steven Belichick just stood there and purposely allowed the clock to tick away the majority of the precious seconds left for his superstar quarterback to engineer another miracle. Again, why? The answer, as we all witnessed, was because that evil genius calculated that the pressure, the sheer size of the moment would cause his opposite number to commit just exactly the monumental gaff the world witnessed. So he stood, and gaped, acting for all the world like a man who was out of Super Bowl answers. Belichick assumed the posture and expression of a guy who has just seen proof positive that the fates have decided he will wear three rings, and no more.
If so friends and neighbors we should elect the man president for life tomorrow… tomorrow.
Isn’t football great? The game is its own judge and jury and goes by its own moral compass. It lays low the dapper gentleman with the expensive haircut whose team has shown just a smidge too much confidence. It raises from the depths of despair the persecuted irascible savant who stands dumbfounded, unable to so much as signal a timeout.
And just like that it’s over …right? I mean there is the draft and such but until August…a bleak expanse of nothingness.
In the past I would both celebrate and mourn the big game. For all its glory The Super Bowl indeed signals the end and life without football is just not quite the same. Happily, for me, those days are in the past. Today finds the sun shining beautifully in the sky (sort of…hey it’s Oregon) and the fresh fallen rain glistens in limpid puddles, waiting eagerly for brightly dressed happy children to stomp them wide so they may return easily and be content. The Arena Football League season is 40 or so days away and training camps open at the end of the month.
I think that for many people the Arena League, which kicks off its 28th season in March, is either a complete unknown or something that sits on the edge of their consciousness, filed away as a novelty they mean to check out at some point. It’s too bad to because despite its size the league plays out with the passion, intrigue and drama of any professional sport. It really does folks, I was shocked at how deeply I fell for my new team and how fast. However most within the game will admit that the AFL struggles at times to separate itself from the other leagues and the subsequent idea that Arena ball is some sort of minor league. Often this is due to that fact that most football fans quite frankly don’t know what they are seeing in terms of talent.
In truth, there is a very large percentage of the NFL player rank and file who are gifted, dedicated athletes who have sacrificed and worked their way onto NFL rosters using heart and discipline and guts…and then caught a break. I’m not talking about luck, luck doesn’t figure in much at all. What does bring a scouts eye down upon an individual whose gift is relatively similar to dozens of others is a combination of things. Things like a school’s media savvy, their overall team visibility and record and without a doubt individual performance all contribute to an athlete’s chance to catch a second look.
Then there is the old boy’s club populated by coaches, assistant coaches, scouts scouting assistants, boosters and connected friends and families. This oddly connected web of football intellect and experience seem sometimes to communicate on another plane. Like the Masons or Skull and Bones this group of football insiders is, while benign, just as exclusive and arcane. Who told who about a kid named Romo or another named Brady? How many Romo and Brady’s are out there? Someone invited Romo to the 2003 combine and those invites aren’t handed out lightly. He was a great player at division 1-AA Eastern Illinois University but half of the rest of the world is a good player at a smaller school. Simply put, a guy told a guy who told the guy’s with the invitations.
So how many more bona-fide NFL guys ply their trade from within the confines of the dasher boards? My guess is a lot, even a majority. The truth is that there resides on every team in the Arena Football League a Cole Beasley, an Emmanuel Sanders a Douglas McNeil or an Eric Rodgers. These are guys most of us had never heard of but someone told somebody who told the right someone else. Understand that I am not purposely diminishing the achievements of these gifted athletes but trying to illustrate how many talented players are out there and just how few jobs there are. So where do the guys no one ever hears of go? Often the AFL, does this relegate them to second tier talent? Not in the least. In fact take another look at the names I listed above. Sanders and Beasley are recognizable as they are second or third receivers for the Cowboys and Broncos respectively and played a ton of minutes in various package’s this season. However, I threw a curve with the other two names.
Through a little trick of alliteration I may have slid those two guys past a few of you and had you thinking those were names you recognized as the same type of role players as the Beasley and Sanders. You are not far off though; McNeil was signed during the AFL off season by Denver and then Seattle and in fact was on the sideline for the Super Bowl. Rodgers was signed by the Calgary Stampeders at mid season off of the Thunder roster and caught 5 balls for 108 yards in the CFL’s Grey Cup.
I know we have taken the long way around here but the bottom line is that because a guy isn’t in the NFL doesn’t mean he isn’t that kind of a talent. Furthermore, let me let you all in on a little secret. Without naming names I will tell you here and now I have spoken with many players who said without reservation that the Arena game is just more fun. Yup, they like the Arena game better. If the money were equal (…and that is a monumental if.) they would play Arena ball.
The 2015 Arena Football League season is upon us and in the coming weeks I will bring you my first interview with new Thunder head coach Mike Hohensee. I will also give you a first-hand account of what is like to try out for the AFL because… I did. We have season and positional previews to get to and then comes training camp. Hey look, I love the NFL, that’s love with all caps but I have put aside my feelings of disloyalty and taken on a new team in the Portland Thunder. Folks the thrill is the same. The players by all measure are just as big, fast, strong and athletic and packed into a hockey rink and playin’ the rebounds…yeah rebounds. The crowds however need to grow. You see it’s the feel, the vibe the passion provided by a loud home crowd that gives sport what we feel in our soul. It is the shared pain and jubilation that attach us to our Steelers, our Yankees and our Bulls. Shared memories do not need to lead on Sports Center they only need to lead in the conversations and arguments and high fives with those close to us. If you are a football fan and have decided to take a pass on the AFL I guess that is your right. However, it’s also my right to say you are wrong.
The Portland Thunder kick off the 2015 Arena Football League campaign on March 27 at the Moda Center versus the L.A. KISS.