Arena Football Debuts on NFL Network
It has been two years since I have been able to sit down in my living room at home and watch an Arena Football League game on TV. So I was really looking forward to the kickoff of the 2010 AFL season on the NFL Network Friday night (April 2). I was not disappointed.
Even though many of the players on both teams were unfamiliar to me, it was still comforting to see the familiar helmets and uniforms of the Chicago Rush and the Iowa Barnstormers playing a game live from Des Moines. Also comforting was seeing Chicago head coach Mike Hohensee and Iowa head coach John Gregory right where they belonged, on the sidelines with their teams. But the most reassuring thing of all was seeing the enthusiastic 12,182 fans that were in attendance. It confirmed to me that the Arena Football League truly was back!
Chicago won 61-43, but the outcome of the game was not nearly as important as the fact that it was played under the Arena Football League brand. Originally, the league was going to be known as Arena Football One this season, but when the league purchased the AFL name, logos, records and assets in bankruptcy court last December, they changed their name back to the Arena Football League.
NO BREAK FOR SOME CURRENT AFL TEAMS
While the Arena Football League and its teams were dormant in 2009, arenafootball2 played a full schedule. The Barnstormers were members of the af2 last year and so were several other current AFL teams; the Milwaukee Iron, Spokane Shock, Tulsa Talons, Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz, Bossier-Shreveport Battle Wings and Alabama Vipers. The Vipers were renamed this year after previously being known as the Tennessee Valley Vipers. The Spokane Shock won the af2 championship last year.
In order to get my Arena Football fix last season, I traveled to Milwaukee twice to see the Iron in action. The first time they played the Barnstormers and the second time I saw them play the Albany Firebirds. I even traveled to Oklahoma City to see the Yard Dawgz play the Corpus Christi Sharks. Even thought it has not been two years since I last saw a game in person, it is still nice to know that the AFL is back and once again on TV.
When NBC broadcast AFL games from 2004-2006, it was a huge step in the development of the league. But it became clear over time that NBC was only doing it because they had lost the rights to broadcast NFL games at the time, and it showed. NBC was just biding its time with the AFL until they could regain a share of the more lucrative NFL broadcast package.
Next came ESPN, which did a fine job of broadcasting AFL games in 2007 and 2008. They understood the sport much better that NBC ever did. It was a good partnership for the league and exposed it to a receptive, sports-minded audience.
This season, the NFL Network is carrying AFL games on Friday nights and from what I saw from the first broadcast, the fit seems perfect. Live football games being shown on a football network. Genius!
There was one thing missing from the broadcast however. There was a complete lack of constant camera shots aimed at the owner’s box containing either John Elway or John Bon Jovi. For three hours, the focus was clearly on the action on the field. How refreshing!
Up until Friday night, the return of the AFL was simply nothing more than a date on the calendar. Like Christmas, the first day of Spring or my birthday, it seemed that it would never get here. But now it has finally arrived and AFL fans all over the country can breathe a sigh of relief. Those who took joy in pronouncing the league dead and buried last year must now accept the fact that, although it is not exactly the same as it was in 2008, the AFL is once again taking to the field and lighting up the scoreboards. With plans already announced for expansion next season, I have no doubt that the AFL will continue to grow in popularity and prosper in its newest incarnation. Welcome back!