So the Arena Football League is dead.
I know most people could care less, but I for one am disappointed to see it go. Perhaps its because I grew up in a city that featured one of the league's all time great franchises -- the Orlando Predators.
For a couple of years in the mid to late '90s I actually had season tickets. Predators games were great fun and ticket prices reasonable.
It almost had a college football type atmosphere, especially games against the rival just up I-4, the Tampa Bay Storm. No wine and cheese crowds at Predators games that's for sure.
The early Predator teams featured a player by the name of Barry Wagner and he was a beast. In one unforgettable game, back when I was a true diehard and would make sure the catch Predators games on the tube, Wagner (a wideout/defensive back) would catch two touchdown passes, get two two-point conversions and recover an onside kick all within the final 49 seconds of the game to help the Preds rally from a 42-32 deficit to a 50-49 victory.
Admittedly though, after moving from Orlando, I hadn't paid much attention to the sport. I catch a Predators game here or there when I came across it while clicking through the channel lineup, but Arena football wasn't appointment television.
I'm not really sure why that is because I truly enjoyed the product. Yeah it had a short field and funky rules, but in its heart it was football, and I love football.
I think a lot had to do with the major media never treating it as much more than a niche sport. And maybe that's because the fans never really demanded it be treated more than a niche. Maybe it was poor marketing by the AFL. Imagine how cool AFL fantasy football could be?
I think the biggest problem is that the league watered itself down with too much expansion. There's only so many good football players to go and the best, of course, head to the NFL. I think the AFL was at its best when it had 12 teams, 14 teams max. And af2? What the heck was that all about?
Coincidentally, I was actually in attendance at one of the very first AFL games -- maybe even the very first. It was the summer of '87 and we were in the Chicago area visiting relatives. The Rosemont Horizon wasn't very far from where my grandparents lived and as I recall the big sign outside was advertising a game between the Chicago Bruisers and Pittsburgh Gladiators. All I knew about it was that it was a new fangled football league and, as I said earlier, I love football, so I was able to talk my mom into taking me to the game.
I can't really remember all that much about the game (it was more than 20 years ago after all and I was 12), but I still have the game program tucked away somewhere in my closet.
In any case, I'll always have fond memories of the Arena League and the Orlando Predators.