With the NFL locked out, the joy of football is a little harder to find. But things aren't as bad as they seem: the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League are alive and well in downtown Phoenix.
Thursday, a press conference was held to introduce Ron Shurts as the new majority owner of the Rattlers franchise. Under his stewardship, the team brought back traditions from the early days for Saturday night's game against the Chicago Rush: fireworks, a touchdown cannon, and an increased focus on fan enthusiasm and passion.
In front of an announced crowd of precisely 9,000, the Rattlers provided plenty of entertainment from the beginning.
Before the national anthem was sung, the team was introduced with fireworks, explosions and a burly man named Fang driving a Harley Davidson on the turf. We were introduced to our National Conference-leading Rattlers, who were an impressive 7-1 going into Saturday's game.
There are inherent factors involved in creating a good game experience for paying customers when you're looking at arena football. A balance between onfield action and timeout entertainment must be reached, showcasing the players while giving a nod of appreciation to the fans in the stands.
The Rattlers are well aware that you need to keep the fans happy, so they build in an activity at every timeout. From fist pump cams to fan field goal attempts, there's always something to laugh at, or to participate in.
In terms of the actual football game, it was one of the most interesting game experiences I've ever had. The explosive nature of arena football reared its ugly head with less than a minute to go in the game, when the Rattlers held a 49-40 lead over the visiting Rush.
After Chicago scored a touchdown to bring the game within two points, they successfully recovered an onside kick with seconds to play. Rush kicker Chris Gould nailed a 33-yard field goal through the (tiny) uprights, and the game appeared over, with Rush players rushing the field and celebrating a huge comeback.
The referees didn't see it that way, however. With one second left on the clock, they called excessive celebration on the Rush. Since the ball is kicked off at the goal line normally, the refs awarded the Rattlers one play after the kickoff, so they were able to attempt a 47-yard field goal for the win.
Farbiz Scaccia's kick careened to the right, and the Chicago Rush escaped Phoenix with a 50-49 win. The joy of victory to the disappointment of defeat, all in 51 seconds of arena football.
Even with the loss, the fans left US Airways Center knowing that the new ownership wanted to bring the Rattlers back to the glory of the 1990s, when the franchise sold out 27 games over the first six years of its existence (1992-1997). Judging by the effort they've already put into the team, a rise in popularity is all but assured for this under-publicized sport.