by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

I have a new job. I just found out. I am now the official Sports Writer Of The Weird And Strange. I learned this as I was getting ready for Thursday night’s NBA playoff game between the Pistons and the Bullets.

“Change of plans,” said my boss. “You’re covering opening night of the Detroit Drive.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Arena football. The 50-yard war. New sport.”

“I beg your pardon?”

Now. Don’t get me wrong. I am sure the Detroit Drive has a nice bunch of guys. But I am not much for sports that come with an instruction kit. I am OK on football in autumn. I am OK on football in winter. Do not give me football in April. I am sorry.

I beg your pardon?

They play inside a hockey arena?

Listen, you got the wrong guy. I have a mental block. It began 20 years ago, when my mother took me aside, put her loving arms around me, and said:

It scarred me for life.

“But this is your kind of event,” my boss said. “It’s offbeat. Unusual.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Just think. No punting. They play kickoffs off the wall. The Detroit Drive! Its first game! This will be a historic night.”

“I beg your pardon?” Chairmen of the boards

OK. I went. I’m a sap for history. Also, I was parked nearby. Which brings me to one thing I liked immediately about arena football: traffic. There isn’t

any. I made the trip in four seconds. As I was walking in, I heard a guy trying to scalp tickets.

“Where are they at?” the buyer asked.

“Fifty-yard line,” he said.

Did I mention the field is only 50 yards long? Somebody just blew 20 bucks.

And I walked on the field.

Just walked on. Nobody cared. A couple of cheerleaders were practicing in street clothes. There was the Drive kicker, Novo Bojovic. (How did I know he was a kicker? He was talking to a reporter.)

“Look at the out-of-bounds,” he said. “The wall only comes up to my shoulder! Somebody gets hit hard, he’s gonna flip over and land in some fan’s lap.”

“Geez,” said the reporter.

“Yeah. It’ll be great.”

Let us skip ahead to the opening kickoff. Novo’s kickoff. It bounced off the net. The net? Yes. The net hangs tautly behind each end zone. It looks like a giant backstop. The ball hits it, it is in play. Whenever. Wherever. Carl Yastrzemski could have had a second career.

And I looked up.

And the score was 13-6.

Now, I would not say they score quickly in arena football (19-6). I would not say it, because while I was saying it (19-18), the score would change again (25-18), which it did (32-25), often.

“Tight defense,” I mumbled to a colleague.

“What’s that?” he said.

And it was 39-38.

Did I mention the announcer? Jim Johnson? From WLLZ-FM (98.7). I didn’t know he had a voice after 10 a.m. And I work with the guy. Jim’s best line of the night went: “IN ARENA FOOTBALL, THERE IS NOOOO PUNTING.”

He said it 34 times.

And the score was 45-38. Novo kicked and kicked and kicked

Novo kicked off again (and again and again) and, look out! The ball went sailing into the stands! And a guy caught it! Which brings me to the best part of arena football: You get to keep the footballs you catch. I think this is very kind of the new league. I think it will increase attendance dramatically. Except behind the net.

“GO DRIVE!” screamed a fan.

And the score was 51-44.

Now. This is not a sport without problems. Field goals. Field goals are a problem, because the goal posts are as wide as Hershey bars. And because there is no punting (ask Jim), most fourth downs are field-goal attempts. Poor Novo. I think he was like 0-for-80. And the season just started.

Also, I am concerned about the mental health of our players. Here is team that hails from Detroit, wears the Houston Oilers’ colors, and dresses in a hockey locker room. You gotta wonder how these guys fill out credit card applications.

Besides, they play with a One Minute Warning. I don’t trust that.

Having said that, I will say this: In the first 10 minutes of Thursday night’s game, I saw two Detroit touchdown passes and a Detroit kickoff return for a touchdown. You can wait six months and not see that with the Lions.

And the score was 57-51.

By the way, the crowd was large. Over 16,000. Which brings me to my last concern: What about the final gun? Where do they fire that thing? I mean, this

is a small arena. We might have to duck.

But barring those little details, I have high hopes for arena football. It reminds me of the pickup game we used to play in the street. Especially the part about going home with someone else’s ball. And, of course, there’s always that traffic incentive.

So good luck, God bless. As for me, my arena days may be numbered. There’s another NBA playoff game, and I must attend, rain or shine.

Unless the Rattlesnake Races come to town.

After all, I have a reputation to uphold.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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