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

ROSEMONT, Ill. — All right. Quit laughing. So I swore I’d never attend another Arena Football Game. So what? This was the championship, for Pete’s sake. And a Detroit team was in it. Where’s your spirit?

Not that it was my idea. I want to be clear on that. My boss called and said, “You’re going, right?” and I said, “Where?” and he said, “The ArenaBowl?” and I said, “What?” and he said, “Drive vs. Bruisers?” and I said, “Who?” and he said, “Come on. It’s the Big One. The Title Shot. You wouldn’t miss a Super Bowl, would you? It’s your professional duty to ‘observe the pageantry, patriotism and drunken insanity of all major sporting events.’ You told me so, remember? When you turned in your expense account?”

And I said, “Well. . . .”

And there I was, on United Airlines Flight 9, touching down in O’Hare. Now. Remember. I am no expert on arena football. After that first game back in April, with the ball bouncing off the big yellow nets, and the players flipping over the walls, I called a cab and never looked back. So I do not know the stats. I barely know the rules. Basically, according to my boss, I was sent to the Illinois heartland on a hot and sticky July afternoon to see just what kind of party this league could throw.

Here is my report: It’s not on a par with Super Bowl

First of all, let’s get something straight. Arena football is not the NFL. It does not pretend to be the NFL. A good reporter will spot this.

For example, at a Super Bowl, you can always tell the headquarters hotel because the entrance is packed with drunken fans, scalpers, mariachi bands, women in tight skirts, balloons, banners, sirens, ambulances and at least one stretch limo with a huge bodyguard leaning on the hood. And that’s at 5 a.m.

When we pulled up to the Ramada Inn in Rosemont, $37 per night, six hours before the Big Game, there were no mariachi bands. None of the other stuff either. I did see the commissioner of the league, Jim Foster. He was walking across the parking lot, carrying a box of T-shirts.

We checked in. The bar was empty (a clear sign, I noted, that media attendance was low). The Detroit players were scattered around the lobby, their legs up on the couches. At least I think it was the Detroit players. I’m not sure. Neither were some of the fans.

“NOVO!” a tall man screamed at me, grabbing my hand. “How ya doin’, Novo?”

“What the. . . . ?”

“You’re Novo Bojovic, the placekicker, right?”

Did I mention the media golf tournament? There was a media golf tournament. Sort of. On the hotel course, a par-three. Steve Crowe, from the Free Press, Frank Beckmann from WJR and Gary Vitto, the Drive’s GM, made up one grouping. I don’t think there were any others. So I guess they won.

Money? Let’s talk money. As opposed to NFL stars, who make ungodly sums for eating tacos on television, the ArenaBowl players, many of whom play both offense and defense, collect $2,000 apiece if they win the Big One. Which, no doubt, goes immediately toward that next insurance bill, considering there are no fair catches in this league.

This may seem low. Then again, the whole thing is sort of a low-budget affair. I know this, because two hours before the game, my phone rang.

“This is Leon. You don’t know me.”

“Yeah?” I said.

“What airport did you fly into?”

“Uh . . . O’Hare. Why?”

“Oh. . . . We flew into Midway. We were hoping you could give us a lift back out there.”

But about the game. . . . Let’s get down to basics

It was sold out, just like the Super Bowl. Although the top ticket here cost just $18, as opposed to, say, $7 million for the NFL version. And most of these were sold an hour before the game.

Here is something I liked. They let a TV crew into the Detroit locker room just minutes before the game. One crew. Actually, they might have let in more, but only one asked. Anyhow, it was nice. The Drive coach, Tim Marcum, said: “Nobody expects us to win this game. Let’s have some fun.” And out they charged, all 21 players, into the steamy confines of the Rosemont Horizon, a building which has witnessed such sports history as the DePaul-Gonzaga basketball game.

Did I mention halftime?

Sorry. I didn’t mean to skip over the whole first half. But the game story will cover that, and besides, with all those guys bouncing off the walls, it was kind of hard to follow.

Halftime, on the other hand, was easy to follow. Unlike the NFL, which, for an average Super Bowl haltime show, carts in six major orchestras, and half the grand pianos made in the western hemisphere, the ArenaBowl featured a
“Tribute To Motown.” It was great. It was superb. Actually, it was the Detroit cheerleaders dancing to “Do You Love Me?” by the Contours. But I always liked that song.

Here is my summation of the game:

We won. The End.

Oh, there were a few more details, but that’s the basic story. And, to be honest, it wasn’t as bad as it seems. At least there was no Brent Musburger. Besides, Detroit now has another championship team. And that’s nice.

So, may I suggest you make it out to City Airport this morning and welcome the Drive back home. They’re flying in on Southwest, the airline with the $29 fares. Cheer. Wave banners.

And if you see Leon, give him a lift, OK?


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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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