Monday, June 21, 2010

Inside The Jungle

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

The last football game I saw was a dandy as the New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV on February 7, 2010 at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.

On Friday Night, it was nice to see the pigskin flying around again. And it was flying around often as the Orlando Predators defeated the Jacksonville Sharks 70-48 at the Amway Arena in Central Florida.

The last time I saw an Arena Football League (AFL) game was on August 18, 1989 when the Detroit Drive defeated the Pittsburgh Gladiators 39-26 in Arena Bowl III at Joe Louis Arena as 12,046 watched Owner Mike Illitch hoist the AFL Trophy. The Drive won its second of four championships in a six-year period.

At that time, I was very speculative about whether the league could survive with too much scoring. Boy, was I was wrong. With the exception of last year's one season hiatus due to economic regrouping, the league is back in business.

The Predators have a tradition which dates back to 1991, have qualified for the playoffs in 17 straight years, the longest streak in the original AFL, have won seven Division Titles along with two championships in 1998 and 2000.

But here are some things which stood out as I spent June 18 "Inside The Jungle."

*Can't have a better seat than I had in the Press Box than at the 25-yard line.

*When you think of the Predators and the Sharks playing in "An Arena," the match-up which comes to mind is the NHL's Nashville Predators and the San Jose Sharks. The scores are much lower than 70-48. They play on the Frozen Pond, not Artificial Surface.

*A crowd of 14,010 were on hand as Orlando improved its record to 5-5 while Jacksonville dropped to 7-3. The energy and noise levels were incredible and the game was televised on the NFL Network. I even found myself sweating heavily in the press box loading up on soft drinks to keep plenty of fluids inside.

*At halftime, the AFL announced that the Philadelphia Soul which will be owned by former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski, will return to the league in 2011. The Kansas City Brigade and the San Jose SaberCats will also be suiting up next year.

*The salary for an AFL game is $400 while three marquee players earn $1,000 per-contest but they also have to make public appearances.

*The fans get to keep the footballs that go into the stands and an average of 4-5 souvenirs at $50 per ball are handed out each night.

*The Michigan connections for the contest between the Predators and Sharks included Josh Bush (Western Michigan) for Orlando who is 5-9, 165 and is a wide receiver and defensive back. Another Predator who is on injured reserve is defensive lineman David Stanton from Michigan State. Former Spartans kicker Paul Edinger has the challenge of kicking into the narrow end zones for the Sharks.

But the league is back and you never know where the next Kurt Warner is going to come from.

One thing is for certain, I was convinced that if you're a football writer, then it's worth the four hour drive from South Florida to Central Florida to see a game especially in a city where there is plenty to do with all of the various theme parks in Disney, Epcot Center, Wet N Wild and Universal Studios.

Since the NFL doesn't have a professional feeder system to compliment college football, this league is exciting to watch and just seeing skill players like quarterbacks, wide receivers, kickers and deep cover positions against potent aerial attacks could be the difference in which teams win future Super Bowls.

I'll be curious to see how much better the crowds get next season at the Amway Center for the Predators, but it just might be worth another trip to the Amway Arena and see one more event before this facility eventually falls victim to the wrecking ball later this year.

I'm sure the Predators will put on a great show at 600 West Amelia Street as they will be the last team to play in this arena which was built for $110 million and opened on January 29, 1989.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com and his blog can be seen at www.scottsports33.com.

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