It's shaping up to be a great season.
—DOUGLAS S. LOONEY
Let the Sunshine In
The Arena Football League bills itself as "the 50-yard indoor war." Overstatement, yes, but whatever the pitch, the six-year-old league has found a following by becoming just what the NFL is not: fun.
While Arenaball players were tumbling over walls this season, attendance was soaring to an average of 12,270 per game for the league's 12 teams. That's up from an average of 6,629 for five teams in 1989, when the game seemed destined to go the way of those other NFL spin-offs, the WFL and the USFL. The league is adding four teams next season, and by 1998 it hopes to have 30 teams playing in North America and a second season, from October to December, for European teams.
The league's revival began with two events in 1991, both involving Florida: Orlando was selected as an expansion site, and the Pittsburgh franchise moved to Tampa. The Tampa Bay Storm won the ArenaBowl that year, and the Orlando Predators lost 56-38 to the Detroit Drive in ArenaBowl '92 last Saturday night. This season the Storm averaged 20,092 fans at the Florida Suncoast Dome, and the Predators averaged 12,198 at home.
Both teams succeeded because of sound marketing. In Florida this means indoor fireworks, constant music, $75 wallside seats from which fans can talk with players during the game and, most important in the Sunshine State, air-conditioning. Football? Oh yeah, there's that, too.
Kenya's magnificent runners are the perfect antidote for the jaded track fan. Just when you know you've seen the most precocious of the bunch, along comes another who is younger, less experienced and yet somehow faster. The latest is spindly 22-year-old Moses Kiptanui, who has been running competitively for all of two years. "He could break all the records," says Ray Flynn, a former 3:49 miler who is now an agent. "Nothing has happened like this since Henry Rono."
Rono, also from Kenya, set four world records—in the 10,000,5,000 and 3,000 meters and the 3,000-meter steeplechase—in slightly less than three months in 1978. Kiptanui may do better than that. On Aug. 16 in Cologne he broke Said Aouita's world record for the 3,000 meters with a time of 7:28.96. That's like running back-to-back four-minute miles. Even more astonishing is that Kiptanui ran a tactical race, waiting patiently before kicking and covering the last 800 in 1:54. When told of Kiptanui's finishing pace, Aouita said, "It is not possible."
Three nights later, in Zurich, Kiptanui's time of 8:02.08 in the steeplechase cut 3.27 seconds off countryman Peter Koech's world mark. And last Friday night in Berlin, Kiptanui ran the 2,000 meters in 4:52.53, missing a world record by only 1.72 seconds. This Friday in Brussels, Kiptanui will run his first 5,000 meters. A third record would surprise no one.