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UpClose at the ArenaBowl
Rick Reilly
July 05, 2004
You are looking at a person splattered in beer, blood, spit, sweat and champagne. I feel like Robert Blake's bathrobe.
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July 05, 2004

Upclose At The Arenabowl

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You are looking at a person splattered in beer, blood, spit, sweat and champagne. I feel like Robert Blake's bathrobe.

That's because I spent the last five hours inside the San Jose SaberCats, your ArenaBowl XVIII champions. We in the Arena Football League are big on two words becoming OneWord.

Still, you've got to love a league in which the average salary is $42,000, the players go home in crummier cars than the fans and a desperate reporter's question—"Hey, would you be dumb enough to let me go anywhere I want during the game?"—gets a resounding, "Sure!"

12:45 p.m. MST—I've seen better Dumpsters than the locker room the SaberCats have at America West Arena in Phoenix. Each player gets a chair. That's it. All their crap is piled around the chairs. Keyshawn Johnson would sue.

Yet to these guys, this game against the Arizona Rattlers might as well be the Super Bowl. Veteran back Barry Wagner wants to win so badly that he's pacing crazily in a circle, hugging himself as though he were in a straitjacket and crying. "Don't nobody gonna come take this from me!" he yelps, then collapses on his hands and knees. Winning team's share: $0.

1:08—It's time to get ready for the kickoff on the SaberCats bench, except there is no bench. The boundaries of the playing field are the hockey boards, so the players usually sit behind them on a hockey-style bench. Except San Jose doesn't even get a hockey bench. Twenty-five huge men and one annoying sports-writer will stand in an area about 3 feet by 30 feet. Has anyone seen a deodorant vendor?

1:17—Because the fans are so close to the action, AFL personnel are supposed to get fined a minimum of $500 every time they swear. But I've already counted $146,000 worth of fines in the first three minutes. And that's just the coaches.

1:39—It's still the first quarter and it's already 14-14. Usually you have to go to a Ron Jeremy shoot to see scoring like this. But it's so crowded in the holding pen that it becomes even money whether the PAT unit will all be able to squirt out of the little gate and get onto the field in time.

Watch it! Move! Lemme out!

At one point a lineman's chin strap snaps off while he's trying to get by me. I notice it and heave it to him on the field, where he buckles it on just seconds before the play starts. You think they'll vote me a ring?

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