That's right, it's not good old football as we know it, but it's still a kick to watch. With eight men per side and the two-way rule, you see a lot of nifty run backs, not to mention runbackers like Smith. "I was made for this game," he says.
In Arenaball a carefully crafted offense doesn't always win. The Steamrollers were moving the ball smartly against the Bruisers en route to building a 19-7 lead. Then all of a sudden, in the second quarter, Chicago erupted. Boink! Ball off the net, and Smith returns to set up a touchdown. Then a fumble return for a score. Then another Smith return to set up another TD. Then, in the third quarter, a kickoff return and a missed-field goal run back for a pair of TDs. The Bruisers scored four times in the third quarter without running an offensive play. The scoreboard was going like a pinball machine, and before you could catch your breath, the game was over. In Arenaball everything is fast-paced. The clock doesn't stop, except during the last minute of the half and the final minute of the game. A non-TV game lasts a little more than two hours.
"When the game gets into one of those frenzy situations, we win," says Chicago running back Osia Lewis. "We've done that three times this year."
To its credit, Arenaball has no wish to compete with the NFL. It will keep its game indoors and during the spring and summer, and Foster says if a team draws 9,000 fans per game it will make money. The league average is 8,245. Base salaries are $1,000 a game, plus $150 for winning. A panel of league officials watches films of each game and awards bonus money for noteworthy individual performances.
The players do all they can to help promote the game. They mingle with the fans and sign autographs. Players and coaches from both teams, as well as the commissioner, were in a hall across the street from the arena after the Chicago- New England game. All fans were invited to attend—for free. Have a beer with your favorite Bruiser or Steamroller. Talk football.
Al Bennett got to watch films with the Bruisers at their first practice after the game. The quarterback's father in the film room—what would Vince Lombardi have said? "I've never seen anything so loose," Al says. "I laughed till the tears rolled down my face."
So how can you knock it? The players have a good time, both the young ones, who are showcasing themselves for a shot at the NFL, and the old ones like Smith, who says, "I have no more NFL aspirations. None." Fans who go to the games and postgame parties certainly have a good time. I had a good time at both. Arenaball isn't big-time football, but it's something that's perhaps a bit more important. It's fun.