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There is still a lot of interest in Schlichter back home in central Ohio. The Columbus Dispatch sends writer Tim Wilson, who grew up with Schlichter in Washington Court House, Ohio, to cover his games. "This is the happiest I've seen him in about 2� years," says Wilson. "But Art also realizes that this is his last chance."
Arenaball is the last chance for most of its players. One-time NFL starters (for example, Charlie Brown, once a Smurf receiver with the Redskins, who plays for the Washington Commandos) are in the same boat with former college players who haven't given up on their NFL dreams—like Thomas Monroe, once of Prairie View A&M and now with the Pittsburgh Gladiators, and Sam Moore, of Sam Houston State and the Dallas Texans, who were tied for the league lead with 30 receptions after six games. But if there is desperation in the air, it doesn't diminish the product.
"It's the most exciting brand of football there is," says Detroit Lion tackle Lomas Brown, who tossed the coin before the Drive-Dynamite game. "You know these guys must love the sport, because they're certainly not playing for the money. There's no way I'd play for what they get."
What they get in the standard player's contract is this: $500 a game for players with at least one year of pro experience, $400 a game for nonpros, plus a $50 bonus for each player whenever his team wins. Iltch says the owners also decided that each team could pay a higher salary to one or two players with proven drawing power. Schlichter says he is paid $500 a game. "For most of them, this is just a summer job," says Foster. "It sure beats sloppin' cement."
Evidence that Arenaball is a short-timer's profession came on Opening Night, June 8, when Pittsburgh competed without three of its players. Receiver Brad Calip was getting married, lineman Rodney Garner was graduating from Auburn, and receiver Julius Dawkins was attending an international fitness convention in San Diego.
This season, there is added pressure for Arenaball to establish a firm foothold. Next March, the National Spring Football League and the World League of American Football are expected to begin play, giving the indoor game some serious outdoor competition.
For Schlichter, it is also a season for planting new football roots. "I see this as a very positive step toward my rehabilitation and possibly playing somewhere else," he says.
"I think 99 percent of the people hope Art does well," says Vitto. "He certainly brings credibility to the league, which is something we need at this stage."
The league did not view Schlichter's gambling history as a detriment when he signed on. "It was discussed briefly," Schlichter says. "I mean it's not as if there's a line on every Arena game." Still, Arenaball has some long odds to beat.