Show Time Arena Football League Ready to Rock 'N Roll

By Jeff Gordon Of the Post-Dispatch | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), April 23, 1995 | Go to article overview

Show Time Arena Football League Ready to Rock 'N Roll


Jeff Gordon Of the Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Jim Foster grew restless watching an indoor soccer game at Madison Square Garden 14 years ago. He pulled out a pen and envelope and began sketching.

Soccer is a fast-paced game when played on a carpet-covered hockey rink. Foster, then the promotions manager for NFL Properties, wondered how football would look in such a pit.

With the aid of just one beer, Foster invented arena football that night. "I still have that envelope," he said.

After a stint with the ill-fated United States Football League, Foster brought his creation to life in 1987. The Arena Football League has persevered through some rocky times and grown from four to 13 teams, including the new St. Louis Stampede.

Franchise values have increased from $125,000 in 1990 to $1 million. The AFL hasn't shed its junk-sport designation yet, but it has learned how to put on a show.

"If it hadn't been for the strength of this product, it wouldn't have survived," said Foster, who owns the new Iowa Barnstormers team. "We've stayed around nine years because the product is good enough, unique enough. We're finally getting to the point where we have a little stability in the league." A Fast Paced Game

Local sports fans can get their first peek at it Friday, when the Stampede plays an exhibition game against the Barnstormers at Kiel Center.

"It's a very fast-paced game," said Stampede coach Earle Bruce, who coached Cleveland's league entry last season. "On average it's two hours and five minutes, 10 minutes. There is just constant movement.

"It's really a lot of fun to coach. It's fast moving, lot's of scoring. There are a lot of big plays in this league. Passing is the name of the game."

Arena football is played with eight players a side on a padded field 50 yards long and 85 feet wide. Four-foot high walls of condensed rubber enclose the field.

"In this game, you're always going to get hit," Stampede quarterback John Kaleo said. "There are no sidelines. In the outdoor game, you can always run out of bounds. You have to get it set in your mind, you're going to get hit every single time."

Instead of goalposts, there is a nine-foot-wide window between two 30-foot by 32-foot goalside rebound nets connected by a crossbar. Field goal attempts, kickoffs and passes off the net are in play. This creates wacky scrambles that keep games unpredictable.

"The ball bouncing off the net, it's kind of like racquetball, they have to know what the angles are going to be," Stampede lineman Billy Harris said. "You turn around and try to catch the ball and you don't see the hits coming. In the big game, you have a feel for everybody around you."

Hitting and passing, passing and hitting. This version of football is geared toward maximum fan appeal. Until the last minute of each half, the clock runs continuously unless stopped by a timeout or serious injury. Most of the athletes play both offense and defense.

There is no punting in arena football, but there is drop kicking - which is worth an additional point on field goals and conversions.

"It's totally different," said Stampede personnel director David Ewart, a former arena football lineman who also coordinates the Stampede defense. …

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