Arena Football: The Nicotine Patch of Sports

Hi, I’m Max. And I’m a football addict.

I’ve been an addict for as long as I can remember, but in recent years it’s gotten harder and harder to get by. When football is shoved down our throats year round, one would think there would be plenty of ways I could satisfy my insatiable cravings. But like any addictive drug, the more I consumed, the more I needed. No matter what I tried, it just wasn’t enough.

I tried reliving the thrill of the 2011 “Under the Lights” Michigan-Notre Dame game. I tried doing a deep dive on the sleeper fantasy pick of the year. I even tried watching all the Alex Smith film I could find, in hopes it would make me hate football. But he’s got such a high completion percentage…

At this point, my addiction started to affect those around me. I found myself antsy and angry. Lashing out because someone left a towel on the floor, or because there is too much goddamn facial hair in the NBA. Those closest to me started begging me to get help. And even though I was trying to overcome it, I was alienating myself from everyone, and there was no solution in sight.

Then one day in mid-April, after devouring the bajillionth NFL mock draft, a miracle occurred. I found a live broadcast of a football game. My brain was filled to capacity with confusion. What could this be?  A replay? College? Pros? WHAT KIND OF SORCERY IS THIS?

Then, this happened.

As if I had injected pure uncut football right into my veins, the familiar feeling of tranquility mixed with anxiety rushed through my body. As if by magic, my permanently cold and dark world turned technicolored. Live stats were coming at me fast and furious. A quarterback threw for 222 yards and eight (!) touchdowns? What? How? Why? That doesn’t seem logistically possible! What’s his name? Dan Raudabaugh! WHAT A GREAT FOOTBALL NAME!

Then, in a moment of clarity, I realized: I’ve done it. I’ve found a way to satisfy my football habit.

The Arena Football League.

It’s so simple. How could I have missed this? How could I have spent the majority of my adult life searching for an answer that has been in right in front of my face this whole time? All I had to do was fill the football void with more football.

It became my mission to make the AFL a “thing.” Not just a thing, but THE thing.  Let me hit you with some knowledge from the league’s website:

I know it’s hard to read, but I think that’s some of the fun of it. Let’s focus on the illustration of the field: It’s smaller (a 50-yard playing field with eight-yard endzones), surrounded by a four-foot padded barrier, and the goalposts are inexplicably close together! What more do you need to know?

How about the fact the season spans perfectly from the beginning of April to the end of August?

How about the fact that you’re not allowed to punt? That’s right. You either kick a field goal, or you go for it. Brilliant. Especially when you consider that any ball kicked off the net is playable by either team. Think of the drama of a last-second field goal! ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN!

How about the fact that on offense, you can send someone in forward motion pre-snap?

How about the fact that a typical game score is about 75-68?

How about the fact that for most of these players, this is their last shot at any kind of organized football? These dudes are just one snap away from being your favorite State Farm agent. You can feel the desperation, and it makes it all that much better.

How about the fact that the Los Angeles AFL team is named the LA KISS, and is owned by the classic rock group of the same name? That is real and true and wonderful.

How about the fact that nearly every single game is available to stream online? Want to watch the Philadelphia Soul and the Arizona Rattlers battle it out for the best record in the league on June 17th? YOU CAN.

How about the fact that there are broadcasters whose job it is to know everything there is to know about Arena Football?  In the video above, one of them is even referred to as “Hall Of Famer.” Yeah, that’s right. We as an audience are being blessed with knowledge of someone who played the game at such a high level, that he is in the AFL Hall of Fame (which I can only assume is in Jacksonville). How lucky can we get? These broadcasters’ dedication to the game is astounding, and honestly, it brings joy to my heart to see them killing it so hard even though they know no one is watching.

And the most important fact? It’s a real-live football game. And it’s happening now.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Arena Football is not a real game. The field is tiny, there are no daily fantasy tournaments, and the goal posts are inexplicably close together. It’s a cheap knockoff of the hard-nosed, old-school, tradition-laden sport of “real” football. Even if you love offense, you want to watch modern gladiators battle each other for physical supremacy. You want elite athletes doing ungodly things with their bodies. You want “three yards and a cloud of dust.” And I totally get that.

And maybe you’re right. The padded walls do make it feel a little like you’re watching a football game in an insane asylum. It is hard to get emotionally invested in teams out of the blue, not knowing if those teams have the financial viability to exist next season. These are not the best of the best athletes. And “three yards and a cloud of synthetic turf pellets” doesn’t have quite the same ring.

But here’s the thing: The AFL knows all of this. In my quest for knowledge and serenity, all of the questions I had were conveniently answered on their website. It was all there, ready for me to ingest. The lack of pretense they have about who and what they are is incredibly refreshing.  They are not under the delusion that their game is anything more than pure fluff entertainment. They don’t pretend to be the same product that you get on Saturdays and Sundays during the fall. They don’t pretend that their athletes are better, and they certainly don’t pretend to care about football “purists.” They want high-scoring games, a fun, beer-drinking atmosphere, and they want to give you the chance to enjoy watching a former Arkansas-Pine Bluff quarterback sling it all over a fifty-yard field. They know what they are, and they are fine with it.

And so am I. After all, I’m an addict. I’m just trying to find anything that could possibly fill that giant football-sized void until fall rolls around. And Arena Football is that thing. It’s the mayonnaise-and-bread sandwich I eat because that’s all I have in the house. It’s the resin hits I take while I’m waiting for my dealer to show up with the real stuff.  It’s the glass of peach schnapps on the rocks I drink because I don’t have money for Woodford.

It may not be exactly what I want, but it feels good.

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Max Spitulnik is a writer based in Los Angeles. You can find him at KISS games, or on Twitter.

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