May “The Force” be with you

Thu, 07/12/2007 - 1:49pm
By: Kevin Wandra
Arena football isn’t real football; it was simply created to satisfy football fans’ fix during the NFL and college football offseason.

Those notions are often expressed by football purists, including yours truly. Arena football is nowhere near as exciting and entertaining as pro or college football. But after having attended the Georgia Force’s home playoff game Sunday against the Philadelphia Soul, I have more respect for arena football.

When I first entered Philips Arena, I went in with an open mind; I just wanted to see a high-scoring game, a trademark of arena football.

I walked into Philips, headed to the press room, where I picked up a Force media guide and rosters for each team, and walked toward the field to shoot some video of the Force warming up. After a few minutes of shooting video, I turned around and noticed a large throng of beautiful women hanging out just a feet away in a tunnel leading to the field. It was the Force cheerleading squad.

Little did I know, I was standing only a few feet away from a place where many guys would sell their souls to gain access to — the cheerleading squad’s locker room. I quickly ran into their locker room, acting like Hugh Hefner in the grotto at the Playboy Mansion. Just kidding. I’m a good Catholic guy, so I just gave the cheerleaders a quick smile — I don’t think they even acknowledged my presence — and walked to the elevator to watch the first half from the press box and shoot some more video.

Once I entered the press box, I sat not too far away from a guy who resembled one of the Ying Yang Twins. “Wow, I’ve already been around gorgeous women most guys would dream of being near and a Ying Yang twin look-alike,” I said to myself. “Whom am I going to meet next? Jessica Alba and 50 Cent?”

The first half of on-the-field action was exciting right from the start, with the Force making two game-altering plays within the first two minutes. The Force’s Troy Bergeron, a former Atlanta Falcon, returned the opening kickoff 56 yards down the sideline for a touchdown, which was followed by Force rookie defensive back James Whitley intercepting a pass in the back of the end zone thrown by Soul quarterback Tony Graziani, another former Falcon, on the ensuing possession.

The turnover led to the Force’s second touchdown, a 38-yard pass from Chris Greisen to Derek Lee. Before I could even blink, the Force already was ahead 14-0. Greisen was the Arena Football League’s version of Joe Namath in the first half, tossing three touchdown passes to carry the Force to a 33-19 lead at halftime.

My first half thoughts:

1) Arena football is, in fact, high-scoring and exciting.

2) The field is odd (50 yards long with 8-yard end zones, surrounded by heavily padded walls that are on top of the hockey dasher boards along the sidelines, and 9-feet-wide field goal posts with a 15-feet-wide crossbar).

3) Kickoff returns are almost as odd as the field. Returners can field the ball off the netting behind the goal posts, even off the goal posts, and take off running.

4) Arena teams rarely run the ball. The two teams ran the ball a combined four times in the half. If you like the passing game, arena football is for you.

5) Unfortunately, Jon Bon “You give love a bad name” Jovi, co-owner of the Soul, was nowhere to be found. I would love to meet him. His band, Bon Jovi, is one of my favorites of all time, plus they are from where I was born and raised, New Jersey.

6) Bergeron is my favorite arena football player. His game-opening kickoff return for a touchdown and one-handed touchdown catch sealed it for me.

7) The Falcons didn’t make a mistake when they released Graziani — he was nothing more than a backup in the NFL — but I must admit, he’s one tough quarterback. The Force put a beating on him.

8) The Force is well on its way to pulling out an easy victory, much to the delight of the home crowd.

The only downside I experienced in the first half was watching Bergeron suffer a knee injury right before halftime. He sat out the rest of the game. It’s just my luck that my favorite player wouldn’t last more than a half.

I went back down to the field to begin the second half so I could see the game up close and personal and shoot some additional video. (Watch out, Steven Spielberg.) I stood behind the padding along one of the end zones and got some entertaining footage, which you can watch on the video above this column.

Greisen continued to torch the Soul’s overmatched secondary in the second half, throwing for four touchdowns and running for another. He ended the night with astounding stats that would make even Tom Brady jealous — 18-of-25 passing for 301 yards and seven touchdowns.

Force wide receiver Chris Jackson was impressive, as well. Jackson led all receivers with 10 catches for 169 yards and four touchdowns, all in the second half, and earned Offensive Player of the Game honors.

The final score: Force 65, Soul 39. I was satisfied; the game featured plenty of what I had been hoping to see — offensive fireworks.

As I was on my way back to my car, I noticed a hulking guy walking in front of me. It was Falcons defensive tackle Rod Coleman. I thought about approaching him and asking him how he felt about his teammate Michael Vick and the alleged pit bull-fighting scandal. But I decided to leave the big guy alone; I didn’t want him to get angry and bury one of his fists in my face.

All in all, it was an interesting experience to watch arena football. It’s nowhere near as fun as viewing pro or college football, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. So, if you’re looking for a fun way to spend an evening, and fill that football void in your life, take a trip to Philips Arena to watch the Force in action.

The Force plays again Saturday, hosting the Columbus Destroyers in the National Conference championship game.

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