The man in this picture is Jay Gruden, the younger brother of Jon Gruden and the head coach of the AFL's Orlando Predators. He was one of the many luminaries at the Arena Bowl over the weekend, and the guys from It's Still Football were there. They filed a full report for us, which is after the jump. The atmosphere of Arena Bowl: It's electric!
After a total 24+ hours on the road to and from ArenaBowl XXI in New Orleans, we can say without hesitation that 1) Future 1850+ mile trips will be made via airplane, and 2) while we can't resolve the whole "bloggers in press boxes" debate, being granted full media access (a first for us) was good times. Although we choked on a few of our interviews, and blew a chance to ask Chicago Rush coach Mike Hohensee in which supermarket parking lot he was struck by a vehicle this past April, we were continually impressed by how incredibly nice the players, coaches and AFL staff were.
Aside from being treated like legitimate journalists, even though we neglected to bring voice recorders, conducted interviews with a video camera the size of a 3 Musketeers bar, and frequently stared blankly into space as we tried to form coherent sentences, it was clear that everyone involved was there for the love of the game of football, as played on an itty-bitty field with freaky nets in the end zones. Though I'm sure real journalists are rarely heard to mutter, "Shit! What are the questions that we always wanted to ask athletes? Now they have to answer us! Do we look and/or sound like maniacs? I've gone brain dead! Coach Arbet, do you think... guhhhhh..." Of course, the best part was that we didn't have to pay for tickets to events nor, often, food. This is, presumably, stuff that real journalists take for granted. Case in point: the reporter from San Jose sitting next to me in the press box was cranky about the execution of the halftime hot dogs as well as the pre-game luncheon options, and my opinion was primarily: "Hey! Free food! At a sporting event! Can I get a beer? No? Okay." (Ed. Note: There's nothing better than a reporter from the San Jose paper bitching about free hot dogs during the Arena Bowl. There just isn't.)
Our schedule went thusly: Media Day, AFL Combine, Fan Festival Thinghy and Concert, The Big-ish Game. Radio Row was made available to us, but if the one at the Super Bowl were as boring as reported, the version at the Merely Above-Average Bowl would've been life-threateningly dull. So we skipped that shit.
Does the Arena League have famous fans? If it does, we didn't see 'em. So far as we could tell, John Elway, Jon Bon Jovi and Jaws were all no-shows for the weekend. The Arena Bowl seemed to bring the D-Team, so we didn't recognize too many people. The WWL sent Mary What's-Her-Face, and we rode the elevator with her right after we got our credentials, and were very proud of ourselves. I told her that we were very important and had many leather-bound books. She ... humored us. The Combudsman should get together with her, and they can hate on Anchorman references together. She is, for the record, kind of cute, and A. J. Haglund, kicker for the San Jose SaberCats, apparently agreed. He did his best to chat her up in the hotel lobby, but she didn't seem to bite.
"So. Where're you from?"
"Well not originally, but I work for ESPN, now. Perhaps you've heard of it?"
I may have made that last part up. If you've ever wondered where players go that aren't tall enough to play standard football, the answer is the AFL. Haglund is 5'6", tops.
We also hit the AFL Combine with the hopes that we'd see more things like this:
(Ed. Note: This video has made us laugh for about 15 straight minutes now.)
Unfortunately, it was a bunch of guys mostly from tiny colleges struggling to consistently run buttonhooks and corner routes over and over again. So that was a bust.
What was not a bust, however, was the Fan Fest. Our press access got us into the VIP area on the riverboat whose main attraction was: open bar! You can imagine our delight. I started putting together interviews, fortified by Rum and Cokes. We met Commissioner David Baker at this thing, and he is eight feet tall and hewn from solid granite. I can't imagine Roger Goodell or Bud Selig hanging around shaking hands and knocking back beers with the fans, but Baker was more than happy to do just that. I suspect if we had the drunken nerve to ask him to palm my head or bench press Joe, he would have happily obliged.
We also had a "conversation" with Jay Gruden, Jon Gruden's brother and head coach of the Orlando Predators: it went thusly:
TC: "Hey, Coach!"
Lesser Gruden: "Hey!"
Tony Graziani, Philadelphia's QB, had that attitude of "I'm kind of famous, so what am I going to do when people notice me?" It also was attended by a metric fuckton of mascots. So, for all you nightmare fuel fans, I give you the New Orleans mascot. I saw this, and said to myself, "I can label this 'Yes. AAAAAH! Maybe.'" I know my Deadspin memes.
(Ed. Note: AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!)
Other highlights included seeing the Aaron's Dream Team (an all-star team of cheerleaders? Not a bad idea.). I lost $10 when I wagered that Joe wouldn't find and talk to Brooke, of the Dallas Desperados. I'd love to, at some point, be able to say something other than "This person was very nice," but everybody was nice - she happily took a few photos with us, despite the fact our drinks had been mixed quite strong. Oh, and the band at this event was Styx. Yes, that Styx. They rocked rather hard. In other news, the opening act was a cover band that apparently just looked at Guitar Heroes 1 and 2, and used that as their track list.
We also met these guys:
They support the Orlando Predators, as you might well guess, and made those head things themselves.
But these are all things we could've done if we were simply well-heeled individuals, looking to throw some money around. The things we couldn't do as ordinary, non-credentialed individuals can best be summed up in video form:
The Columbus Destroyers seemed to be having more fun at media day than San Jose, as evidenced by B.J. Barre and "Chappelle's Show" enthusiast Josh Bush:
Our personal highlight, however, was getting Brett Dietz, co-rookie of the year, to give a dramatic reading of the post we wrote when we decided that his turning around a truly awful Tampa team was nothing short of epic. We turned the computer towards him, and he actually recognized our site. Apparently, his mom found our post, and asked him who wrote it. He said he hoped it was a lady. Despite his disappointment, he performed with great aplomb, much to the amusement of co-rookie of the year Charles Frederick, wide receiver for the Kansas City Brigade.
To sum up, good news/bad news style:
Good News: Talking to players, and getting them to do goofy things.
Bad News: Being, basically, untrained monkeys, we immediately lost the ability to ask any good questions. Since everybody was really nice, it became really difficult to make fun of people. Except for the guy who got hit in the face. That guy's just a doofus.