There were advantages in arriving early to last Saturday's Orlando Predators game at the TD Waterhouse Centre. For one, I was able to peruse the "Fans' Bill of Rights" set forth in the team's seasonal guidebook.
"We believe that every Fan is entitled to a wholesome environment for guests and family members," it read, "free of violence, profane gestures and language or rude and invasive behavior that could in any way interfere with a first-class entertainment experience."
And then I had to stop reading, because the chords of Metallica's "Enter Sandman" that thundered from the P.A. were shaking my contact lenses loose.
As an announcer repeatedly reminded us during the game that followed, this was "rock & roll football" -- or at least what rock used to be before it decided to stop having so much fun and save the rainforest instead.
All of the music's traditional values were on display. Lust was represented by the Orlando Predators Millennium Dance Team, who writhed across the field in time with Aerosmith's innuendo-laden "Pink" while attired in skin-tight, midriff-baring outfits Britney Spears wouldn't touch. Excess was a mandate: The Predators' entrance was accompanied by enough fireworks and jets of flame to make the previous Tuesday's KISS concert at Waterhouse look like a 4-H Club wienie roast.
And as for violence? Consider this fact: Arena football is to the NFL what the WWF is to high-school wrestling; it's a pastime that puts the "blood" back in "bloodsport." Worse, Saturday's contest against the New Jersey Red Dogs was the first regular-season game our boys had played since losing last year's Arena Bowl to the Albany Firebirds, thus missing out on back-to-back Arena Football League championships. That's not an experience that puts you in a mood to sing the Indian Love Call.
Lethal, but legal
Both the Predators and the Red Dogs took full advantage of the AFL's chaos-encouraging rules, in which 12 of the 16 athletes on the field at any given time play offense and defense simultaneously. Huge rebound nets in each end zone keep the ball bouncing back into the fray. Flying tackles are commonplace, and plays often end with representatives of both squads piled on top of each other.
Before the first quarter was even over, a high-speed collision near the sidelines sent a handful of Orlando and New Jersey players practically tumbling over the guard rail and into the stands. The sight was repeated several times, but I had already given up trying to record who was involved in what slaughter. Like a car crash or Billy Ray Cyrus' career, it all went by in the blink of an eye.
I do know that Elliot Fortune, a Red Dogs offensive/defensive lineman, tagged a Predator with an especially nasty hand to the face after the ball was blown dead. I think defensive specialist Kenny McEntyre was the victim -- he was one of the Predators who was then in the thick of the constant melee. But the staffer who had been assigned to provide the media with quarterly statistics was no better informed. After a few trips to the officials' stand, she admitted that the sport was too fast for her to follow either, and that fouls are so numerous that recording the names of the offenders is almost superfluous.
Upping the down time
Though the ball was rarely in play for more than seconds at a time, the stopping of the clock never caused Super Bowl-level boredom. The gaps were filled with more pounding heavy metal and frequent audience-participation games, like the one in which two guys donned oversized boxing gloves for a score-settling brawl.
"Robert and Ryan are going to beat each other senseless," a ref announced. (Actually, they just jabbed each other out of a squared area marked at mid-field.)
Captured by a cameraman, some bosomy blondes in the crowd received moments of attention on the overhead screen as the third quarter unfolded. A piped-in commercial for Jack Daniels' whiskey was followed by a warning not to throw any objects on the field. It drew as many boos as the Red Dogs' introduction had earlier.
The Predators had a safe lead throughout the second half, at least as safe as you can get in a sport that can see a team amass as many as 60 points in a single game. I, for one, was relieved. I wasted 25 numbing years of my life in the New York area, and I can state with some assurance that losing to New Jersey is only slightly less embarrassing than getting your ass kicked by Albany.
The home team was ahead 38-21 when the game ended in another dogpile-on-the-rabbit formation. All of the involved parties took their sweet time getting up. Handshakes were not exchanged.
Most of the spectators had filed out by that point anyway. Assured of victory, they'd be back for many more massacres before playoff time rolled around. Some of them even held season tickets. Rock & roll is dead, so why shouldn't they sell their souls for arena football?