Friday Night, April 7, 2017, Washington DC
Indoor football has existed for a long time. Here in the DMV, we once upon a time had a team called the Washington Commandos. They were renamed the Maryland Commandos and then the Washington Commandos again after moving to Fairfax, VA. They eventually faded away and were forgotten. But the Verizon Center, affectionately known as the phone-booth for the last twenty years here in DC, played host to the first ever Washington Valor Arena Football League (AFL) game… and it was completely different.
The pregame atmosphere was different. It wasn’t anything I had witness before having been in the Verizon center a number of times for both meaningful and meaningless games for the various teams that share this space. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t good, it was different, and sometimes different is all something has to be to peak the interest of the people.
Arena football is an interesting game. It is just close enough to football to trick your brain into thinking you are watching football but it has elements of showmanship that seem borrowed from the WWE or UFC which act as a very unique change of pace to what you expect to see in a football game… in a word… it is different. And in this case different is perfect!
Last night the announced attendance was 15,000 and change but honestly it was probably closer to 10-12000 but it simply didn’t matter. The Verizon Center was empty at 7p at kickoff which isn’t unusual and in fact is the norm for most Capitals and Wizards games too as it is so hard to get anywhere in DC around rush hour, especially on a Friday. By 745p the bulk of attendees had arrived. Some were enjoying the party-zone behind each end-zones but most were in their seats ready to cheer. They cheered loud and they cheered often.
Arena football in DC, especially with a team named so well, with an awesome color scheme and logo, can produce exactly what this city needs in the summer time… an indoor fun inexpensive activity suitable for families, couples, or a group of guys that want to do something… different. Arena football won’t surpass the big four teams or even the United or Mystics in popularity but it also doesn’t have to.
After the game, the players were as excited as the fans were to share the field, sign autographs, and just enjoy the moment. Afterwards Valor Coach Dean Cokinos shared his thoughts with the media stating simply “this atmosphere tonight, here, that is a playoff atmosphere in our league.”
Others including WR/DB Terrence Smith (#10) shared the same sentiment sharing he was blown away by the enthusiasm of the crowd in supporting the team even while the opponent made a comeback. Said Smith “the fans were really loud, and the team responded to that, even when Baltimore came back, we pulled together, we rally well as a team, but when the fans are loud, we hear them, we draw energy and focus from that.”
The Washington Valor ultimately defeated the Baltimore Brigade in a win AND loss situation for Ted Leonsis who happens to own both teams but as far as the product on the field and that product achieving its desired outcome he won… he won big! The true test will be the next home game and if the Valor team, staff, media, and everyone involved can create this atmosphere again for the fans and if they do the fans will reward them by coming back and cheering louder and louder and louder. This may be the only professional sport where performance is not paramount… again that is different, but different in this case is PERFECT!