July 29, 2007

It's FAAAAAAANdemonium!

YOU KNOW, I'VE BEEN to some crazy arena football games in my day, but last night's match-up between my local Manchester Wolves squad and our evil minor-league rival, the Florida Firecats, has to take the cake.

Last night was Manchester's "Fan Appreciation Night," and I must say the whole place descended into faaaaandemonium rather quickly -- but in a good way. It was a remarkably close but remarkably fun game and a lot of that had to do with the Zany Antics taking place both on and off the field.

For instance, in an arena football first for me, the back judge got drilled in the head with a pass from Manchester's very own Mark Radlinski. Fortunately, the referee was not hurt and he was able to continue with the game despite getting beaned with an absolute bullet of a throw. The referee's sacrifice was rewarded later, when his block was ruled the "stop of the game" up on the jumbotron.

Also, I have to give credit to one young lad who won the "touchdown dance" competition with moves so bold and smooth that he received a standing ovation from many fans, including myself. The segment is simple: three youngsters are each given a football and run into the endzone with it, after which they perform various dance moves to celebrate a touchdown. The winner is chosen through popular acclaim. Tonight's winner, a boy perhaps 11 or 12 years of age and standing all of 5'2" or so, took the football and ran with it into the endzone. After dropping the ball, he walked over and gave a big, long hug to a very surprised (and very cute) cheerleader. This received raucous acclaim from the crowd and the boy won the competition with ease.

The smoothness of this move made me momentarily consider whether I could do the same thing during the after-game on-field meet-up, but I realized a) I would get slapped and b) stomped on by the offensive line. But I definitely have to give the kid credit -- even though I fear he'll end up being a heartbreaker someday.

In a related display of chutzpah, a teenager won a barbecue grill by showing off his "grill" -- which he had cleverly adorned with false gold teeth. I don't know what exactly he'll do with the thing, but he definitely earned it.

Speaking of chutzpah, one of the enjoyable things about this game was that the Florida players seemed to have a lot of fun in a very boisterous and taunting manner. During the pre-game show, it appeared from the stands as if one of the Florida players gave the new Miss New Hampshire his phone number -- or at least tried to put the moves on her -- as both were down on the field. I got a kick out of this. Also, when a key penalty went against the Wolves during the game, one Florida player stood behind the referee and mimicked his call of the penalty. While annoying, it was funny.

The best part, though, was that Manchester got into the act too. After scoring a touchdown on a play in which Florida had obviously been offsides, Manchester coach Ben Bennett went out on the field and himself mimicked the referee's call from the same position. Yeah.

For that matter, so did the crowd. The fans and players shouted at each other. For instance, after one play in which Manchester wide receiver Ari Confesor took a tough hit into the boards, one of the Florida players not involved in the play did a little dance. This annoyed the crowd greatly, as you can see from my admittedly inexact summary of the discussion:

MANCHESTER FAN: Hey! What are you dancing for? The guy gets slammed into the wall and you're dancing?
FIRECAT: Drink your beer!
SECOND MANCHESTER FAN: Go back to Florida!

Also, I had another first this past evening, in witnessing a particularly crazy play in which not one, not two, but THREE players went over the boards and into the first row not five feet away from me. They landed on top of two very surprised fans whose drinks went flying and who just didn't have time to prepare for the collision. My reaction -- "Dear GOD" -- pretty much sums up how everyone reacted.

There were also two other firsts that I saw. First, I noticed that Blitz, everyone's favorite mascot, was more than happy to oblige when hot female fans decided they wanted to hug him. Second, the conclusion of the season-long ice-cream eating contest showed the event was similar to the old saying about making partner at a law firm: you get rewarded for eating ice cream ... with more ice cream. The "winning" competitors chosen from over the season were offered the chance to beat the world's ice-cream eating record: roughly 32 scoops of the stuff in nine minutes, 22 seconds.

Now, after about two scoops of ice cream, I get brain freeze. But these folks were ... well ... committed to the task at hand. To the point where they started eating with their hands and shoveling the ice cream into their mouths. To the point where at the end of it, one competitor had ice cream all over his face and running down his chin. It is amazing what people will do for ... well, ice cream.

As for the game, it was -- as I said -- a close one. Manchester started out the game in typical Manchester fashion, by which I mean they gave up a touchdown on the first drive and then found themselves stopped with a field goal at the endzone. Florida recovered quickly, and as their next drive approached our goal line one of their players decided to get fancy with the ball and reach out for a couple of extra yards. This prompted defensive back Allistair Sebastien to say, "Oh, hell no," and grab the ball out of the Florida player's hand as he was heading towards the ground. There was no whistle. Mr Sebastien ran back 20 yards or so and soon afterwards, Manchester was ahead 10-3.

After some good back and forth and some defensive stops, Manchester was ahead of Florida 22-21 in the closing minute of the first half when, to everyone's surprise, the Wolves went for an on-side kick. Our recovery was flawless and we were able to score a touchdown on the ensuing possession, giving Florida just seconds to try a failed attempt at scoring themselves. When we got the ball first to start the second half, Manchester marched down the field and scored another touchdown, putting us up 35-21.

So far so good. But then, Florida came back. Next thing we knew, it was 42-40 and Florida tried to tie the game, but with no success. Late in the fourth quarter, we marched down the field, only to be stopped near the end zone and to make a field goal attempt. Now the score was 45-40, but there was roughly a minute to play and under the league's timing rules, more than enough time to score a touchdown.

As the clock wound down, the excitement was intense. The crowd -- the largest of any home game thus far this year, I would imagine -- was super-involved and shouting for the defense. The defense did what they could but Florida kept marching, and with just four seconds to go, a Florida player caught a pass, made a quick move and went into the endzone.

Oh, woe. Oh, calam -- but wait! The referees ruled the Florida player had been pushed out of bounds at the last minute! Still, that gave Florida one last shot with five yards to victory and four seconds left on the clock. This, simply put, was it. The crowd was on its feet. The play was called. And ....

We won! We won we won we won! Manchester 45, Florida 40.

Not only did that increase my arena-football attendance winning streak to twelve games -- the last loss I witnessed was on June 23, 2006 -- but it also means Manchester gets at least one home playoff game. I already have arranged for the tickets and will be there on Friday for the playoff opener. YAY! MORE FOOTBALL! And since playoff tickets are cheaper than regular-season games, this is like some kind of bonus.

This team may give me heartburn but I like their chances to win this year's ArenaCup. Go Wolves!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at July 29, 2007 12:42 AM | TrackBack
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