Somebody famous (I’m going to guess Jesus) once said “We can only see where we’re going by first examining where we’ve been,” or something like that. Google is of no help in identifying that quote, so I’m setting the tone for this examination of AFL history by making things up at the beginning of the first sentence. What follows is a history of the Arena Football League. Many “facts” are out-and-out lies, many are outrageous exaggerations, but many things are also factual, so it’ll be a fun game for all of us.
Oh – also, it helps if you pretend this is being read to you by Bill Kurtis.
The year is 1981. Jim Foster goes to an Indoor Soccer League All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden. The reasons for doing so are lost to the mists of time, and I’m not going to ask him. The Western Division wins, 8-5, and 13,169 people in attendance do not get the idea of creating a new sport. One does. In the opium den that was the Garden that day, (possibly afternoon or evening), the idea sprang forth from Foster like Athena from the forehead of Zeus, and one thing became abundantly clear: he needed to patent this. In fact, he needed to write it down on a manila envelope, get involved with the USFL, have the USFL fail due to shocking mismanagement, and, then, in 1987, file for a patent.
Once that patent was filed, Jim Foster was free to pursue his dream of having bizarro football take place in the Spring, and shown tape-delayed on ESPN. Football could finally be played for money with the skill and awkwardness of kids playing 8-on-8 football heaving the ball around wildly on a melted hockey rink. This philosophy would eventually be picked up and adapted for the outdoors by the Northwestern University Marching Band Northwestern University Trombone Section (NUMB NUTS) for their wildly popular Bonehead Bowl, which now draws upwards of 30 players per side.
But I, Bill Kurtis, digress.
In 1998, the Big Time came calling, when Arena Bowl XII was broadcast as part of ABC’s Wide World of Sports. ABC’s Wide World of Sports “coincidentally” is no longer on the air. It was struck by an errant pass by Tampa Bay QB Peter Tom Willis, and was never the same. Interestingly, the broadcast team for that game was Mike Adamle, Mike Golic, and Lewis Johnson. Golic became part of the wildly popular Mike and Mike In the Morning radio show on ESPN and returns to AFL broadcasting this season, while Adamle went on to a career of being unable to finish sentences for CBS 2 News Chicago, and Johnson was eaten by Bengal tigers.
During the 1990s, the AFL quietly and consistently refused to fail, even after arguably the first AFL “dynasty”, the Detroit Drive, was purchased by Mike Ilich and was immediately sold for a sock full of quarters and two navel oranges. The Tampa Bay Storm, Orlando Predators and Arizona Rattlers were joined mid-decade by the Iowa Barnstormers and San Jose Sabrecats to become the stalwarts of the league. It is no coincidence that of these teams, Tampa is the only metropolitan area to also field an NFL team, as the Arizona Cardinals don’t count.
Then Kurt Warner happened. Blah blah blah Arena League, Piggly Wiggly stockguy, Super Bowl MVP. Even I, Bill Kurtis, am weary of this story.
The XFL showed up for one year in 2001, sucked, and the AFL continued to make money. ESPN purchased part of the league in 2006, rendering it inescapable. The AFL plans to provide entertainingly mediocre (but high-scoring!) football even after the human race is wiped out by a meteor striking the Earth.