The 25th season of the Arena Football League is less than a month away now, and I couldn't be happier, even right on the heels of Super Bowl XLVI being celebrated and played right in my back yard.
(Not literally in my back yard, of course--although that would have been kind of cool--but just a stone's throw away from my home town in central Indiana.)
Now as the dust settles after the exciting Super Bowl game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots and life returns to normal in Indianapolis, aside from the never-ending obsession with Peyton Manning's neck, NFL fans might think that football season is over until the summer.
Here are five reasons to check out--and love--the Arena Football League.
No. 5: Games are Cheap
Going to an Arena Football League game is dirt cheap. You can even afford to take the whole family.
For example, the Chicago Rush just opened sales of single-game tickets. You can go to a Rush game for as low as $10 per person. You can barely get into a movie theater for $10, and while I've never tried it, I'm pretty certain that you can't get into a Chicago Bears game for $10.
Pittsburgh Steelers fans, have you checked out the Pittsburgh Power yet? They wear black and gold just like your Steelers and every other professional sports team in Pittsburgh, and season tickets--nine games' worth--start at $135 a piece. That's $15 a game. And the Power have actually lowered most of their season ticket prices from their inaugural 2011 season. Lowered them. I didn't realize that professional sports teams did that anymore.
No. 4: Family-Friendly
Not only can you afford to take the whole family to an arena football game, you also don't have to worry about wardrobe malfunctions or halftime performers flipping your kids the bird.
The Arena Football League publicly displays and upholds what it refers to as its Fans' Bill of Rights. The very first right on the list: family-friendliness. So take Junior to the game. You'll both have fun, and you won't be forced into a conversation about the birds and the bees on the way home because some singer flopped an exposed body part out in front of everyone.
No. 3: Game-Play is Exciting
It's eight-man football on a 50-yard field with nets around the goal posts that keep the ball in play. The game is designed to produce lots of passing and lots of scoring. A wide receiver often hits the line of scrimmage at a full sprint when the ball is snapped ... and that's perfectly legal.
There is no punting in the Arena Football League. There is no taking a knee. The clock keeps running, even on incomplete passes, until the final minute of each half. Everything about the game is designed to keep it moving forward at a quick pace and to keep fans entertained.
I could go on for hours about the excitement of arena football, but you really just have to experience it yourself to appreciate it. There's no way that I can adequately put it into words.
No. 2: Player Interaction
There are endless opportunities to meet and chat with arena players. Teams all around the league regularly have public get-togethers at local establishments and at the arena, before or after games, that allow fans to socialize with players, get their autographs, and pose for photos with them.
Arena football players are on Facebook and Twitter, and they actually respond to fans' comments. Players remember fans, keep in touch with them, and look forward to seeing them again.
Up at Lambeau Field, Green Bay Packers players have to leap several feet into the stands for a pat on the back from fans. In arena football, players literally fall right into your lap. Fan seating goes right up against the dasher boards--the big padded walls along each sideline--so players frequently get knocked over the wall during a game, right into the excited crowd. Makes it worth the while of Packers fans to check out the Milwaukee Mustangs.
Also, when an arena football goes into the stands, as it does multiple times per game, you keep it. Better yet, at the end of the game, take the ball down to the dasher boards, have some of the players sign it, and you have yourself an awesome souvenir.
No. 1: It's Real Football
I've heard more than one derisive snort from NFL fans that arena football isn't "real" football--an opinion that I suspect is not based at all on actual experience, but instead on what they perceive is the socially expected way to respond. I haven't been able to nail down their exact definition of "real" football yet, but trust me: I've been to many arena football games, and it's real. It's not a figment of my imagination.
Arena football is different from NFL football, but being different doesn't mean that it's bad. And it certainly doesn't remove its status as "real" football or professional football. These guys are really good athletes, and plenty of them land in the NFL.
New York Jets fans, remember this game-changing blocked punt against the Dallas Cowboys? The guy who recovered the ball and scored the touchdown was Isaiah Trufant. Former arena football player.
Cincinnati Bengals fans, do you like your offensive coordinator, Jay Gruden? Former arena football player.
Anyone ever heard of Kurt Warner? Former arena football player.
It would take forever to recap all of the current and past Arena Football League players who have made the jump to the NFL. It's real football. The players are great athletes.
Whet your appetite for arena football on Arena Football Friday, March 9, at 8 p.m. ET on the NFL Network. That's the first game of the 2012 Arena Football League season. Then, every Friday night at the same time on the NFL Network, you can watch an arena football game until the season culminates in ArenaBowl XXV on Aug. 10 in New Orleans.
You'll be in for a treat.
The author is a Featured Contributor in Sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network and frequently contributes to the Yahoo! Sports arena football coverage. You can follow him on Twitter at @RedZoneWriting and on Facebook.
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