The Great Indoors
Central PA has become a hotbed for professional indoor football
The Super Bowl has come and gone, next season seems far away and you're finding yourself starved for Sunday NFL games. What can you do about it?
For the fanatic who can't get enough, professional indoor football has slowly filled the void between the deep freeze of February and the start of summer training camp. And though the rules and playing area are vastly different from traditional football, the indoor version of the game is still loaded with fast-paced action, high scores and jarring hits.
In recent years, Central PA has seen a small but growing arena football scene as pro teams have emerged in different leagues. There are three local squads right in our backyard, plus squads in Philly and Baltimore. Reading started the trend in 2006 with the now defunct Reading Express (and return this season with the Pennsylvania Steam), while Harrisburg first fielded the Stampede in 2009 and the Capitals came to York last year.
Local teams are made up of a mix of players looking for a second (or third) chance at a pro career and local athletes looking to keep their football playing days alive. There are players like Lancaster resident Keith Stokes, an assistant coach at McCaskey High School who has played everywhere from the Canadian Football League to the York Capitals' inaugural season last year. (Stokes joins the Steam in Reading this season.)
"If you're a football guy or an action junkie, you'll like this game," Stokes says. "It's high scoring, and the fans are right on top of the action."
With seasons starting this month, we decided to take a look at the phenomenon of professional indoor football and what the game (and personalities) are all about.
As of this season, there are 11 different professional indoor football leagues spread throughout the country. Each league offers a slightly different skill set, different rules and the ability to foster teams in markets of various sizes - anywhere from Los Angeles and New York to Bemidji, MN. Here are the local and regional teams to check out this season.
League: Professional Indoor Football League
Home: GIANT Center
Head Coach: Bernie Nowotarski
Inaugural Season: 2009
2013 season: 7-2; won American Indoor Football Championship
2014 outlook: After a successful 2013 campaign, the team has joined the more formidable Professional Indoor Football League for the upcoming season. The Stampede also moves from the Farm Show Arena for its first season at the GIANT Center, taking on the Columbus Lions on March 30.
League: X-League Indoor Football
Home: Santander Arena
Head Coach: Shane Houser
Inaugural Season: 2014
2013 season: Did not play
2014 outlook: A new professional indoor team returns to Reading for the first time since the Reading Express folded in 2012. The Steam starts its inaugural season on March 21 at home versus the St. Louis Attack.
League: American Indoor Football
Home: York City Ice Arena
Head Coach: Matt Steeple
Inaugural Season: 2013
2013 season: 5-3; lost to Harrisburg in AIF Semifinals
2014 outlook: In its first full season last year, York was able to make an impressive playoff run for an expansion team. The Capitals open the season on the road versus the Cleveland Patriots on March 22 before returning to York to take on the Washington Eagles on March 29.
League: American Indoor Football
Home: Baltimore Arena
Head Coach: Ron Meehan
Inaugural Season: 2008
2013 season: Did not play
2014 outlook: The Mariners' franchise ran into financial troubles after the 2010 season. Their first game back in the league is April 11, when they travel to Fayetteville, NC, to face the Cape Fear Heroes. And their first home game is April 19 against the Washington Eagles.
League: Arena Football League
Home: Wells Fargo Center
Head Coach: Clint Dolezel
Inaugural Season: 2004
2013 season: 12-6; lost ArenaBowl XXVI to the Arizona Rattlers
2014 outlook: Known as the team owned by New Jersey rocker Jon Bon Jovi (although Bon Jovi doesn't actually own the team anymore), Philly looks to return to last year's near championship form. The Soul kicks off the 2014 season on March 15 on the road against the Arizona Rattlers; their first home game is April 19 against the Jacksonville Sharks.
THE FRONT OFFICE
Most of the year, Marques Colston is recognized as the New Orleans Saints' record-setting wide receiver. But during the off-season, the Harrisburg native has taken on a different role - that of running day-to-day operations as general manager of the Harrisburg Stampede.
Colston first got involved with the Stampede during the franchise's first season in 2009, but he took a more active role as an owner three years ago. He acquired full control of the team last year, noting that he wanted to look for different business opportunities as his NFL career draws closer to its end. We caught up with Colston at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia as he traveled to his home in New Jersey.
Fly Magazine: What's the most stressful part about owning a football team?
Marques Colston: Not being able to be a fan [laughs]. You really gain an appreciation for what goes on behind the scenes to put a good product on the field. But it's funny because my job has very little to do with the actual football product. My job is marketing and sales and all that good stuff.
FM: What are some of the biggest behind-the-scene differences you've found between the NFL and your own team?
MC: Ultimately, professional sports are professional sports - it's just a matter of scale. A lot of the roles and responsibilities are very similar. At the level I'm at with the Stampede, so many of the responsibilities are dual roles because you just don't have the infrastructure that the big organizations have. You may be carved into one role, but you have to gap-fill to get all the roles filled.
FM: How did the Stampede's championship run feel last year?
MC: Getting in at year one and going on to win a championship - you can't really draw it up any better than that. And all the bumps and bruises that came along with trying to learn the business first-hand - that championship put some band-aids on some of those bruises.
FM: What's been your biggest challenge as owner?
MC: Just knowing what my experience is on a day-to-day basis being in New Orleans and trying to create as much of that experience as possible on a minor league budget. If you want to put fans in the seats, you've got to entertain them at a very high level, so it's managing your resources to the best of your ability to make that happen.
FM: Do you ever get the desire to suit up and jump into a game with the Stampede?
MC: [laughs] No, this is a good part of the year for me to not get that urge at all. I'm so beat up from the season that nothing makes me want to jump in.