Football fans: There's a new game in town

by Tamara Lo

Daily Cougar Staff

Arena football in Houston premiered Wednesday night at The Summit, where the Anaheim Piranhas spooked the Texas Terror, winning 47-31.

Playing to an enthusiastic crowd of nearly 9,000, who cheered and stood up from their seats throughout the game, arena football, the indoor brother of America's favorite gridiron sport, exhibits the same glitz and extravagance as The American Gladiators.

"We want to provide Houston with a new form of entertainment," explains Chris Burkhalter, media manager for the new arena football team. "We came up with a jazzed-up Frankenstein, which kids love, for a mascot, and the grandiose entrance that makes arena football a family-oriented sporting event."

Rock `n' roll selections from the '50s, '60s and '70s, such as James Brown's "I feel good," reverberate throughout The Summit, while live, heart-stopping pyrotechnics explode above the audience's heads after each touchdown. Following the Aeros and Rockets tradition, Texas Terror intermissions will be one of the memorable aspects of the game. Besides the energetic and enticing dance performances by the Terror's 12-woman "Spirit Team," exhibitions and contests will play center-stage during the 15-minute break.

Wednesday night's intermission featured Channel 11 employees vs. Houston Chronicle staffers, battling it out in a game of flag football. Radio station 101 KLOL also held a contest, featuring contestants who rolled over and around the ground, with adhesive tape attached, trying to attach themselves to $1's and $5's.

The air-conditioned and summertime hybrid of football was born in 1985, when Jim Foster, a professional football marketing manager, got a whimsical idea from watching an indoor soccer game at Madison Square Garden. Knowing that there was no room for competition with the NFL, Foster decided to create a similar, but unique game, applying aspects of outdoor football, but with interesting twists. Arena football is played on a 50-yard, Astroturf field, with rebound nets at each end of the field. Instead of 22 players on the field, arena football battles eight against eight.

Attracting ever-increasing coast-to-coast media coverage, the Arena Football League has steadily grown since its inception, from four teams in 1987 to 18 at the present. Regular games are being covered by TV Guide, USA Today, CNN and ESPN.

Even though the indoor version's popularity is steadily rising across the country, some loyal, diehard football fans say it doesn't hold a candle to the original sport.

"I don't see arena football lasting very long," forecasts Mark Gray, a UH senior marketing major.

Arena football owners include NBA and NHL teams and major media companies. Rockets owner Leslie Alexander bought the Texas Terror, the Phoenix Suns own the Arizona Rattlers, and the St. Louis Blues own the St. Louis Stampede. The league requires each ownership group to have a net worth of $25 million or more, to ensure the league's stability.

The teams are composed of ex-pro and college football players, many of whom have been recruited from several Texas schools, such as Texas A&M, Texas Southern, UT and Texas Tech. Former Cougars quarterback Jimmy Klingler, who made the first touchdown of Texas Terror history in the first quarter Tuesday, is also included on the roster.

Those who attend arena games should be prepared to see quick and high-scoring games. With only a three-foot wall protecting spectators from the body-slamming players on the field, don't be surprised if a body, if not a ball, propels onto your lap.

Visit The Daily Cougar