Arena Football in Washington? It’s Worth Another Try

by Rick Snider

The Washington Valor.

It has a nice ring. And the familiar red, white and blue colors that Verizon Center teams wear. The Arena Football League returns to Washington in 2017 after a 27-year exile with the new name and eagle logo revealed on Thursday.

Maybe the second time around in the nation’s capital will work better for the indoor football league that once lasted three turbulent seasons as the Commandos. That team averaged more than 10,000 over three home games in 1987 before hearty crowds at Capital Centre; the atmosphere more like a pro wrestling card than football.

But that’s the fun of it. Arena football has lasted in some form over 3,000 games in three decades because of its uniqueness as well as simply being America’s favorite sport. If fans can watch dull offeason events like the NFL Combine and draft, they will watch some form of football where players fall into the stands regularly with scoreboards resembling college basketball outcomes.

Indeed, Las Vegas oddsmakers now accept wagering on Arena games – sure proof that the league has made it. Even their commissioner talked openly of being wagered upon as well as growing fantasy leagues and some TV package. Then again, the NFL is now openly courting Las Vegas as a future home for the Oakland Raiders so maybe betting is no longer a big taboo.

Leaguewide, there are still franchise troubles with defending champion San Jose SaberCats since disbanded. But some of the current eight teams average between 12,000 to 14,000 per game in many markets smaller than Washington.

“I think it will be bumpy [as a sport,]” said Monumental Sports and Entertainment owner Ted Leonsis, “but I’m very, very committed.”

If Arenaball can launch the career of Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden, it must have some redeeming value. Indeed, Leonsis talked of having more events at the downtown arena to help the economy during an otherwise slow time around ChinaTown.

Will the Valor have the next Kurt Warner among its 21-player roster? Who knows, but it’s surely better than that rag-tag first year of indoor ball when players lived at a Greenbelt hotel and carried equipment to a nearby high school field for practice. Nowadays, the Valor are seeking an indoor facility to train. Coach Dean Cokinos also plans to find regional college players for the roster so local fans can follow allegiances to the pro level.

Cokinos is a 10-year veteran of indoor ball. He won the 2008 ArenaBowl with the Alabama Vipers while also coaching the New Orleans Voodoo and Tampa Bay Storm. That he’ll have a full year’s start developing the team before kicking off next April should hopefully make the Valor better than a normal hapless expansion team.

Meanwhile, more than 200 season tickets have been ordered for the price of parking at one Redskins game. It will always be in the shadow of the city’s outdoor team, but there’s a place for football indoors on 90-degree days in Washington. Just suspend traditional expectations and enjoy score after score.

It’s going to be fun.

Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter @Snide_Remarks.

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