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Green Bay Blizzard
by Randy Snow
Originally posted on ArenaFan.com, Sunday, July 25, 2004
When the Grand Rapids Rampage season came to an
end back in May, (the team I have covered for this web site the past 2 years) I
began looking at the af2 schedule to see if there were any games that I might
want to go see yet this season. Last year, while visiting friends in Kentucky, I
took two of my sons to see the Louisville Fire play host to the Quad City
Steamwheelers at Freedom Hall in Louisville. It was exciting to see new teams, a
different arena and different players playing the same arena game, so we were
ready to experience the af2 again this year. I decided to see the Green Bay
Blizzard host the San Diego Riptide.
Since Grand Rapids has been called the Green Bay of the Arena Football League,
because it is the smallest market in the AFL, the choice was obvious. Also,
since the team does not currently have an Arenafan columnist, I thought I would
take the opportunity to do a story on one of their games for the web site as
well. Ironically, Green Bay and San Diego are the only two af2 teams that
currently play in NFL cities and I was curious to see how the Blizzard handled
being in a town that is so totally dominated by the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.
(Last year, there was a third af2 team in an NFL city, the Cincinnati Swarm, but
the team folded after only one season)
Attending a Blizzard game seemed like a good idea when I first thought of it. I
contacted the Blizzard public relations representative, Curt Wagner, and made
arrangements to attend the game and do an article. However, once the boys and I
got to Green Bay it didn’t take us long to realize that we were a minivan full
of diehard Detroit Lions fans from Michigan now in Packer Country! We
immediately rolled up the windows and locked the doors!
If you have never been to Green Bay before, (and I had not) you can’t help but
see Lambeau Field as you approach the city. It is the most recognizable and
dominating landmark on the horizon. From a distance, it’s as if there is no
city, only a stadium, rising to the heavens surrounded by forests and fields.
Once we got to town, I wanted to check in with Curt to let him know that we had
arrived. I was surprised to see that the arena where the Blizzard play their
home games, the Resch Center, is literally in the shadow of Lambeau Field and
also sits next to the Don Hudson Center, the Packers’ indoor training
We arrived the day before the game and had time to visit the Packer’s Hall of
Fame and then had lunch at Curly’s Pub, both located in the newly completed
addition to Lambeau Field. The next day, we took a stadium tour of Lambeau Field
just a few hours before the Blizzard game. We got to tour a luxury box and we
also got to go through the player’s tunnel and out to the field, but we were
not allowed onto the grass.
Even though I live in Michigan and have been a Detroit Lions fan since 1975, you
simply cannot go to Green Bay and not visit Lambeau Field. With my curiosity
satisfied about the Lambeau mystique, it was time to cross the street and
experience the other pro football team in Green Bay.
An enthusiastic crowd of 3,433 turned out for the final Blizzard home game of
the season against the San Diego Riptide, coached by Mouse Davis. Both teams
needed a win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. It took a while for either
team to get anything going offensively, however, as both teams missed field goal
attempts on their opening possessions. Green Bay (5-8) also missed a field goal
attempt on their second possession as well. San Diego (6-7) finally got on the
board first on their second possession with a 49-yard pass play from Riptide QB
Kevin Feterik to WR/DB Jesus Reyes. The 2-point conversion was no good, so San
Diego led 6-0 at the end of the first quarter
Green Bay got rolling in the second quarter with a touchdown reception by WR/DB
Torrey Day and a 55-yard kickoff return for a score by DS Chris Martin. The
Blizzard trailed 15-13 at the one minute warning of the first half, but San
Diego scored eight points on a touchdown and a safety in the final minute of the
half to take a 23-13 lead into halftime.
The Blizzard had only three first downs in the first half compared to San
Diego’s ten, so at halftime, Blizzard head coach Brian Noble (a former Packer
player) decided to replace starting QB Matt Bunyan with backup QB Richard Pyle.
In the first half, Bunyan completed only 5 of 15 passes for 56 yards and one
touchdown. He also threw an interception and had a fumble near the goal line
that resulted in the safety in the final minute of the first half. Ironically,
Bunyan came off the bench last week to replace Pyle, who started the game
against Albany, and led the team to a 49-47 win at home over the Conquest. Pyle
has only been with the team since July 7. He came from the Intense Football
League, a new indoor league in Texas with only six teams.
After intercepting a San Diego pass at the start of the third quarter, the
Blizzard cut the lead to 23-20 when Pyle threw his first touchdown pass in the
arena league, a 23-yarder to Day. But that was as close as the Blizzard would
get, however, as the Riptide scored 21 unanswered points to take a 44-20 lead in
the fourth quarter. Twelve of those points came as a result of two Green Bay
fumbles that San Diego recovered in the end zone for touchdowns. The Riptide
also had a 39-yard touchdown reception by WR/DB Nakoa McElrath. San Diego went
on to win the game by a score of 50-34.
For Green Bay, Pyle completed 9 of 18 passes for 119 yards and three touchdowns
in the second half and Day finished the game with 6 receptions for 72 yards and
3 touchdowns. San Diego QB Kevin Feterik completed 17 of 32 passes for 279
yards, 4 touchdowns and one interception while McElrath had 6 catches for 105
yards and three touchdowns. McElrath was also named Offensive player of the Game
and Ironman of the Game, while Green Bay FB/LB Dustin Sagedahl was named the
Defensive Player of the Game.
With the loss, the Blizzard record falls to 5-9 and takes them out of the
playoff hunt. Coach Noble was not too happy with his team’s performance after
the game. “That was horrible,” Noble said. “To have it fall apart the way
it did with fumble after fumble, that’s horrible. I’m just embarrassed.”
With two road games left in the regular season, the team must now dig deep
within themselves to finish the season on a winning note. “Anybody can play
well when things are going great,” said Noble. “But it takes a person of
character to play well when things are not going well.”
On the positive side, the team has already improved on last year’s 2-14 record
and with average attendance up from last year as well, the Blizzard are slowly
beginning to become known in a community that has been dominated be an NFL icon
for decades. Unlike the Packers, the Blizzard have no TV or even radio coverage
of their games which makes the task of building a fan base even harder. “The
Packers are who they are,” said Noble. “We’re not competing with the
Packers. It doesn’t matter where you are; success puts people in the stands.
In a town the size of Green Bay, it is inevitable that the two teams will cross
paths on many levels, even though their seasons are at opposite times of the
year. While the Blizzard will certainly never come close to rivaling the
Packers, they are working hard to carve their own place in a town that is deep
in football history and where the people simply love the game of football.
Green Bay Packer defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila participated in the coin
toss prior to the start to the game.
Most arena teams have promotions where they toss Frisbees, mini footballs or
T-Shirts into the stands at various times during the game. They did all that
during the Blizzard game, too, but they also had another promotion that was
totally Wisconsin. In the second quarter they tossed plastic wrapped wedges of
cheese from a local cheese company into the stands. The crowd ate it up! (Sorry,
I couldn’t resist)
The Blizzard wore their white, road uniforms at home against the Riptide. I was
told that since the team’s only road win of the season so far had been against
San Diego in week one, Coach Noble wanted to see if they would be lucky against
the Riptide a second time. No such luck.
Packers President Enshrined
The same evening as the Blizzard/Riptide game (July 17), a ceremony was taking
place right next door at Lambeau Field to induct Green Bay Packers president Bob
Harlan into the Packers Hall of Fame. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue was on
hand for the ceremony. Harlan was instrumental in pushing for, and overseeing,
the $295 million renovation project at Lambeau Field that was completed last
year. Harlan joined the club in 1971 as the assistant general manager and has
been the team president since 1989.
The Blizzard are on the road for the last two weeks of the regular season. They
travel to Louisville to face the Fire on July 24 and then finish the season at
Peoria against the Pirates on July 31. Both teams are division rivals.
I would like to personally thank Curt Wagner and his entire public relations
staff in Green Bay for all the help they provided to me before, during and after
the game. They are true professionals and a credit to the organization.
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