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The 12 Months of Football
by Randy Snow
Originally posted on ArenaFan.com, Sunday, June 26, 2005

For me, there is no such thing as an off-season from football. I have been a huge football fan for a long time and, over the years, Iíve followed many different football leagues at all different times of the year. I have always lived by the philosophy that "I never met a football league I didnít like." Other sports like baseball, basketball and hockey have never really interested me the way football does.

In the past 20 years or so, there have been ample opportunities for diehard football fans to see games throughout the year, and that is still true today. However, there are still those who think that "football season" begins in the fall and ends with the Super Bowl. Then they go into a deep funk for several months wondering what to do with themselves until "football season" starts up again. I feel sorry for those people.

For several years now I have been following the traditional fall football seasons and then transitioning right into the Arena football season without missing a beat. And with many football offerings in the spring and summer, there is always some sort of football being played somewhere.

But when I attended the Grand Rapids Rampage season opener back in January, I realized that I had achieved a unique personal milestone. I have now attended a pro football game in every single month of the year!

I also recently realized that I have a very good chance of doing something truly unprecedented. Itís possible that I could attend a football game every month this year! Iíve already attended football games from January-June, so attending a game each month in 2005 is definitely possible. By doing so, I would prove that "football season" never has to end, if you donít want it to. I have already compiled a list of games that I want to attend through the end of the year. The list includes a couple of NFL games, a couple of college games, some local high school games and even my first college bowl game in December. After that, the 2006 Arena season will be kicking off again.

Seeing a game every month this year would not be possible, however, if fans all over the country had not embraced and supported the concept of springtime football over the years.

A Brief History of Spring Football

Spring football has been around almost continuously since the early 80ís. It all started in 1983 when the United States Football League debuted. Living in Michigan, I followed the Michigan Panthers, who played in the Pontiac Silverdome and won the USFL title that first season.
The first spring football game I ever attended was a Panthers game in April of 1983 against the Chicago Blitz. I also saw the Panthers play the Arizona Wranglers in March 1984. In March of 1985, I even traveled to Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, AZ and saw Doug Flutie, Herschel Walker and the New Jersey Generals take on Doug Williams and the Arizona Outlaws. The USFL played in the spring to avoid competing with the NFL, but folded after the 1985 season because of financial problems.

In 1987, another spring league debuted, the Arena Football League. It started out small, only fou
r teams and a six-game regular season that first year, but look how it has grown since! I had been aware of the league since the 1990ís, but it wasnít on TV very much in those days, so I didnít see many games. I attend my first Arena game until June of 2000. It was a game between the visiting Tampa Bay Storm and the Grand Rapids Rampage. The Rampage lost that game 74-54, but I was hooked! I became a Rampage season ticket holder the very next year and was there with my kids when they won ArenaBowl XV in August 2001. The league now has a national TV contract and, during this past season, had 17 teams that played a 16-game regular season schedule. Eight teams advanced to the playoffs and this yearís ArenaBowl championship game was played in Las Vegas. The league even has its own developmental league, known as arenafootball2 (af2), which debuted in 2000 and currently has another 20 teams. 2006 will be the AFLís 20th season.

The NFL caught spring fever too in 1991 when they established the World League of American Football. There were 10 teams initially, six in the US, one in Canada and three in Europe. The league was suspended after just two seasons, but was brought back in 1995 with six teams, all in Europe. Today, the league is known as NFL Europe.

There have also been several other spring football leagues over the years including the Xtreme Football League (XFL) in 2001. Current indoor spring football leagues include the Arena Football League, arenafootball2, and the National Indoor Football League (NIFL), which came along in 2001. Two more indoor football leagues also made their debuts this year, United Indoor Football (UIF) and the Atlantic Indoor Football League (AIFL).

I attended my first af2 game in May of 2002 when I took the kids to see the Louisville Fire play the Quad City Steamwheelers at Freedom Hall in Louisville. (My family and I just happened to be visiting friends in Kentucky that weekend) Then in July of 2004, the boys and I saw the Green Bay Blizzard host the San Diego Riptide at the Resch Center in Green Bay. I covered that game for ArenaFan because the team did not have an ArenaFan columnist of their own. (See related ArenaFan Green Bay story)

In recent years, womenís football leagues have also become increasingly popular in the spring as well as in the fall. Yes, I have even taken my sons to a couple of womenís football games as well.

The Canadian Football League is not a spring league, but their pre-season begins in June and the Grey Cup championship game is played in November.

One thing is clear. Whether itís played outdoors in the snow on a 110-yard field with 20-yard end zones and 12 players on a side, like they do up in Canada, or indoors on a 50-yard field with eight players on a team, people just love football.

My 2005 Football Year in Review (so far)

As you can see, Iím no stranger to following football wherever and whenever itís played, but this year has the possibility of setting a new standard, even for me. Even since the Rampage season ended in May, I have continued to attend football games. Ironically, every one has had some sort of connection to the Rampage.

My football year began on January 28 when I attended the Grand Rapids Rampage season opener against the Arizona Rattlers. I went to two more Rampage home games in February, one in March and three in April. In mid-May, I traveled to the Windy City to see the Rampage take on the Chicago Rush at All State Arena. The following week I was back at the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids for the Rampage regular season finale against the Los Angeles Avengers.

In the midst of the Arena season, I even found time to attend a college football game in April, the Western Michigan University Broncos Black vs. Gold spring football game in my hometown of Kalamazoo. The Black team won 17-10. Western Michigan is a member of the Division I-A Mid-American Conference. [Rampage Connection] Current Rampage WR/DB Josh Bush went to WMU and is still the schoolís all-time leader in punt return yardage.

On May 28, my sons and I went down to Indiana to see the Fort Wayne Freedom, of United Indoor Football, play the Tupelo Fireants at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne. This was the second time we had been to see the Freedom play. The first time was during their inaugural season in 2003 when they played in the NIFL. [Rampage Connection] Jeremy Dutcher, who played wide receiver/linebacker for the Rampage in 2004, now plays wide receiver/defensive back for the Freedom. Dutcher also played for the Freedom in 2003. The Freedom won the game 45-20 and remained undefeated this season with a record of 9-0.

On June 11, the boys and I went to Canton, Ohio for our first AIFL game. At the Canton Civic Center we watched the Canton Legends lose a close game to the Johnstown (Pa.) Riverhawks, 61-55. [Rampage Connection] Former Rampage assistant coach Brian Young is now the head coach of the Legends.

Of course, while we were in Canton, we had to visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well. On the way home to Michigan the next day, we made a side trip through Ada, Ohio, home of the only factory in the country that manufactures Wilson footballs, the official football of the NFL. It was a Sunday, so the factory was closed, but someday Iíd like to go back and take a tour when itís open. Maybe I can buy a couple of factory rejects at a discount or something.

In case you think that the Legends game was the only football be played that particular Saturday in June, think again. The NFL Europeís World Bowl XIII championship game took place earlier that day in DŁsseldorf, Germany. The Amsterdam Admirals defeated the Berlin Thunder 27-21. Also that day, there was a special CFL pre-season game played in Halifax, Nova Scotia for the first time called "Touchdown Atlantic." The game featured the Toronto Argonauts and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and ended in a 16-16 tie. The following day, ArenaBowl XIX was played in Las Vegas. The Colorado Crush beat the Georgia Force 51-48.

On June 25, I went to see a National Womenís Football Association playoff game between the Southwest Michigan Jaguars and the Columbus Comets. The Jaguars were hosting their first ever playoff game at Otsego High School, just north of Kalamazoo. They won the game 20-14. [Rampage Connection] Jaguars running back Angela Edwards tried out for the Rampage in December 2003. She made quite an impression on a lot of people with her athleticism at the open tryout, including me. Edwards was the leading rusher in the NWFA this season with 1,617 yards and scored 27 touchdowns in just eight regular season games.

So, 2005 is half over and Iíve already attended over a dozen football games this year, thatís an average of two games per month! Not bad for being footballís "off-season" donít you think? And itís not like I had to travel all that far to see some of these games, either. Most of them were within a few hours drive from my home. Only the Canton Legends game required an overnight stay so far.

In just about all of my football travels over the years, my kids have been right there with me. They love the game, too. Football has been a great family bonding tool and has given us the excuse to go places and to see things together that we never would have otherwise.

The CFL season is now under way, and with the high school, college and NFL seasons starting up in the next few months, my chances of seeing a football game every month this year seem pretty darn good. Football is always in season, if you just know where to look.

To be continuedÖ

List of Football Games Attended So Far in 2005

Jan 28 - (Arena) Arizona Rattlers at Grand Rapids Rampage
Feb 19 - (Arena) Austin Wranglers at Grand Rapids Rampage
Feb 27 - (Arena) Columbus Destroyers at Grand Rapids Rampage
March 13 - (Arena) Chicago Rush at Grand Rapids Rampage
April 3 - (Arena) Nashville Kats at Grand Rapids Rampage
April 9 Ė (College) Western Michigan University Spring Game
April 23 - (Arena) New Orleans VooDoo at Grand Rapids Rampage
April 30 - (Arena) Colorado Crush at Grand Rapids Rampage

May 15 - (Arena) Grand Rapids Rampage at Chicago Rush
May 21 - (Arena) Los Angeles Avengers at Grand Rapids Rampage
May 28 - (UIF) Tupelo Fireants at Fort Wayne Freedom
June 11 - (AIFL) Johnstown Riverhawks at Canton Legends
June 25 Ė (NWFA) Columbus Comets at Southwest Michigan Jaguars

Next Game

July 9 Ė Canadian Football League Ė The Saskatchewan Roughriders will take on the Toronto Argonauts at the Rogers Centre, formerly known as the Toronto Skydome. [Rampage Connection] 2005 Rampage quarterback Michael Bishop has returned to the CFL for another season as the Argos backup QB. This is Bishopís fourth season with Toronto, who won the Grey Cup last year, and the team is looking to repeat again in 2005.

Go to The 12 Months of Football (July)

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