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ArenaFan Travelogue: af2 Milwaukee Iron

by Randy Snow

Originally posted on ArenaFan.com, Monday, March 30, 2009

With the Arena Football League on hiatus in 2009, I figured it was a good time to get reacquainted with the AFL’s developmental league, arenafootball2. I have been to several af2 games over the years and have always had a good time seeing new teams and new arenas. Past trips have included seeing the Louisville Fire, Quad City Steamwheelers and the Green Bay Blizzard. I also covered the af2 Fort Wayne Fusion during the 2007 season.

With a new expansion team in Milwaukee, Wisconsin this year, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take in a game. The Milwaukee Iron was hosting the Iowa Barnstormers in their season opener.

My oldest son, Adam, and I departed from our home in Kalamazoo, Michigan on Friday morning, March 27 and headed for Milwaukee. We stopped in Chicago and had lunch at the ESPN Zone restaurant. I had been there several years ago and wanted Adam to see it for himself. It is definitely a “guy’s place” with HD TVs everywhere showing non-stop sports. The food was great and we didn’t want to leave, but we had a schedule to keep.

Once we got to Milwaukee we checked into a hotel and then went out to explore the town. The first thing we did was drive past the Bradley Center, where the game was going to be played later that evening. The arena is also the home of the NBA Milwaukee Buck as well as the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League. Once we knew how long it would take us to get to the arena from our hotel, we set out to see what else the town had to offer.

I had heard that there is a bronze statue Fonzie from the TV show Happy Days somewhere along the river walk area in Milwaukee, so we headed for that part of town. We never did find it, however, mainly because it was too cold to get out of the car and walk around. The television channel TV Land commissioned several similar statues that have been placed in cities where classic TV shows have taken place. For example, there is also a statue of Mary Tyler Moore in Minneapolis.

We returned to the Bradley Center later that evening and settled in for our first Arena Football game of the season. In a pre-game ceremony, the numbers of three players from the previous AFL team that had played in town, the Milwaukee Mustangs, were retired. The Mustangs (1994-2001) also played at the Bradley Center. One retired number was that of current Iron head coach Gary Compton, who played wide receiver/linebacker during his playing career. The other numbers were for quarterback Todd Hammel and kicker Kenny Stucker. Both Compton and Hammel went on to play for the AFL Grand Rapids Rampage in 2002. Stucker was the AFL Kicker of the Year in 1998 and is currently the Iron’s Special Teams Assistant. Another Iron assistant coach, Madison “Mad Dog” Johnson, also played for the Rampage from 2002-2003 and again in 2005. After the retirement ceremony, nine-year-old Tallan “T-Man” Latz of Wisconsin, who is a nationally known guitar prodigy, played the national anthem.

Once the game started, Milwaukee got off to a good start when WR Antoine Burns recorded the first points in team history. He caught a 47-yard touchdown pass from QB Shane Adler on the team’s opening possession giving the Iron a 7-0 lead. Milwaukee led 14-7 at the end of the first quarter and was moving the ball well. But an injury to Adler late in the first quarter sidelined him for the remainder of the game. Backup QB Tyler Donovan, from the University of Wisconsin, took over and struggled throughout the rest of the game. Milwaukee was outscored 33-10 in the second quarter and trailed 40-24 at halftime. The 10 points that Milwaukee scored in the second quarter were all in the final minute of play, including a 32-yard field goal by kicker Alex Walls as time expired. 

In the third quarter, Milwaukee failed to put any points on the board while Iowa scored 20 to increase its lead to 60-24. The Iron defense stepped up in the fourth quarter, holding the Barnstormers to zero points, while the Milwaukee offense scored 14, making the final score Iowa 60 – Milwaukee 38.

I have been to many Arena Football games over the past 10 years and they all shared one thing in common, lots of loud music. Usually it is 80’s or 90’s rock or modern Hip Hop songs, but during the Iron game, I heard one song that I have never heard at a game before. It was a snippet of the song Hocus Pocus by the band Focus! If you are not familiar with this great rock song from the 70’s, go to iTunes and look it up! Kudos to whoever is selecting the Iron’s music!

The Barnstormers are coached by John Gregory, who was the original coach of the franchise from 1995-1999, when it competed at the AFL level. He was named AFL Coach of the Year in 1995 and 1996. Gregory is also responsible for giving future Super Bowl MVP quarterback Kurt Warner a tryout with the Barnstormers and then signing him to the team. Prior to that, Gregory was the head coach of the Saskatchewan Rough Riders of the Canadian Football League. He led the team to a Grey Cup title in 1989 and was named CFL Coach of the Year. When the Barnstormer returned as an af2 franchise in 2008, Gregory returned as well. The Barnstormers have maintained their classic look from the Kurt Warner era and with coach Gregory at the helm they could once again become one of the top teams in their league. 

It was good to be able to experience an Arena Football game in person once again. The thought of going an entire year without it was something I was not looking forward to enduring. Even though this was af2, it had the feel of an AFL level game. The intensity of play, the enthusiasm of the 5,238 fans in attendance and the overall game day production made for a great evening of entertainment. The Iron and the rest of the af2 are doing a great job of carrying on the game of Arena Football while the AFL gets its house in order. I look forward to seeing both leagues’ competing on the gridiron once again in 2010.

On the morning that we returned to Michigan, we woke up to find that about three inches of snow had accumulated on the ground during the night! After brushing off the car, we hit the road and headed for home. Along the way, we saw many cars that were off the road and stuck in the ditch. We also passed through some areas south of Milwaukee that were without power because of the snowstorm. As we passed by the Six Flags Great America amusement park in Gurnee, Illinois, I had to chuckle when I read the sign that said, "Opening in five days!" Visibility was down to about a quarter of a mile, so it made for a slow, white-knuckle drive all the way through Chicago and back to Michigan.

Overall, Adam and I had a great time in Milwaukee and I would not hesitate to return there to see another af2 game sometime, perhaps even again this season. But I think I’ll wait until the weather gets a little bit warmer!


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