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ArenaFan Travelogue: Quad City Steamwheelers
by Randy Snow
Originally posted on ArenaFan.com, Monday, July 24, 2006

What does an Arena football fan do when the ArenaBowl is in the books for another year and it seems that there is no way to get your fix of footballs bouncing off the nets? The solution: arenafootball2, baby!

It was a need for Arena football speed that motivated my boys and I to make the five-hour drive from our home in Kalamazoo, Michigan to Moline, Illinois on July 22. We were going to see a game between the Quad City Steamwheelers and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers at The Mark of the Quad Cities. Thanks to "The License Plate Game," the drive didnít seem all that long. (For the record, we saw plates from 22 different states and four Canadian provinces)

In recent years we have also been to see af2 games in Louisville and Green Bay and we are already planning a trip to Youngstown, Ohio next year for a home game of the expansion Mahoning Valley Thunder.

We arrived in Moline in the early afternoon, purchased our tickets to the game, had lunch, checked into a motel and then returned to The Mark later that afternoon. In the back corner of the parking lot next to the arena we saw a truck with a fifth wheel camper surrounded by several tents and the unmistakable smell of a tailgate party. I knew exactly who we would find at the center of it all, Gary Stibolt, president of the National af2 Fan Club. Gary can also be heard on the weekly Internet radio show, "Off the Nets" hosted by Dean Jackson on OurSportsCentral.com. I have read Garyís articles in ArenaFan many times over the past couple of years, but had never met him in person before.

Gary has been a season ticket holder of the Steamwheelers ever since the team and the league was founded back in 2000. He has seen the good times and the bad in the last seven seasons. The team started this season 0-4 but was currently 6-8 and fighting for a playoff spot. "This has been a tough season for Steamwheelers fans," said Stibolt. "They remember 37-1 (the teamís record the first two seasons). They remember two championship banners being raised at The Mark (in 2000 and 2001). Winning expectations are very high here in the Quad Cities, so itís been very frustrating that weíre not winning. Itís challenged every fan here."

During the player introductions before the game, one Steamwheelers player stood out for me. Number 3, Sidney Lewis, from Grand Valley State in Michigan. I remembered interviewing Sidney on a couple of occasions when he was participating in open tryouts with the AFL Grand Rapids Rampage. As it turns out, he has been with Quad City for the past two years.

The head coach of the Steamwheelers also has a connection to the Rampage. Rick Frazier was an assistant coach in Grand Rapids during the 2004 season and was elevated to interim head coach after Bob Cortese was let go following a 1-10 start. Grand Rapids decided to hire the teamís former offensive coordinator, Sparky McEwen, the following year and Frazer moved on to Quad City.

Also before the game, a number of former Quad City players were introduced on the field. Ironically, former Quad City head coach Rich Ingold is now the head coach of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers.

The Game

Both teams needed a win to keep their respective playoff hopes alive. The two teams played each other to a 13-13 tie after one quarter and Quad City held an eight-point lead at halftime, 35-27.

On the opening drive of the third quarter, DS Sidney Lewis intercepted a pass from Pioneer quarterback Kelvin Robinson, ending a drive that could have tied up the game. In the fourth quarter, Lewis also knocked down a pass on a fourth down play in the end zone that kept the Steamwheelers in the lead. Quad City went on to shut out the Pioneers in the fourth quarter and outscored them 20-7 in the second half for a 55-34 victory. Lewis was named the Defensive Player of the Game.

After the game, Quad City Head Coach Rick Frazier was optimistic about his teamís chances of making the playoffs. "We get a little bit of help, we can still get in," said Frazier. "If we do, weíre playing as good as anybody in the league."

The announced crowd at the game was 4,709, which made it the largest crowd of the season for a Steamwheelers game at The Mark. Quad City improved its record to 7-8 while the Pioneers dropped to 8-7. The Steamwheelers will travel to New Hampshire on Friday night, July 28 to take on the Manchester Wolves (8-7) in the regular season finale.

It was obvious to me that the fans in attendance last Saturday night are still passionately pulling for their once proud franchise to regain its former glory. Their love and appreciation of the game and for their team rivals anything that Iíve seen at the AFL level. If Quad City manages to make the playoffs, who knows how far they might go, knowing that many fans still believe in them.

af2 History

Quad City OS Kris Peters caught his 100th reception of the season during the game. He joins WR/DB Tim Dodge and WR/LB Jack Walker, Jr. as the first trio in af2 history to have 100 receptions and 1,000 yards receiving on the same team in a single season. Congratulations.

I Do

Just before the start of the fourth quarter, a member of the Deck Mates Dance Team got an offer she just couldnít refuse. Sara Johnsonís boyfriend met her on the field, got down on one knee and, with microphone in hand, he proposed. She said yes.

The Man

As my sons and I walked around the field after the game, we saw someone I had not expected to see. It was Jim Foster, the creator of Arena Football and the man the league championship trophy is named after. I went over and introduced myself to him and simply thanked him for this wonderful game that has meant so much to my boys and I for many years. His idea for the game back in 1981 has grown into an 18-team Arena Football League that just celebrated its 20th season and a 23-team arenafootball2 developmental league that is currently in its seventh season. The af2 has already announced three new expansion teams for next year. His concept for the game has also lead to the formation of six other imitator indoor football leagues currently operating across the country. Thank you, Mr. Foster.

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