If the National Football League goes belly-up, and Major League Baseball shifts all 26 franchises to Japan, and the National Basketball Association is outlawed by the David Souter Supreme Court, and the National Hockey League votes a permanent ban on franchises south of the Potomac, then maybe I'll get excited about Tampa Bay's chances of joining the Arena Football League. Let's do a simpler-than-litmus test. Detroit is No. 1 in Arena Football League attendance. But can you tell me the Detroit team's nickname, or its head coach, or the quarterback, or Detroit's home stadium? I went 0-for-4, and didn't feel guilty about my ignorance.
I'm not sworn to squash indoor, micro-football, it's just that I can't say much for it. But if 3-million Tampa Bay souls say "yea!" on putting a franchise in the Florida Suncoast Dome, I'll whine like a losing politician, "The people have spoken."
Don't be confused. Arena football is not big league, in the sense of MLB, NFL, NBA or NHL. As purists, we're prone to think the first priority for a pro sports team is "quality play," but in reality it's "ego" that is the overwhelming No. 1 factor.
Tampa Bay wants in on baseball expansion, and the biggest reason is that we'd feel rich 'n sassy at being mentioned in the same baseball breath with Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. We hunger for diamond locals who'll be featured nightly on ESPN's SportsCenter, and splashed in USA Today. Let Dome opponents have names like Sandberg, Strawberry and Sabo.
"Ego" is why the Associated Press poll is vital to college football. If you're hot for the FSU Seminoles, it feels good when all 50 states arise on Tuesday mornings to read that your Tallahassee heroes are ranked ahead of Oklahoma, Southern California and Ohio State.
Arena football provides little of that, no matter how high-scoring and entertaining the games may be. Same goes for the new World League of Football, an offspring of the NFL that has a great chance for failure in cities like Barcelona, Orlando, London and San Antonio. Ditto for the regenerated Tampa Bay Bandits and, what are they calling it now, the U.S. Football Association?
Not enough ego enrichment.
Remember indoor soccer at Bayfront Center? Crowds often got double their money's worth. It was human pinball. Nonetheless, it didn't fly. Why? Ego factor. It's amusing if your team whips the Macon Whoopies 19-18 in OT, but does the world care?
Ego, ego, ego Suppose, playing alone on a golf course, you made two straight holes-in-one, but were somehow banned from telling anybody. Would the artistic self-satisfaction be enough? No way! You'd want pals to know, and to get interview requests from Good Morning America and Golf Digest.
Arena football is the Continental Basketball Association in helmets and pads. If I lived in Montgomery or Omaha, I'd bang drums for an Arena Football League or CBA franchise. But, for Tampa Bay, with all our major-league droolings, this stuff has the impact of a jalopy race at Daytona.
Fun, perhaps, but zilch ego.
Not too long ago, the Tampa Bay Thrillers were winning CBA championships under Bill Musselman, now coach of the NBA Minnesota Timberwolves, and they served up high-scoring, amusing basketball. Still, it flunked. But, in 1990, bring Michael Jordan to town for a Chicago Bulls exhibition and Dome turnstiles spin past 25,000.
Get the picture?
Arena football averaged 13,147 in Detroit last season, and Dallas was second best with an average crowd of 12,414. But how much have you heard about, or read about, or cared about a cast that includes the Chicago Bruisers, Washington Commandos, Dallas Texans, Denver Dynamite, Pittsburgh Gladiators and Detroit Drive?
Forty-eight hours ago, you could've offered me $2-million to come up with two Arena Football League nicknames, or two head coaches, or two quarterbacks, and I couldn't have earned 2 cents. Maybe it's just me. Maybe this is Uncle and Aunt Sam's next great game.
Somehow I doubt it.
Tampa Bay's future is with its Bucs of NFL, plus now-reachable MLB and NHL expansion franchises. We've got NBA Magic two hours northeast in Orlando. There's no great cavity begging to be filled by the Arena Football League.
But, the people must speak.