It was definitely the place to be in Spokane on a Thursday night, the perfect cure to a winter’s worth of cabin fever.
The pyrotechnics added a nice flair to the occasion. The floodlights sweeping over the AstroTurf field, and jock rock music added to the energy.
The mascot Shox the Fox was well received, only to be upstaged by the testosterone-fueled fan base’s favorite foxes – the dance team.
And yes, there was the competition as the Spokane Shock made its arenafootball2 debut at the Spokane Arena. The attendance was 9,386 in the 9,900-seat building as the Shock defeated the Stockton Lightning, 41-40. The inauguration was indeed a win-win situation.
“Now that it’s here, it’s just so much fun to see,” said Shock owner and CEO Brady Nelson, looking over the Arena as the seats began to fill. “I really feel like a kid in a candy store.”
The night also was sweet for 42-year-old Rob Mills.
In arena ball, fans are allowed to keep footballs that land in the stands, which amount to about 20 to 25 a game. About two minutes after the kickoff, Mills got the first souvenir when Shock quarterback Alex Neist misfired a pass that sailed into the second row.
“The first thing he said when we found out arena football is coming to Spokane is that you can keep the ball in arena football,” said Mills’ 21-year-old nephew, Joey Bivens.
Added a gleeful Mills, clutching the tan and navy blue ball: “It feels great. I’ve been waiting to come to an arena game for years, and I figured it would be a couple of years before I got my hands on a ball.”
Footballs aren’t the only parting gifts in the promotion-heavy world of arena ball. A team of young men and women outfitted in fluorescent lime-green T-shirts heaved Shock T-shirts into the crowd during timeouts.
Kevin Twohig, general manager of the Arena, likened the atmosphere to part Saturday night hockey crowd and part World Wrestling Entertainment.
“I think this is great,” said Justin King, 22, moments after receiving a T-shirt and Mexican restaurant coupon after winning the “search for the salsa” contest, blindfolded at midfield during a timeout. “I was a little skeptical at first, but there’s been so much buzz around this.”
Those who didn’t snag a T-shirt out of the hands of a neighboring fan had plenty of chances to buy one before Thursday’s game or at the Arena. Many fans showed up wearing bright orange Shock shirts that read “Electrifying Football,” making the Arena look all the more juiced up. The lines for merchandise before the game were longer than a Powerball line in Stateline, Idaho, when the jackpot reaches nine figures.
In future games, blue or yellow shirts will be the color of the day, representing the team colors.
“They’ve been selling like crazy,” said Dan Largan, a silk screener who makes the shirts at Cuda Buffalo Apparel. “I think this (af2) is going to be a blast.”
Brady, meanwhile, also was dressed in team colors, but the owner went upscale in his orange Polo dress shirt.
“This (af2) is something everyone can sink their teeth into,” he said. “We’ve had such a good outpour of people. They’re thanking me in letters and e-mails.”