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Showing their true colors

Thu., Aug. 21, 2008

Orange Crush may be Spokane Shock’s biggest fans

Anniversaries. Those might be the only events Orange Crush super fans wouldn’t miss for a Spokane Shock game.

“The wife says, ‘Let’s go camping.’ No, there’s a game this weekend,” Orange Crush member Tommy Martin said outside the Spokane Arena.

Martin is one of 12 die-hard Shock fans who met at church and comprise the orange jumpsuit and helmet-wearing cheer alliance in the arena’s section 216. Their “family-friendly” rowdiness has been distracting opposing teams and rallying idle fans since their first appearance two games into the inaugural 2006 season, Andrews said.

“They put on a show in and of themselves,” said Adam Nebeker, the team’s general manager.

Next Monday, the Shock will play in their second arenafootball2 world championship.

The team already leads the league in fan attendance, thanks to the boisterous go-team antics of Orange Crush and the 10,000-plus additional Shock fans, said Kevin Maloney, the team’s director of communications.

On Monday, the first day of Arena Cup ticket sales, fans snapped up 1,000 tickets in the first 30 minutes. One girl passed out from heat exhaustion waiting in a line that wrapped around the building.

“We’ve never had a line like that before,” Maloney said.

This year, 8,000 season tickets were sold to 2,200 season ticket holders. This year’s average attendance was 10,566 packed into a 10,000-seat arena, Maloney said.

“Our fans are awesome,” said Nebeker, who never expected fans would get so wrapped up in the team. “There’s a lot of them. Not only that but they’re very passionate. Not passive fans that are content to sit back and watch. They like to get involved and make noise.”

They also know when not to. They sit respectfully when the Shock offense is on the field and get rowdy for the defense.

“We’re sports fans,” said Orange Crush member Aaron Hancock. “We love football. We know the game.”

Many Shock fans weren’t necessarily football fans when they came down with Shock-itis.

Some attend the games for the dance performances and other halftime entertainment, Maloney said. Others fell for the fast-paced nonstop action.

Mullets to business suits – that’s what you’ll see at the games, he said.

“We’re able to bring these people together because this is their team. A lot of people can rally around that,” he said. “They’ve fallen in love with it.”

Maloney knows of a middle-age couple who had never left Spokane, not even for a trip to Seattle, but traveled to Puerto Rico for 24 hours to attend the 2006 Arena Cup game. They got into a VIP team after-party.

Jetlagged and weary, they welcomed the players back to Spokane the next day.

“We haven’t had a bad season,” Maloney said. “When and if that time comes, those are the kind of fans that we’re really going to learn to appreciate.”

And in turn, the fans have come to appreciate the players. These are not the crème de la crème of football, Nebeker said. But the fans have embraced them.

“They’re approachable,” said Kent Odekirk, organizer of the fan group Goal Line Bandits.

“I’m excited for the NFL to start but I’m more bummed that this is ending. It’s kinda become my favorite.”

Shock players sign autographs after games, shake hands and hug star-struck fans down on the field, and attend community barbecues. Last week, Jeremy Renken, who’s attended every game, fraternized with the players after the final playoff game.

“I’m thinking, ‘I’m just Jeremy. I’m just a fan of the team and here I am celebrating with the team’ and there’s nothing like that in any other sport,” Renken said.

What has fans most excited? Playing for the world championship at home.

“Because it’s in (Spokane’s) backyard, it’s gonna be absolutely bananas,” Maloney said.

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