The Spokane Shock returned home Tuesday with only one question left to ask.
“How big are the rings going to be?” wondered nose tackle Frank Morton.
To which general manager Adam Nebeker almost too hastily replied, “How big do you want?”
Ooh. Wrong answer.
At 320 pounds, Morton could pretty much handle a Volkswagen on his ring finger. And while the merits of minor-league bling can be debated by the obsessively cranky, the af2 championship the Shock brought back from Las Vegas will forever remain a big deal to those who earned it.
“I’ve never won a championship – well, in junior high, but no one counts that,” said Shock defensive end Caesar Rayford. “I’m going to remember this my whole life.”
The Shock’s 2006 title in its initial af2 voyage was a magic carpet ride. This reprise was more of an elephant in the room, a statement of just how dramatically the 4-year-old franchise has tipped the league. It was achieved with a record wipeout – 74-27 over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Fightin’ Punctuations, or whatever they are – on a Vegas stage, with 1,000 or so intrepid supporters putting down their own good money to get there. Another 300 or so wandered out to the Shock’s practice facility Tuesday afternoon to buy even more apparel, get even more autographs and enjoy again the fact that nobody has put together the af2 jigsaw puzzle quite like the Shock.
And nobody is likely to, the way the league is currently configured.
“Essentially,” said receiver Andy Olson, “this is already a dynasty.”
So maybe the Shock are ready for something bigger.
Which brings us to the other elephant in the room.
The demise of the Arena Football League – which is sort of af2’s parent or wicked stepmother, in some respects – has left a void that almost inevitably will be filled by some rejiggered league, with Spokane more likely than not to be a part of it. Surely that was the not-so-vague impression given by Shock personnel in radio interviews Tuesday and reinforced by coach Adam Shackleford.
“We believe this league is going to change and be something different,” he said. “I haven’t been told what that is and I don’t think the owners know what it’s going to be exactly yet. But we’re preparing for the idea that we might be something different.
“It would be nice for these guys to make more money, though I don’t know if that’s going to happen. It would be nice for more stability. Our front office and the league office do a nice job, and if there are changes it’s going to force other people to get on board.”
There are still up to a half dozen dormant AFL franchises that want to play, with more reasonable payrolls. There are other markets looking to get in. And there are a handful of af2 teams – the Shock most prominent among them – that have separated themselves in terms of success, following and commitment.
Whether they all can be brought together remains to be seen. Whether Spokane could hold its own with markets like Chicago or Tampa Bay is certainly a delicious question.
But if you look at how Shock ownership has approached the launch of this phenomenon, you have to like their chances. You also have to think that at the very least, they’ve changed the way any serious players in the af2 do business.
“Most people get into this wanting to deal with the football side,” said Shock CEO Brady Nelson. “We came in with a different perspective. I love football, but I thought this would simply be the most fun business I could be involved in.
“Now, for the business to do well, the product has to be great. A lot of owners only care about the football; I try to focus on both equally. And if you look at everything as an expense and not a benefit – like our facility here or being on TV – it’s probably not going to work. Almost every decision we make is based on the question: how will this help us get a home playoff game? If it’s going to help you win, that’s why you do it. And if you win, business is good and fun.
“Two-and-14 is not fun and I hope it never happens to me.”
Even if it saves him from buying some really big rings.
John Blanchette can be reached at (509) 459-5509.
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