By now, Kyle Rowley can find some amusement in being cast as some sort of indoor football amalgam of Cesar Chavez and Eugene Debs.
“It’s almost hilarious,” he said, “that I somehow became the poster boy for the labor movement.”
It wasn’t so hilarious when he was fired from his job hours before the 2012 Arena Football League opener, when he was stranded without a way home 17 highway hours from his apartment and when the owner who engineered this lovely bit of labor goonery sent him a text message that read, “How smart to (sic) you think you are now you dumb (expletive).”
So you can imagine it comes as quite the relief that now he can just try to be Kyle Rowley again.
The Kyle Rowley who quarterbacked the Spokane Shock to the 2006 ArenaCup championship on the club’s magical maiden voyage. The Rowley who did it again in 2010 when the Shock made the jump to the AFL and won the ArenaBowl.
Think the Shock might settle for that Kyle Rowley?
Hey, right now they’ll settle for a Rowley who puts them in the victory column.
“We need a win and we need it bad,” admitted coach Andy Olson. “We’ve got a chance to squeak one out this weekend and Kyle gives us the best chance to do that.”
As wild as the AFL’s advocates like to claim the action on the field gets, it’s often nothing compared to what goes on beyond it. And no better example exists than Rowley’s return this week in hopes of rescuing his old team.
If you followed the Shockopera at all last season, you’ll remember Rowley losing his starting job, getting it back, suffering an injury that threw the quarterback situation into a blender set on puree and finally being cut loose without any testimonials when the club decided to cast its lot with Erik Meyer. There had been a hasty change in offensive coordinators early in the season, too, and then the axing of head coach Rob Keefe at the end.
Everything ended, well, messily. The perception was, too, that it ended badly between Rowley and the Shock, something both parties dismissed Wednesday.
“It didn’t,” insisted Olson, the replacement OC last year. “He and Rob had their differences at the end of the season. I’ve been honest with him, and he’s been honest with me. We have a good relationship, and I’m glad to have him back.”
Noted Rowley, “I wouldn’t be here if they didn’t believe in my character.”
But he wouldn’t be here at all if not for the AFL’s labor kerfuffle that sullied the launch of its 25th season and made him passer non grata with the Pittsburgh Power, with which he’d cast his lot in the offseason.
The Power were to open the season in Orlando on the NFL Network. Tensions and intrigue were high, what with the hastily organized AFL player’s union pushing for a restructuring of salaries and other issues of player welfare. When the ownerships of the two teams were convinced the players were going to strike, or demonstrate at, the opener, they took the pre-emptive step of arranging for replacements – and in the Power’s case, essentially firing the team at the team meal before kickoff.
Eventually, the displaced players were welcomed back – all except Rowley and kicker Taylor Rowan, another ex-Shockie.
As befits a $400-a-game league, this whole thing was handled just about as clumsily as possible on both ends. Rowley felt especially hamstrung – he only joined the union two weeks before the big blowup.
As he told an AFL fan site, “I’m a registered Republican.”
Hey, we all have skeletons in the closet.
“You had a decision to make whether to join your teammates or step aside and root against them, basically,” Rowley said. “Really, I got involved to garner some loyalty in the locker room and maybe help win a championship, and I was proud of how I was honest with everyone in a situation where it was tough to do that.
“There were people who weren’t honest with me, but I forgive them because they were put in terrible situations. Players were pitted against players, coaches against players, ownerships against their teams. Unfortunately, it became personal (for the Power ownership) at some level.”
To the point that the spinning about loyalty and honesty became something else altogether.
“I don’t like the fact that they tried to make it out to be a football decision,” Rowley said. “It had nothing to do with my playing ability and nothing to do with my leadership. For them to insinuate that was a little tough.”
The Shock had to jump through some AFL hoops to get Rowley on their roster, even if the Power didn’t want him anymore. But any discussion about protests and sit-ins didn’t last long. This isn’t “The Graduate.” Owner Brady Nelson isn’t running a boarding house and he didn’t ask Rowley if he was an outside agitator.
“If you can find a veteran quarterback – even an average one – at this point of the season, that’s good, because they’re usually all gobbled up,” said Shock general manager Ryan Rigmaiden. “Finding one with his resume, that’s free money.”
For all the history between them, this isn’t personal. It’s pragmatic.
But the Shock wouldn’t mind if he was Kyle Rowley again.
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