Blanchette: At least it was entertaining
Well, it was more fun than a work stoppage.
Hey. That sounds like a slogan.
The good news out of the Spokane Shock opener on Monday night?
- They didn’t bring in Monday Night Football exile Hank Williams Jr. to sing about his rowdy friends and compare the President to Hitler. Apparently, the executive director of the players union handles that department (more on that later).
- No picket lines had to be crossed. Only hot dog lines.
- Dance teamers are now strategically stationed in the aisles during play, so you can stop and stand for a picture with one on your fourth trip up the stairs for a beer.
But the bottom line? Not so good.
The union-label Shock fell to the union-label Iowa Barnstormers 69-63 at the Spokane Arena, surviving four turnovers to get the game to overtime, only to have one more beat them. This on top of assorted miscues not normally associated with union work.
Change orders will be requisitioned, as is always the case after the first week of any football season.
Far more sobering was a late-game, helmet-to-helmet hit by Iowa’s John Mohring that laid out Shock quarterback Erik Meyer for five minutes before he was led unsteadily from the field. Mohring was ejected for the egregious blow; the AFL should consider imposing a work stoppage beyond that.
The opening night crowd – reported to be 8,891 – looked to be as small as any in the Shock’s history, possibly attributable to the Monday night date and the pre-weekend scare of a strike/lockout/amateur hour.
Which, for all anyone knows, could still happen.
Arena ball can be major league entertainment, but it is still very much minor league – reflected first of all in the salary scale of $400 a game for everyone but quarterbacks. That’s a union gripe, of course.
But nothing was quite as minor league as the way the labor uncertainty was handled over the weekend down in Florida, where the rosters of the Pittsburgh Power and Orlando Predators were essentially fired hours before kickoff by combative ownership seeking to short-circuit some potential grandstanding by the unionists.
Replacement players were called in and a few originals crossed over to play.
Since the AFL rosters are so liquid week to week anyway, it can be wondered if there really is a difference between regular players and replacements. A 0-0 first-quarter score in Orlando was as good of an answer as any.
In Spokane, Shock owner Brady Nelson winced at the show being aired to America on the NFL Network and counted his blessings at not being the league opener.
“If I was in Orlando, I would have had to put a replacement team together,” he admitted. “Although we had a pretty good pulse on our team and nobody wanted to strike.
“The union idea is so new the players didn’t really know what they were supposed to do. They authorized to use the strike for a negotiating tool, but nobody thought they would have to strike.”
Nonetheless, the pre-emptive firings were almost spitefully ham-handed. Pittsburgh’s Matt Shaner did his at the pre-game meal at the Olive Garden, apparently taking his cue from Bob Sugar in “Jerry McGuire” to handle such matters at a restaurant where someone will be less likely go ballistic.
Also, he stranded the players who didn’t re-sign in Orlando. Hardball evolved pretty quickly into beanball.
But things had grown ugly even before. Players union head Ivan Soto and Orlando owner Bret Munsey argued on the radio Thursday over whether Soto had indeed likened AFL commissioner Jerry Kurz to Hitler. Supposedly Soto is on tape doing so, though he retooled his remarks to instead indict Kurz as a Napoleon “with little man’s disease.”
So, all very adult.
Nelson wouldn’t second-guess his lodge brothers: “They took a remedy allowed to them and made sure the game went on. It’s not a circumstance that a team could survive a (players’) sit-down, have the fans leave the stadium and say, ‘We’ll get them back next time.’ Fans aren’t going to give you a lot of next-time opportunities.”
But though the players are hardly in a position of strength – what with the hungry pool of replacements just recently cut from training camp – and their leadership has been amateurish, the league would be well-served to be more open and reasonable. There is a small pay bump on the table. The issues – safety, medical recourse and the rather cutthroat transience the league is built on – are more serious than that.
“Anything not fan-friendly or business-friendly,” acknowledged Nelson, “is not good at all for the league.”
That sounds like a slogan, too.
John Blanchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org