Foremost among the reasons to like arena football is this:
Sometimes it just stops making sense.
Your team can be playing like refugees from a sensory deprivation tank. The quarterback can be channeling Carlos Silva in his keep-away dance with the strike zone. Your pass rush can be doing more dogpaddle than Australian crawl. Your defensive backs can be slathering margarine on second-degree burns. Your place-kicker can take on the look of a 35-handicapper from the blue tees.
Then a confetti shower of strange falls from the rafters, and this happens and that happens and something else happens. And you win despite all that other stuff.
“The game I love,” Spokane Shock coach Adam Shackleford kept saying Saturday night.
He loved it better since it was his team with the 64 next to it on the scoreboard and Boise with the 62, certainly, but had it been reversed the feeling here is that he’d have saved the video to show to his next class of freshmen in af2 appreciation.
The Shock are 6-0 now, but assign a relative worth to this season’s victories and the previous five don’t equal this one.
Surely not to the 10,557 in attendance, lulled into complacence by what they’d witnessed to this point of the season – either because of the relative ease the Shock enjoyed in winning, or the severe shortage of spectacular in those games. In contrast, this was the sort of spectacle that gets season-ticket holders to re-up on their way out the door and brings the newbies back with a friend.
And the Shock, too, will recognize it for what it is.
“This is what playoff football is going to be like,” Shackleford said.
Promise that when the Shock spot the opposing team a two-touchdown lead, they can make it up by picking up a kickoff wildly careening off the net supports and running it into the end zone. Promise that the tying two-point conversion will be your 300-pound fullback dribbling a pitchout off the turf and wrapping it up as he crosses the goal line.
Promise that when the Shock fall behind yet again by two touchdowns that the opposition coach goes for the jugular with an end-of-half field-goal attempt – only to have the wiliest return man in all of indoor football run it back 55 yards for a game-flipping touchdown.
“I’m not sure if coach (Brent) Winter had to do it over again that he’d kick to Raul Vijil with four seconds left,” Shackleford said of his Boise counterpart.
Promise that when your all-star defensive back spends the first half getting turned around by a tricky receiving corps, then gets knocked silly in a collision after surrendering another touchdown to open the second half, that he comes back and swings the game with one interception and all but cements the victory with another.
And promise that when your normally unflappable quarterback struggles to be even ordinary that he hangs in to deliver the one ball that matters.
Of course, if Shackleford had his druthers, Nick Davila would have delivered that ball about 30 seconds earlier, when the Shock had fourth down at the Boise 5-yard line and a chance to mitigate the suspense.
“I wished he would have thrown it to a wide-open Raul Vijil, like we talked about, and not thrown it low to Patrick Bugg (covered along the left wall),” the coach allowed. “But I give Nick a lot of credit tonight.
“He struggled, he struggled and he struggled but he never gave up. He battled and battled and threw a great touchdown at the end.”
Davila’s numbers – 27 of 45, one interception, five touchdowns, 285 yards – only hint at his difficulties this night. On Spokane’s second possession, he threw four straight incompletions. He had four or more balls tipped or redirected, and a lob to Charles Dillon that former Shock linebacker Levi Madarieta read perfectly to make a leaping interception. Making it worse, Madarieta steamrolled over Davila at the goal line, gamely trying to prevent the touchdown.
“He’s not going to play great every week,” Shackleford said, shrugging. “But I don’t have to tell Nick much. I’m hard to quarterbacks. I expect a lot out of them. But this wasn’t a night to yell at him. This was a night to keep him going and I knew at some point he’d make a play for us.”
Which he did, timing a perfect ball to Vijil as the receiver spun away from Boise’s Terrance Sanders in the end zone with 26.9 seconds to play.
It was almost too just-as-it-was-drawn-up to fit in this game.
“That’s an arena football game – and our young guys haven’t seen one yet,” Shackleford said. “That’s the way it usually works. You ask your defense to make three plays and they did tonight. And then you try to outscore them and we have the potential to do that.
“Some things that don’t happen in outdoor football happen in indoor football to make it interesting.”
Makes sense, even when the game doesn’t.
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