Coverage tightened as Spokane Shock quarterback Charles McCullum scanned the fresh, blue and orange turf looking for a receiver and a cushion.
When a window didn’t develop, McCullum tucked the football, got around a host of defenders and was met with contact as he dove across the goal line, scoring the franchise’s first Indoor Football League touchdown in nearly four years.
The lights dimmed and a spotlight shined onto McCullum as he celebrated the second-quarter score Saturday at Spokane Arena, but the roar that typically accompanied the former Arena Football League and af2 was absent.
The Shock made their long, anticipated and coronavirus-altered return without fans against the Frisco (Texas) Fighters, a first-year IFL team also dotted with several players who excelled at the Power 5 college level with brief NFL stints.
The arena, which is serving as a COVID-19 vaccination site, won’t allow fans – it didn’t fill a sizable part of the raucous arena known as “Deaf Valley” like previous rowdy Shock games – until June.
If it did, the rowdy, orange-clad fanbase would have had plenty to cheer and jeer about in the Shock’s 36-33 loss.
Former Texas Tech running back DeMarcus Felton’s 1-yard touchdown run with 10 seconds left – his third touchdown of the night – was the difference.
When pads popped and helmets collided Saturday, it echoed in the cavernous arena.
Trash-talk and coach speak carried throughout the venue, too.
Shock running back Davonte Sapp-Lynch, the brother of former Seattle Seahawks great Marshawn Lynch, threw a Frisco player over the boards, evoking hoots and hollers from teammates but also an unsportsmanlike penalty flag.
“Don’t tell me about playing physical!” Sapp-Lynch said as he walked to his team’s corner of the field, which is 85 feet wide and 50 yards long with 8-yard end zones.
Sapp-Lynch scored two fourth-quarter touchdown runs, but much of the entertainment was extracurricular.
When McCullum hit receiver and former Florida Atlantic standout Kamrin Solomon on a short touchdown pass, Solomon walked to the Frisco section of the field where players stood and mockingly tried to shake their hands.
When Frisco linebacker and former Auburn standout Kris Frost was ejected for throwing a punch, the reaction was heard clearly.
“Get his butt off the field!” a Shock player screamed as Frost left the game.
Offense was admittedly sloppy early. There were amble penalties and several short-lived dust-ups.
But a level of professional football had officially returned to Spokane after a hiatus.
The Spokane Shock, who changed brands after a successful 10-year run in the af2 and AFL before changing brands and ultimately folding in 2017, were slated to make their return in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic created a delay in the franchise’s return.
In early 2020, new Spokane Shock head coach Billy Back relocated his family from Carolina, where he led the successful Carolina Cobras of the National Arena League.
Back, his wife Stacie and three children were uncertain of their future at the height of the pandemic, and often made trips back to the Midwest and East Coast as they waited things out.
When the start of the 2021 season finally came to fruition, it came with a sense of relief.
Families of players and coaches were allowed to watch the game live.
“It’s exciting and the kids, and the kids love it, so hopefully we can get some fans here soon,” Stacie Back said. “It’s been rough. Rough on the players, too, so it’s good to see them out there again.
“A big reason Billy took this job was because of the Shock’s great fan base, so we want to see them here.”
Back’s 12-year-old daughter London was especially excited to see her dad pacing the sidelines again.
“We were excited to come here, then COVID hit, and I was like ‘Oh, great,’ ” London said. “But the games are back, so that’s good.”
New Spokane Shock owner Sam Adams – the former All-Pro defensive lineman who had a stint with the Seattle Seahawks – was in Spokane to see the product he had been boasting about since he announced the team’s 2019 rebirth.
“This game counts, so it’s an opportunity for the team and operations to improve before the fans can come in and see them,” Adams said at halftime. “This is a great team and that will be a big part of the community, so this will help us have a good product right out of the gate
“Frisco is a good team. They have some good dudes and hall of fame coaches. We have one of the toughest schedules in the league, so we will have a lot of big tests.”
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