Originally created 04/22/00

New sport makes first impression



First impressions can be so critical on blind dates, can't they? You can make up your mind on the evening's outcome just by how a person dresses. How their eyes twinkle. What compact disc's in the car radio.

This being the first date of arena football, the Augusta Stallions and the Garden City, you expected some rough edges, some awkward moments of courting. And there were plenty on Friday date night inside the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center, be it from microphones not working to the clock problems to the rules review.

But what started as a bad date turned into the start of holy matrimony as the Stallions and a raucous crowd reveled in arena football's debut. All that needs to be said of the 41-33 win over Jacksonville is this: Whoo-Hoo!

The early visuals gave us plenty of time to pass judgment. The field looks like a bowling alley without gutters, a tennis court without the doubles box. It's certainly not for the claustrophobic.

The chain gang leans the first-down markers against the blue walls and runs for safety. How'd you hurt your knee? Got spiked by a down marker.

And believe me, there's not much cushion in those blue pads. They're about as soft as an Alice Cooper album.

Both coaches, Augusta's Mike Neu and Jacksonville's Perry Moss, stand on the field behind the snap of the ball. This is certainly a different twist. Maybe they can become eligible tacklers, the team's final safety net should a breakaway occur.

Plenty of questions to ask our date before play could start.

The nets? They're in play, and balls that carom off them are live and able to be returned. Only in arena football can you get a game-winning touchdown scored when a kickoff ricochets off the crossbar and into a Stallions' hands.

If the nets and balls are live, then what about the disco balls, both hanging above each 15-yard line? If someone kicks or throws a ball that strikes one and the perpetrator should have to start singing ABBA.

What about the cheerleaders, who line the end zone? They're not big enough to set picks, I know, but surely the Stallions could find a way to incorporate those cowboy boots they wear into the gameplan.

Walking on the turf before kickoff, the grounds crew needed the Zamboni to smooth over the air bubbles noticeable around the hash marks. Watch where you step, though. Plenty of dead spots and sink holes could be felt.

So how's the substance?

The Stallions presented an opening ceremonies that doubled as a Will Smith video, complete with a dazzling fireworks and ensuing smoke show. The whole production started with a bit of congestion, making you think Al MacDill organized it.

Nobody heard the fire and smoke alarm that went off after the fireworks. Who could hear anything after those booms? Thankfully the fire marshals prevented the internal sprinkler system from soaking everyone.

So don't blame Stallions' Marcus Whitehead for dropping the first indoor pass in Augusta history. How could anyone be expected to see the football with all those cumulus clouds in their eyes?

The national anthem singer reaped her own set of whistles and catcalls, making this arena football at a construction site.

As for the game, is this football or an excuse to throw plastic toys into the crowd? This is not your Vince Dooley football. It takes several possessions to get accustomed to the rock 'em-sock 'em attitude.

Everyone was trying hard to impress on this first date. We've all been fixed up with someone who needed time to grow on you. We might need a second or third go-around with these Stallions and this game before we're ready to start looking for diamonds.

Reach Rick Dorsey at (706) 823-3219 or rdorsey@augustachronicle.com.