“Yeah, I play professional football. No, not for the NFL. No, not for the Arena Football League. Yeah, no, you’re not going to guess it.”
~AIFL Starting Quarterback
America loves football as much as they love concussions. And they must love concussions, because they really love football. Long the nation’s most popular sport, it is responsible for the majority of the nation’s millionaires who weigh in over 300 pounds. However, when we think of football, we think of two types of players: The really good ones who get paid ridiculous amounts of money in exchange for taking years off their life like some sort of warped bizarro-Dorian-Gray (NFL) or the occasionally-great-but-normally-okay ones who put their body at risk for free but get in trouble if they accept a free tattoo (NCAA). Now, some of you might say, “Hey, there’s also the Arena Football League! You know, with guys not quite good enough to play in the NFL?” and to you we’d say, wow, someone’s been watching ESPN2 at 3 in the afternoon on a slow sports day. But you are right, the Arena Football League does have a small hold in America, and since they’re based in major cities, they manage to stay relevant enough that upon hearing the words “I’m the quarterback of the Chicago Rush” you’d typically respond, “Oh, right, I think I’ve heard of them.”
But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the insufferably poor quality of NFL Thursday night games, it’s that America views football a lot like they view sex. When it’s good, it’s really good. And when it’s bad? It’s still pretty good. So even though not everyone who played as a backup quarterback for Oregon is going to make the big show, they can at least find a way to get paid sometimes literally thousands of dollars to play a season of professional football in some strange, haphazardly put together professional football league.
A league like the AIF. American Indoor Football.
This is their story.
THE HISTORY OF AMERICAN INDOOR FOOTBALL (Previously Atlantic Indoor Football League/American Indoor Football League/American Indoor Football Association)
The AIF began in 2005 as the Atlantic Indoor Football League. It originally was a regional league with six East Coast franchises. As soon as the league began it reached the comedic level of “less organized than most college intramural flag football squads.” Its first season can best be described by saying “two teams played all of their games on the road” and “the regular season was cut short two weeks because of teams being unable to secure venues for playoff games.” Because things went so swimmingly in the first season, they decided to expand over the 2005-2006 offseason, changing their name to the American Indoor Football League and expanding by adding ten more teams. To put this in perspective, that would be like CBS cancelling a show halfway through its first season because of low ratings, and then deciding to bring it back to air right after the Super Bowl.
America has more professional indoor football leagues than it has environmental groups (which is how things should be) so the 2006 season saw two teams folding midway through (with schedule vacancies being filled by semi-pro teams, or teams not even good enough to be invited to one of the dozens of professional indoor football leagues), the league being purchased, and then dropped, by the owners of the North American Football League, and eventually nine of the teams quit (including four to create a short-lived league called the World Indoor Football League), and the league saw a massive reorganization, with the head of the league being ousted and the league changing its name to the American Indoor Football Association.
The 2006 season nonetheless had its own particular kind of charm. The American Bowl II, for example, was won by the Canton Legends, who beat the Rome Renegades (of Rome, Georgia, naturally) 61-40, but you also had impressive seasons from teams like the 4-10 Florence Phantoms, the 2-14 performance of the Steubenville Stampede, the playoff-qualifying 9-5 record of the Huntington Heroes, and of course the gutsy 8-6 finish by the Branson Bibles. Did we make up one of those team names? Of course we did. But you have to love a professional sports league where you have to google the names of the vast majority of the teams just to figure out what states they’re actually based in (in order: South Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia).
Seriously, we’ll buy you a shot if you can guess where the Reading Express actually came from
Of course, the true star of the 2006 American Indoor Football League season was the Carolina Ghostriders, one of the teams kind enough to give you a 50/50 chance of guessing the correct state its located in (North). They started the season 0-11, at which point they threw up their hands, said, “Screw you guys, I’m going home” and disbanded, eventually suing the league and receiving a $400,000 settlement. The remainder of their schedule was played by the AIFL Ghostchasers, a road-only team that went 0-5, meaning that they were not only a whipping boy for the Carolina Ghostriders’ final three scheduled opponents, but they tossed in two other games, no doubt while league organizers were laughingly wondering “how badly can they lose this one?”
Artists rendition of the starting quarterback of the AIFL Ghostchasers
2007 proved to be a better season for the American Indoor Football Association, in the same way that the day after the Challenger exploded was a better day for NASA than the day preceding it. To quote the “League History” section of the AIF’s website, “All 112 scheduled games were played and no teams folded mid-season [sic] a huge accomplishment for a first year league.” We have to imagine that shortly after posting this sentence in their league history, the AIF organizers went to a hospital and congratulated a surgeon for his “uniquely impressive achievement” for not showing up to work drunk that day. The Reading Express (owners of one of the worst team names in the history of sports) lost the AIFA Championship Bowl that year to the league leading Lakeland Thunderbolts (Florida). And yes, before you can make that joke, there was a team called the Tallahassee Titans that made the playoffs that year.
This is literally the 6th Google image result for “Tallahassee Titans.”
2007 saw the league’s first All-Star game, and their championship game was televised, because if you ever look into it, it’s actually a lot cheaper than you’d expect to buy two hours of programming on the Shopping Network at 3AM. It also saw another eight teams choosing not to return for the 2008 season, because of course it did. In fact, among the teams that chose to disband after the season were the Lakeland Thunderbolts, which if your memory is better than that of a goldfish you might recall was the team that had just won the league championship. This would be like the Miami Heat starting this season by going, “You know what? We’d probably be paid better if we just quit and went back to our jobs as bouncers, mechanics, and personal trainers.”
This is not an isolated occurrence—three of the four teams to win AIFA championships have since left the league.
In 2008, the AIFA sold TV rights for $2.5 million to ION Television, giving them exclusive rights to broadcast games and stream them online. Of course, this being The Artist Currently Known As American Indoor Football, these games were never broadcast in any medium, and AIFA games were dropped from ION’s schedule to be replaced with Western Movies, and yes we are 100% not joking.
Things stayed relatively on course the next few years (meaning that there weren’t any team bus crashes or signings of Terrell Owens so far as we can tell) until they merged with the Southern Indoor Football League in 2010 in an effort to make us at least consider the possibility that there are more professional indoor football league teams than there are people who ever played high school football. Like, at this point, if you’re the Wyoming Calvary, isn’t it safe to assume that your kicker’s sole qualifications are that he once made an All-Star team in his 4th grade suburban AYSO league?
He later went on to be the starting quarterback of the Dayton Sharks.
When this merger went to hell (surprise) and the SIFL disbanded, the AIFA ceased operations in 2011, only to re-launch for the 2012 season as American Indoor Football, the AIF.
Of course at this point, many of you might wonder how the rules for AIF differ from the NCAA, NFA, Arena Football League, or the Co-Ed Flag Football singles league you joined with your friends in the understandable but misguided attempt to meet girls. Well, look no further, because AFFotD is here to tell you what’s up.
THE RULES OF AIF
Admit it, you’re a little surprised that it at least looks like normal football.
For those of you who are reading this article thinking, “Hey, descendants of various American presidents and heroes writing this, what are the actual rules of football, now that I have your attention?” we’d have to reply by saying how the hell did it take you 1,200 words before you asked what football is? Jesus, no, we’re not even going to acknowledge you. Come back when you learn, you know, America’s favorite sport, dumbass.
Anyway. Indoor American football differs from the NFL and NCAA in that no one really gives a shit about it, but also in that it’s played on a much smaller field, such as a re-purposed basketball court, hockey rink, or your stepdad’s backyard. Because of the size of the field, and possibly the nation’s infatuation with Aaron Rodgers, most teams rarely rush the ball, instead relying heavily on winning through the passing game.
American Indoor Football has a handful of rules specific to their specific rule. This ranges from “huh, that seems arbitrary” (each franchise needs to have at least nine players that originate from within a 120-mile radius of the team’s home town, otherwise known as the “good luck fielding your team this year, Wyoming” rule) to the “this seems…too foreign” (if a kickoff goes through the uprights, or it is not advanced out of the end zone on a kickoff, it’s called a single, uno, or rouge, and the kicking team is awarded one point and the ball is spotted at the opponent’s five yard line which, you guessed it, is a Canadian rule).
Apart from that, AIF has fairly standard rules. Touchdowns, field goals, the proper procedure to follow during a stadium blackout. If it weren’t for the small crowds, noticeably lower quality of play, and the lack of TV cameras, you could almost think you were at an NFL game, depending on how much paint thinner you’ve consumed on that particular day.
The league continues to flourish (read as, stutter along in existence) with such teams as the West Virginia Badgers, the Harrisburg Stampede, and the Scranton 2014 (…wait) vying for the coveted “they haven’t bothered to name it” cup. And we, as an enthralled nation…continue to see what else is on.
We weren’t making that Scranton thing up…