The History of The Indoor Football League

“My boy plays in a football league!  He’s going to make it to the NFL one day, just like that Drew Brady!”

~The Mother of an Indoor Football League quarterback

ifl player

Two years ago, we talked about the American Indoor Football League, now just called “American Indoor Football”, a hilariously small, 10 team semi-professional football league that exists in such hotbed communities in dire need of a professional sports franchise such as Laurel, Maryland, the 25,000 population home of the defending AIFL champions, the Maryland Eagles.  We delved into the rich and honestly haphazard history of the league operating under the motto of “Fast Paced Family Fun” and gently prodded this league that probably doesn’t really need to exist.  We had a good time, and got to write about football in a way that doesn’t help Roger Goodell’s brand, so it really was a double win for us.

In a fit of nostalgia, we revisited this topic only to find that American Indoor Football is hardly alone in the field of “leagues of traveling semi-pro football teams getting paid peanuts to hit each other for the amusement of literally of dozens of fans.”  No, America is a land rich with high school varsity players just out of college desperate for a chance to relive their glory days, so we’re not content with simply one non-Arena-Football-League-knock-off.  And this week, we’re going to introduce you to three more.

That’s right, it’s National Professional American Indoor Football Week here in America (according to a sentence we just made up) so what better way to celebrate than to give three of these leagues (yup, we’ve got three distinct leagues here) their due, and introduce you to your new favorite teams to root for when your car breaks down in Sioux Falls and you just decide to shrug and start a new life there instead of paying for a new transmission.  First up—the inventively named Indoor Football League.

The History of The Indoor Football League

 look at all them fans

The Indoor Football League, which isn’t to be confused with the Professional Indoor Football League, was created in 2008 after, and we swear to God we’re not making these names up, United Indoor Football merged with the Intense Football League.  The Intense Football League, God bless them, was a 9 team league largely concentrated in Texas that randomly had the first ever professional football team to be stationed in Alaska.  Why Alaska?  “Fuck you, you’re paying for your own flight out of there by the way” we hope was not the answer given at the time.

United Indoor Football, based in Omaha, Nebraska, operated from 2005 until the 2008 merger and has a lasting legacy of, we guess, producing the Sioux Falls Storm, which has won four out of the six United Bowl Championships in Indoor Football League History.  These leagues were destined to be merged, and by “destined to be merged” we mean “they apparently used to play a National Indoor Bowl Championship game where each league’s champion would play each other.”  Consider this the Indoor Football League equivalent of the AFC and NFC merging to make the NFL, only with less Joe Namath and more offensive linemen messing up their backs sleeping on a Motel 6 mattress.

motel 6 matress

“Don’t complain about the accommodations, Bruce, this has everything you’d need.  A bed made out of plywood.  A sad table and chair.  A landline.  TWO lamps.  What more do you want, Mr. ROCKEFELLER?”

The merging of the leagues was announced the day before the 2008 National Indoor Bowl Championship game, where the Sioux Falls Storm defeated the Louisiana Swashbucklers by a score of 54 to 42, though the Swashbucklers easily won the “best underused team name” competition of our hearts.  The following season, the first for the IFL, 14 of the 17 teams from the two leagues carried over, while five other teams were either created or brought over from the Continental Indoor Football League, leading us to believe that semi-professional Indoor Football Leagues trade teams around like pogs.

From that point on, the amount of teams in the league fluctuated violently, which is not surprising as many teams tend to have a hard time making a profit, and either fold or move to more cost effective leagues.  In 2011, there were 22 teams, and the number dropped to 16 in 2012.  We’re guessing some sort of tragic We Are Marshall situation happened over that offseason, since in 2013 and 2014, only nine teams competed, though this year’s season will have 10 teams because the Iowa Barnstormers announced last July that they will leave the Arena Football League, which is the highest level of Indoor Football and actually has games televised sometimes, to join the IFL, possibly because the IFL managed to find pictures of the Barnstormers’ owner in an compromising situation.

We feel that now is as good of a time as any to point out that players in the Indoor Football League are able to earn a maximum (yes, maximum) of 200 dollars each game.  Before taxes.  People get paid more to participate in focus groups about TV shows.  So, over the course of a 14 game season, you can earn as much as “maybe enough to cover the cost of that broken leg you got in the title game.”

broken leg

“You should be able to afford this no problem.  Didn’t you say you play in the NFL?”

No, it’s the IFL.

“In that case, I’m afraid we’ll have to amputate.”

The rules for the IFL differ from the NFL in several ways, largely apparent through the general feeling provided by the rule book of, “We’ll play wherever the fuck you’ll let us, we’re not picky, honest.”  According to the official rule book, the field must be 50 yards long and 28 yards wide, though “the field may be longer, shorter, or wider due to the nature of the facility with League approval.”  So technically, if the league okays it, you could watch an IFL game in an above ground swimming pool.  The end zone can be at most 8 yards deep, but again can be less with league approval.

Since the field is shorter, each team fields 8 players instead of 11, and each team is allowed to dress a maximum of 21 players, instead of the 53 you’d see in an actual professional league.  The size of the field also offers a whole slew of additional scoring opportunities.  You can score three points with a field goal (which is normal, save for the uprights only being ten feet wide, for added difficulty) or four points if you kick a field goal by kicking a drop kick.  You can also drop kick your extra point attempt to get two points, and they borrow the concept of the rogue from the Canadian Football League.  The rogue, for those of you who rightfully ignore other country’s attempt to do things to football, is an extra point that is scored when the receiving team is unable to advance a kickoff past their own end zone.

rogue

No, not that kind of Rogue, why would you even assume that?  Are you even reading the words of this article, or is the world just one giant picture book to you?

In the not-that-long history of the league, there have been a total of 58 teams to have played at any given point.  Of those, 48 have moved, folded, or failed as an expansion market, which leaves us with ten teams currently playing.  So, fuck it, let’s close out this article, in a very long-winded way, listing each of the teams currently around, in reverse order of how hilarious we find their existence to be.  So we’ll start with the New England Patriots of the IFL…

Sioux Falls Storm

sioux falls storm

The Sioux Falls Storm has been around since the year 2000, when they joined the short-lived previous iteration of the Indoor Football League, which lasted from 1999 to 2000.  During their time in the IFL, the NIFL (National Indoor Football League), the UFL, and the current IFL, they have won a total of eight championships, including titles each of the last four years.  They are the New York Yankees of the IFL, and nothing you can do will stop them.  They also have a fairly normal name, and operate out of the largest city in South Dakota, so their existence as a team actually kind of makes sense in terms of profitability.

Wichita Falls Nighthawks

wichita falls nighthawks

Like the Sioux Falls Storm, the Wichita Falls Nighthawks make sense.  They’re a somewhat large city with a two-word name (100,000 population in this case, about 250,000 for Sioux Falls), they come from a place where a professional indoor football team would actually draw a crowd (Texas loves football more than you love your mother, and that’s assuming you love your mother incredibly dearly.  If you hosted a football game and replaced all the players with cows, Texans would still watch it), and they have a pretty badass team name.  The Nighthawks (it’s like a hawk, but at night) were founded in 2012 as a minor league football team that won championships in two different leagues before being sold to Drew Carnes, who was intent on making them an indoor football team.  They joined the league after last season, and started their first season this year, and we’d wish them all the best if we actually cared enough to follow up and see how the 2015 season, which began February 28th this year, ends up.

Cedar Rapids Titans

 cedar rapids titans

Cedar Rapids has a population of about 120,000, so the boringly named Titans (for something so badass in mythology, the name “Titans” don’t really inspire much dread, though Jake Delhomme might be responsible for that) theoretically provide sport to the under-served state of Iowa.  Except for the fact that there’s another Iowa team directly following the Titans on this list.  That pointlessness aside, the Titans were founded in 2011 as an IFL expansion team and have seen their record improve from 4-10 in 2012 to 9-5 in 2013 to making their conference championship game in 2014 with a 11-3 record, which matters very little to anyone reading this.  In an attempt to justify that article we once did making fun of cheer squad names, they have a dance squad called the “Titan Dolls.”  Overall, however, this is just a standard team in a little known league, which is fine, if somewhat boring.

Iowa Barnstormers

iowa barnstormers

We mentioned this team earlier in the article, so there isn’t much to add.  They’ve been around since 1995, alternating between the AFL and the af2 (the Arena Football League’s developmental league) before taking the big bucks with the IFL.  Though, admittedly, the af2 offers the same terrifyingly-low $200 a game contract for its players, so the move to the IFL might have been a response to being demoted from the AFL for a third time.

They’re based in Des Moines, making Iowa the only state in the entire league to have two teams representing its population, which, sure, why not.  Also, what the hell is a Barnstormer?

Green Bay Blizzard

green bay blizzard

We hate to point this out to the Blizzard, but Green Bay kind of already has a professional football team.  They’re pretty good.  Then again, the IFL takes place during the NFL’s offseason, and Packers fans do tend to start showing withdrawal systems when they go too long without football, so maybe placing a IFL team with a mascot named “Bruiser the Yeti” in Ashwaubenon, a small suburb of Green Bay, makes more sense than we’re giving it credit for.

Founded in 2003, the Blizzard (which we can’t decide is a goofy or amazing team name, though we’re leaning towards amazing) was first founded by a group of owners headed by former Packers linebacker Brian Noble.  They played in the af2 from 2003 until 2009, when Noble’s group sold the team to the ominously named Titletown Football Group, LLC, and they joined the IFL for the 2010 season.  They’ve never won a championship, and have spent the last few years in the basement of the league, finishing 2-12 last year, most likely causing inconceivable suffering and horrible wailing among the 4,500 fans who surprisingly attended each game on average.

Colorado Ice

colorado ice

God, that name.  The Ice.  No pun intended, but that is a cool name.  Maybe it’s just us, but there’s something about that name that we’re all about.  Based out of Fort Collins, the Colorado Ice (that name) were founded in 2006 as a member of United Indoor Football, joining the IFL during the 2008 merger.  It took until 2011 for them to have their first season record above .500, though they have made the playoffs every year since then.  So they’re basically like what every Coloradan hoped the Avalanche would be after last season, before they kinda crashed back to Earth this year.  But that name though.  Ice.  Solid call, Fort Collins, solid call.

Billings Wolves

 billings wolves

That logo is incredible.  We would immediately forfeit if we saw eight dudes with that on their helmets charging toward us full speed.  Just get out of the way, those wolves are going to bite us, or maybe even throw the four tallest buildings in Billings, Montana at us (the tallest buildings in Billings are roughly as tall as “two wolves, but like, big wolves, you know?”).  The Wolves haven’t played yet, having been created as an expansion team just this year, so we can’t judge them on anything other than their location (the largest city in Montana with around 100,000 residents) and their logo (which is both awesome, and kind of hilarious, because what 100,000 population city puts their “skyline” on a sports team logo?).  Either way, we’re feeling it, Billings.  Keep doing you.

Tri-Cities Fever

tri cities fever

As awesome as “Ice” is as a team name, “Fever” is just weird, right?  Like, yes, it’s an established professional team name, but it’s also an established professional team name because there’s a WNBA team called the Indiana Fever, and that hardly counts.  The Tri-City Fever (ugh) were founded in 2005 as part of the National Indoor Football League in Kennewick, Washington, which you know as that city with a population of 70,000 that made you go, “What the fuck is Kennewick, Washington?” when you read it in a sentence that one time three seconds ago.  They’re the only Pacific Northwest team in the IFL, and represent the Tri-Cities area, which includes Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland.  When you’re setting up your team in a town that needs to rely on combining itself with two neighboring cities in order to flaunt a somewhat respectable metropolitan population, you might not be the best market for professional sports.  That said, the Fever (get a better name dammit) won the NIFL in their inaugural season, played a few years with af2, and joined the IFL in 2010.  They made the United Bowl Championship game in 2012, but were defeated by the Sioux Falls Storm, because all eventually must be sacrificed to the juggernaut that is Storm.

Bemidji Axemen

bemidji axemen

Okay, we’ve officially reached “how is this team sustainable” territory.  Have you ever been to Bemidji?  It’s located in northern (and we mean northern) Minnesota, has a population of about 13,000, and is best known as the “curling capital” of America because they’re close enough to Canada to be okay at curling due to a phenomenon not unlike second hand smoke, and so most of our Olympic curling teams are comprised disproportionately of Bemidjians.  But, honestly, we’re talking about a town that’s so small that its Wikipedia page includes an entire section on what stations you can find on the radio there.  That’s not a joke, we only could wish to be that clever.

The Axemen were founded in 2013, and had a 5-9 record in their only full season, but they won their inaugural game, though that’s sort of cheating as it was against the Green Bay Blizzard.  Yes, we are a little upset that we can make a fairly knowledgeable joke about what IFL teams are the league’s bottom feeders, but that’s our own cross to bear.  God, we’re only in the first day of our indoor football league week, and we’re already starting to feel a twinge of regret.

Anyway, naming them the Axemen was a pretty cool move, we guess.  There’s that at least.

Nebraska Danger

nebraska danger

We take back everything we said about feeling sad at our new found knowledge of this silly, inconsequential league, because we just discovered that Nebraska has a team named the Danger, and the logo consists of…well just look at that damn thing.  It looks like Monster energy drink was given a million dollars by the US government to redesign our nation’s yield signs, but the end result wasn’t usable because it was too extreme.  This is wonderful.  We’re so happy.  And that name!  The DangerThat is how you name a fucking sports team, Kennewick.  This is the greatest team name and the greatest logo in the history of sports.  We just created a new religion, and there are no rules ore tenants or even any well-defined concepts of an afterlife, it’s just a bunch of people showing up to a church to get drunk while discussing how badass this logo is.

Based out of Grand Island, Nebraska (yeah we’ve never heard of it either) the Danger (that name!) joined the IFL as an expansion team in 2011, and quickly have become one of the top teams in the league, posting 10-4 records in 2013 and 2014 and making the United Bowl Championship both times, including a heartbreaking 43-40 loss in 2013 to the Storm on a Hail Mary pass (all must pay tribute to the Storm, the Storm will devour all IFL teams until only the Storm remains).

But if ever there was a team that can break up the Storm’s run in 2015, it has to be the Danger, because they are the only true IFL team worth rooting for.  We are Danger fans for life.

So there you have it, folks.  For some, the IFL is that silly semi-professional league that we just spent a few thousand words making fun of.  And for others, it’s an excuse to watch football during the winter, which we entirely support.  And while over the years, the IFL has lost such prolific teams as the Arizona Adrenaline, the Omaha Beef, the CenTex Barricudas, and the Maryland Maniacs, we take comfort knowing that this league which hopes that 4,000 people would actually spend money to watch them play football on a mini field at least has given us the Nebraska Danger.

Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’re off to buy one of these Danger jerseys.  Hell, maybe both.  Money well spent.

Go Danger!

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3 responses to “The History of The Indoor Football League

  1. Pingback: The History of the Professional Indoor Football League | affotd

  2. Pingback: The History of the X-League Indoor Football League | affotd

  3. Pingback: A Brief, Incomplete History of the American Basketball Association (No, The OTHER ABA): Part 1- The League | America Fun Fact of the Day

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