For as much as I post about and search for news about minor league indoor football, I have to confess that in my life I had been to one game in my entire, that was in 2015 when I went to a Billings Wolves (RIP) game.
I love it mainly because of all the crazy stories you hear about teams folding, or not paying their players, or having to play their entire first season on the road because they couldn’t reach an agreement with a local arena.
That changed last night as our (new) hometown team, the Amarillo Venom played host to the Dallas Marshals in their 2017 Champions Indoor Football home opener.
For those who haven’t been, it’s insanely cool to walk into an arena and see a miniature football field covering a hockey rink with the glass removed around the boards. And if you sit close like we did, you get up close and personal in a way you don’t ever get to with the NFL and college football.
The quality of play, depending on your local league, is anywhere from pretty dang good to downright sad. CIF, is probably the equivalent of Double A minor league indoor football, there’s a handful of guys on each team who played FBS football, and the rest is made up of guys who played D2 or smaller football. But they are all incredibly talented, these aren’t just random jamokes putting on jerseys because they were the only ones who showed up to the tryout.
And last night, at least for one game, the action on the field did not disappoint. There was a 30-yard touchdown pass on the second play of the game, a number of bone crunching hits, a 50-yard interception returned for a touchdown that got the crowd of around 4,000 out of their seats, and one play where three guys all went crashing over the boards and into the crowd.
And while all that was happening, there were tons of giveaways, funny games during timeouts, and best of all, it was all raising money for people who were affected by a series of wildfires in the area recently.
Basically everything you expect and hope to see when you go to a minor league indoor football game.
But in the back of your mind, there’s always that thought of, “These guys are making no money, and out there risking a possible life-altering injury for next to nothing so a couple thousand fans can cheer and the owners of the team make money off you.”
For me, that thought became front and center in the 2nd quarter. The Dallas QB, Kolton Browning, a 2nd year CIF player from Louisiana Monroe, scrambled in for a touchdown but was injured in a pile-up at the goal line that, at least from my vantage point and later observation, was a knee/ankle injury.
Now, in any sport you hope nobody gets injured, but in minor league indoor football, you really hope it doesn’t happen, because these guys make about $250 a game, or approximately $3,000 if they play every game during the regular season. To put that another way, if this was a year-round job, they would make $12,000.
If someone in the NFL or other major pro sport is injured their contract is probably paid out, at least through the end of the season, and they get the team to pay for all of the medical bills and rehab. In minor league indoor football, someone probably starts a GoFundMe to try and help a little.
Browning was able to walk off the field and down the tunnel under his own power, which brought in the backup QB, Edwards Baker Jr, a CIF rookie who played college football at Lon Morris. He lasted all of one play, getting sacked on the two-point conversion following Browning’s touchdown and tearing up his knee, lying in agony on the turf after the play wrapped up.
And because this is minor league indoor football, there is no injury cart to take them away, two teammates literally carried him to the locker room. He did not return.
Now, in the NFL and college where they have 53 man rosters on gameday, in this situation you’re down to a third-string QB, who is actually a QB.
In minor league indoor football, which has 25-ish man roster, the third string QB is probably some guy on the team who happened to play QB in high school or something. So after Amarillo’s next series, Dallas got the ball back and with his knee and ankle heavily taped, Kolton Browning came back out, because a starting QB at 50 percent health is probably better than a WR who last played QB in high school at 100 percent.
From there until he was injured again in the 3rd quarter, Browning lined up almost exclusively in the shotgun, because he could barely run, and threw the ball as quickly as possible to avoid more contact, until inevitably he was hurt on a sack on 4th down trying to throw the ball up for grabs to avoid a sack.
Browning didn’t return to the game and the “3rd string” QB who actually was a WR on the team was forced to come in.
My only thought during all this, especially after the backup was injured on that two-point conversion, was, “is this even worth it for these guys?”
Again, they’re making $250 a game in the CIF, which basically means your chances of playing in the NFL are next to zero. And here they are risking life and limb for that tiny amount of money, and I promise there is no way the team is paying for any of their medical bills outside of tape and band-aids for the minor ones that won’t take you out of the game.
So while it is insanely fun to go and lose your mind over touchdown passes, big hits and cheerleaders throwing free things into the crowd, keep in mind that the guys on the field are risking their body for what amounts to little more than beer money.