WEST VALLEY CITY — After a one-season hiatus, arena football returned to Utah on Friday as part of the new and improved Arena Football League, looking largely the same as the game that left.
Maybe it returned with lower salaries, fewer benefits and not quite as much arena noise as before, but hey, it's all about the football, right?
You want contact, they still have contact.
It's hard to look away from someone getting creamed into the dasher boards.
You want passing, they have plenty of that, too. Like, say, 90 percent of the time.
You want scoring?
Plan on that, too. Maybe not so much from the Blaze — who got just 14 points in the first half — but you get the idea.
This is a game that never saw a streak route it didn't love.
The new/old Utah Blaze opened their season with a 68-34 loss to the Spokane Shock. Yes, it was a little sloppy. Blaze quarterback Michael Affleck completed just four of 12 passes before being removed.
A portion of the crowd showed up solely for the halftime act — a couple of numbers by Utah heartthrob David Archuleta. The rest were there to see what they used to see. Other than the winning, they got it.
The big question was whether the basic product had changed. Answer: Some. There is actually only one Blaze player listed — Aaron Boone — who played with the old incarnation. And there's Steve Videtich, the former place-kicker who has now graduated to the front office. It also includes a half-dozen players who played college ball in Utah.
The new league is an amalgam of leftovers from the bankrupt AFL, the former AF2 and those who still think it's worth the bruises to earn $500 a game. Included on this year's roster are six-year AFL veteran Toure Carter, former Ute quarterback Brett Elliott, a handful of guys who played for the old Utah Valley Thunder and Manuel Wright, whose claim to fame is a ring from Super Bowl XLII.
The original Blaze were owned by Garff Automotive Sports and Entertainment, which wanted to get the same sort of marketing jolt the Larry H. Miller Group gets from the Jazz. Turned out, it didn't happen on a couple of levels. AFL is not the NBA. It's a niche market sport. You get a lot of energy drink-types and football addicts who just can't wait until fall.
And, of course, Archuleta fans.
Not everyone likes to see kicks played off a net.
But the original AFL did find a market before it folded in late 2008, leaving fans of the quirky gridiron game temporarily in the lurch. The new league maintained the former Blaze logo and name.
Thus, the old/new Blaze began their season with the usual fare. A mascot (new name, different shtick) came out wearing a costume suspiciously close to "Squatch," the onetime mascot of the Seattle Sonics. There was smoke, sirens, dancers and, naturally, flames.
"Shoot, laying on your back, when you hit that turf, it's just as hard as before," said Elliott. "Same kind of players."
Unfortunately for the Blaze, for much of the night, they were shy on a couple of things: fans and a quarterback. The crowd was 5,032 — a little over one-third of what the old Blaze attracted. And starting quarterback Affleck never got going before being lifted in favor of Elliott.
Return man Brandon Hampton did turn in touchdown runs of 54 and 56 yards and another return for 44 yards — after which Spokane resorted to kicking away from him.
In the end, though, it was fair to conclude that AFL football is AFL football, even in a reinvented form. Elliott threw a high pass to Chris Francies, who ended up being shoved entirely over the dash board in his attempt. A gasp went up from the crowd, but he was fine.
Another day in indoor football.
Woody Hayes would have hated it.
On the other hand, Hayes never liked fireworks, and the forward pass in the first place.
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