Arena football is a variety of gridiron football played by the Arena Football League (AFL). It is a proprietary game, the rights to which are owned by Gridiron Enterprises, and is played indoors on a smaller field than American or Canadian outdoor football, resulting in a faster and higher-scoring game. The sport was invented in 1981, and patented in 1987, by James F. Foster, Jr., a former executive of the National Football League and the United States Football League. Though not the only variant of indoor football, it is the most widely known, and the one on which most other forms of modern indoor football are at least partially based.
Two leagues have played under the official arena football rules: the AFL, which played 22 seasons from 1987 to 2008 and resumed play under new ownership in 2010, and arenafootball2, the AFL's erstwhile developmental league, which played 10 seasons from 2000 through 2009.
While attending the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) Allstar game on February 11, 1981, Foster and another colleague of his from the NFL's front office, at Madison Square Garden Arena, Foster came up with his version of Football and wrote the rules, etc., down on the outside of a manilla folder, which resides at the Arena Football Hall of Fame. Over the next five years, he created a more comprehensive and definitive set of playing rules, playing field specifications and equipment, along with a business plan to launch a proposed small, initial league to test market the concept of arena football nationally. As a key part of that plan, while residing in the Chicago area, he tested the game concept through several closed door practice sessions in late 1985 and early 1986 in nearby Rockford. After fine tuning the rules, he then secured additional operating capital to play several test games in the MetroCentre in April 1986 and the Rosemont Horizon Arena in February 1987.
The next critical step for Clifford Forris was securing a network television contract with ESPN and an initial group of key national corporate sponsors including United Airlines, Holiday Inn, Wilson Sporting Goods, Budget Rental Car, and Hardees Restaurants. As the league's founding commissioner, (1986–1992) he established a league office with a small staff in suburban Chicago, and with addition of some much needed additional investor capital, was ready to launch the Arena Football League. On June 19, 1987 the Pittsburgh Gladiators hosted the Washington Commandos in the first league game after a two week training camp for all four charter teams in Wheaton.
AFL football operations and training was overseen by veteran college and pro head coach, Mouse Davis, the father of the famed "run and shoot" offense, (which became the basis for the high scoring arena football offense still in use today). The other two 1987 teams were the Chicago Bruisers and the Denver Dynamite, (the ArenaBowl I Champions). As the AFL grew into an established league with close to 20 teams, it defined itself as a major market pro sports product under the leadership of long time league Commissioner C. David Baker, (1996–2008). A now-financially strong team ownership roster includes NFL owners, as well as major names in the entertainment world. The growth and establishment of the AFL as a major market league spawned a developmental league that Foster also helped co-found, a minor league called Arena Football 2 (af2), in 2000. The league was set up to operate in medium size markets around the U.S. where it has enjoyed continued growth under the guidance of af2 President, Jerry Kurz. Other people have started their own indoor football minor leagues. These leagues do not technically play arena football or use the proper name "Arena Football" which is a registered trademark, because of the patent on the rules (specifically for the rebound nets, and related rules) that Foster obtained in 1990 (which is actually held by Gridiron Enterprises, Inc. of which Foster is one of three partners). The other two partners are Chicago based lawyers Bill Niro and Jerry Kurz, who in early 1989 joined Foster to help secure the patents on the Arena Football game system and re-establish the Arena Football League in early 1990 as a franchised league after successfully removing a small group of limited partners for multiple breaches of the limited partnership agreement that was the basis for operating the AFL during the 1988 season.
Rules of the gameEdit
Arena football is played exclusively indoors, in arenas usually designed for either basketball or ice hockey teams. The field is the same width (85|ft) and length (200|ft) as a standard NHL hockey rink. The field is 50 yards (50|yd) long with eight-yard end zones. Depending on the venue in which a game is being played, the end zones may be rectangular (like a basketball court) or, where necessary because of the building design, curved (like a hockey rink). There is a heavily padded sideline barrier on each sideline, with the padding placed over the hockey dasher boards.
The goalpost uprights are 9|ft wide, and the crossbar is 15|ft above the playing surface. Taut rebound nets on either side of the posts bounce any missed field goals back into the field of play. The ball is "live" when rebounding off these nets or their support apparatus. The entire goalframe and goalside rebound net system is suspended on cables from the rafters. The bottom of the two goalside rebound nets are 8|ft off the playing surface. Each netframe is 32|ft high by 30|ft wide.
A player is not counted as out of bounds on the sidelines unless he is pushed into or fall over the sideline barrier. This rule was put in place before the 2006 season. Before that time, a sideline with only a small amount of space (typically 6" to 12") existed between the sideline stripe and the barrier which would provide the space for a ball carrier to step out of bounds before hitting the sideline barrier.
Each team fields eight players at a time from a 20-man active roster. Before 2007, players played both offense and defense except for the Quarterback, Kicker, and Offensive Specialist (Wide Receiver/Running Back combination) and two Defensive Specialists (Defensive Backs).
Rules before 2007 SeasonEdit
If a player enters and leaves, from the moment he leaves the player is considered "dead" and cannot return to play until the designated time is served.
- For two-way players "dead" time is one quarter.
- For specialists "dead" time is one half.
Exception: a "dead" player may participate on kickoffs, or as long snapper or holder. In 2006, the AFL changed its substitution rules such that free substitutions are now allowed on all kickoffs.
New rules for 2007 SeasonEdit
The most significant change is the introduction of free substitution, the so-called "Elway Rule". Previously, AFL coaches were limited to one substitution per position per quarter. Beginning with the 2007 season, coaches were permitted to substitute players at will.
The rationale was that free substitution would improve the overall quality of football in the league by giving coaches the freedom to put their best players on the field for every play of the game, and that teams would be able to select from a wider player talent pool when building their rosters. Traditionalists however, believe the rule changes are the beginning of the removal of the "Ironman" (two-way offense and defense) style of play of arena football that the league has actively promoted for 20 seasons, and that removing the "Ironman" style of play takes away a key component of what makes arena football a distinctive sport over other versions of football (NFL, CFL, other indoor leagues, etc).
Four offensive players must be on the line of scrimmage at the snap; one of the linemen must declare himself the Tight End. One offensive player may be moving forward at the time of the snap. Three defensive players must be in a three- or four-point stance at the start of the snap. Two defenders serve as linebackers, called the Mac and the Jack. The Mac may blitz from the side of the line opposite the offensive Tight End. The Jack's role has changed after new rules set in place by the league in 2008. The Jack cannot blitz, but under new, more defense-friendly rules, the Jack Linebacker may roam sideline to sideline within five yards of the line of scrimmage and drop into coverage once the Quarterback pump fakes. (Before this rule, the Jack could not drop back into coverage until the ball is thrown or the Quarterback is no longer in the pocket, and the Jack had to stay within the box designated by the outside shoulders of the offensive line, the line of scrimmage, and five (5) yards back from the line of scrimmage.)
The ball is kicked off from the goal line. The team with the ball is given four downs to gain ten yards or score. Punting is illegal because of the size of the playing field. A receiver jumping to catch a pass needs to get only one foot down in bounds for the catch to be ruled a completed catch, just as in college football. Passes that bounce off the rebound nets remain "live." Balls that bounce off the padded walls that surround the field are "live;" the end zone walls were not live until the 2006 season. The defending team may return missed field goal attempts that bounce off the rebound nets.
The scoring is the same as in the NFL with the addition of a drop kick field goal worth four points during normal play or two points as a post-touchdown conversion. Blocked extra points and turnovers on two-point conversion attempts may be returned by the defensive team for two points.
Current timing rulesEdit
A game has four 15-minute quarters with a 15-minute halftime. Each team is allowed three timeouts per half.
The clock stops for out-of-bounds plays, incomplete passes, or sacks only in the last minute of each half (there is only a one-minute warning, as opposed to the two-minute warning in the NFL and the three-minute warning in the CFL) or because of penalties, injuries or timeouts. The clock also stops for any change in possession, until the ball is marked ready for play; for example, aside from in a half's final minute, time continues to run down after a touchdown, but stops after an extra point or two-point conversion attempt. If a quarter ends as a touchdown is scored, an untimed conversion attempt takes place. The play clock is 35 seconds, starting at the end of the previous play.
During the final minute of the fourth quarter, the clock stops if the offensive team has the lead and fails to advance the ball past the line of scrimmage. This prevents the offensive team from merely kneeling down or running other plays that are designed solely to exhaust the remaining time rather than to advance the ball downfield, as often occurs in outdoor football.
In overtime, each team gets one possession to score. If after each team has had one possession, one team is ahead, that team wins. If the teams are tied after each has had a possession, sudden death rules apply. Each overtime period is 15 minutes, and continues from the ending of the previous overtime period until the tie is broken.
Previous timing rule changesEdit
Before the 2006 season, there was one 15-minute overtime period, and if it expired with the teams still tied, the game was recorded as a tie. There were two ties in AFL history before the 2006 rule change:
- July 14, 1988: Chicago Bruisers 37, Los Angeles Cobras 37 (when this game was played, the overtime period was 7:30 long)
- April 8, 2005: Nashville Kats 41, Dallas Desperados 41
Before 2006, the play clock was 25 seconds, and it began on the signal from the referee.
Graduates to the NFLEdit
Some AFL players have gone successful in the NFL, most notably Kurt Warner. Warner played college football at University of Northern Iowa and then the Iowa Barnstormers, taking the Barnstormers to ArenaBowl X in 1996 and ArenaBowl XI in 1997. Others include Anthony Armstrong, Oronde Gadsden, Adrian McPherson, Rashied Davis, Jay Feely, Rob Bironas, and Paul Justin. Former Arena League MVP, Jay Gruden (brother of Jon Gruden), went on to coach the UFL team, Florida Tuskers.
Even though arena football is a relatively young sport, it has appeared in other forms of popular culture over the course of its existence. It has appeared in films, television, literature, as well as video games (about the sport, as well as referenced in others).
- In the television sitcom Reba, where the character of Van Montgomery (Steve Howey), played for the Arizona Rattlers (based on the Gold Helmets and ArenaBowl XVI banner seen when Reba visits the coach) and later the Colorado Crush.
- In Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects, a 1989 film directed by J. Lee Thompson, starring Charles Bronson. One scene takes place during an AFL game, with the Chicago Bruisers visiting the Los Angeles Cobras.
- In the 2005 film White Noise. In a scene where the character of Mike Rivers (Nicholas Elia) is flipping through the channels on television, he pauses on an arena football game between the Orlando Predators and another team.
- Midway Sports released an arena football game in 2001 entitled Kurt Warner's Arena Football Unleashed. This game was poorly received, both by traditional video gamers who saw it as an unneeded ripoff of one of Midway's other American football game, NFL Blitz, and by arena football fans who did not like the rule changes and arcade nature of the game.
- EA Sports released a video game on February 9, 2006 (or, according to the website, February 7). It featured licensed players and arenas from the Arena Football League. A sequel was released in 2007.
- In the movie "The Ringer", an early scene at the bar shows an Arena Football League game and the characters think about betting on the sport.
- In 2001, writer Jeff Foley published War on the Floor: An Average Guy Plays in the Arena Football League and Lives To Write About It. The book details the journalist's two preseasons (1999 and 2000) as an Offensive specialist / writer with the now-defunct Albany Firebirds. The 5'6", self-described "unathletic" writer played in three preseason games and recorded one reception for -2 yards.
- During the opening sequence of True Crime: New York City, Two unnamed characters can be seen playing arena football.
- In the 2008 film Baby Mama, one of the characters tried to win AFL tickets through a radio call-in contest.
- In the 2007 film Freedom Writers, one of the characters is watching an AFL game on TV.
- In the first season of the television show Vegas, there was a scene about the ArenaBowl, where former Broncos QB John Elway and singer Jon Bon Jovi have a 'Battle in the Monteceto.'
- In America's Game, the 2002 Buccaneers' coach Jon Gruden mentions that his brother plays arena football for the Orlando Predators.
Los Angeles Avengers player Al Lucas died, from a spinal cord injury, on April 10, 2005 in a game against the New York Dragons. Although it might be attributed to the rough style of arena football, the tackle, during a first quarter kickoff, was not very different from those in stadium-played American football. Lucas was 26 years old at the time. It is the only fatality in the history of the Arena Football League.
The only fatality in the history of af2 is Bakersfield Blitz FB / LB Julian Yearwood on July 19, 2003 during a game against the Wichita Stealth. Yearwood came out of the game in the first quarter after blocking a field goal attempt allegedly claiming that he wasn't well, collapsed, and was later pronounced dead at Via Christi St. Francis Hospital in Wichita after medical personnel worked to resuscitate him. As a result, the game was abandoned in the first quarter with a 7-7 score. Both teams were credited with a tie in the standings.