BY MIKE PRATER
THE IDAHO PRESS
NAMPA — I started feeling bad, I really did.
New columnist gig.
Same dark, skeptical attitude.
It’s true: My first two columns for the Idaho Press exposed a deep skepticism of college basketball in Idaho. Easy target. Cheap shot.
Time to find something more positive — because balance is the key to life, right?
But I wanted to focus this week on the Idaho Horsemen, the Ford Idaho Center and professional indoor football returning to the Treasure Valley for the first time in 10 years.
Seems like a good story. Or is it?
First of all, have you even heard of the Horsemen? Did you know that indoor football is back? Do you care as the calendar turns to spring and our minds wander away from football for a few months?
Secondly, could Saturday’s debut against something called the Wenatchee Valley Skyhawks actually be anything close to positive? The concept of indoor football is shaky at best, as teams and leagues across the country constantly open and close because of a poor product and massive financial burdens.
Idaho’s newest franchise in the startup American West Football Conference has created very little buzz.
Marketing is shallow, one AWFC team (Sacramento) didn’t make it to opening day, and Horsemen and AWFC officials declined media interviews leading up to the opener.
Understand my dilemma?
But there I was, inside the Idaho Center with roughly 2,000 hardcore fans (or family and friends?) and three times as many empty seats, watching rec-league talent throw around a white football and bounce off padded black walls.
And there were plenty of positives.
Fans tailgating in the parking lot, complete with men throwing a football, women wearing football jerseys and scattered beer cans. Off to a very positive start.
There was a National Anthem with an American flag, a military presence, and real officials on the field. Now we’re really flying high, though the spine-tingly, never-forget moment typically associated with a new franchise making its debut never happened. Guess the emotional factor will take time.
Look, there are former Boise State players Armand Nance and Hunter Nettles roaming around in nifty blue uniforms. Nance is a trimmed-down linebacker beast, and Nettles starts at center. And former Bronco and current Boise State football on-field game-day host David McKenzie is working his same magic on The Green.
The Horsemen score on their first possession. Four plays down the 50-yard field. PAT is good. Crowd goes wild … kind of.
The defense, with Nance roaming the middle, produces a goal-line stand the first time it steps on the field. Crowd noise building, beers pouring.
Next play: The Horsemen score on a pass play, about 45 yards. I think the quarterback is Hayden Wright, not sure about the wide receiver. Rosters and backgrounds are sketchy. But the crowd goes wild … for real.
Then “Sweet Caroline’’ busts out over the loudspeakers and fans start to sing the tired old classic. Still in the first quarter. Not sure what to think about the sudden music development.
The Lady Spurs are dancing, though they seem to disappear a lot.
There’s at least one professional scout here, and of the 40 or so combined players on the two rosters, one looks promising, he said. Dude is a lineman for the other team. Dangit!
“Sweet Caroline’’ has been replaced by a string of country music songs. The rodeo folks who built this massive building would approve.
Players earn a paycheck, though no one is saying how much. Maybe $100 per game. Certainly no more than the standard arena game check of $250.
Smiling kids are running around in Horsemen T-shirts, there is a steady flow of fans at the merchandise booth, adult men with 24-ounce tall boys are throwing insults at opponents, and flossed-up groupies are hanging out in the corner. Real football.
A little more than two hours later, the Horsemen win 33-22, and players quickly high-five fans as “We are the Champions’’ boldly blares from the rafters.
Goosebumps. Not really.
Bottom line: Quality of play was better than expected, the crowd was stronger than anticipated, and most seemed to have a good time. No need to spoil the party.
I honestly expected a dog-and-pony show from the Horsemen, and was prepared to send a warning to potential fans: Better check ‘em out fast before the franchise folds. That’s the reality of indoor football.
In this case, your new Idaho Horsemen have a real chance to stick around for a while. Even if that’s being too positive.
Mike Prater is the Idaho Press sports columnist and co-hosts Idaho Sports Talk on KTIK 93.1 FM The Ticket every Monday-Friday from 3-6 p.m. He can be found on Twitter @MikeFPrater and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Prater’s opinions are his own.