By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The Dallas owner's son-in-law Shy Anderson, who will serve as chief operating officer of the Desperados, points to plans for what he calls a "grassroots" promotional approach. "For instance," he says, "we'll have the cheerleaders going to the popular night spots in Dallas, performing their dance routines and handing out information on the team. They'll be at malls, service club meetings, anywhere there are people to talk to about the team." Radio station KTCK, The Ticket, will broadcast games with high-profile morning personality George Dunham scheduled to do play-by-play.
What kind of attendance figure would Anderson consider successful in the team's inaugural season? "We'd feel very good if we average 10,000 per game," he says.
While local fans will have to wait until May 4 for the new team's first home appearance, the season gets under way April 20. Fans around the country will get their first opportunity to see Dallas when it visits Danny White's Rattlers for a June 16 game that will be one of seven Sunday AFL games televised this season by TNN.
Desperados head coach Joe Avezzano, better known as the flamboyant special teams coach of the Cowboys, says he and his Cowboys boss have done their homework. He points to the fact Jones sent him on a fact-finding trip throughout the AFL last year, sizing up the operations of the established organizations. "What we wanted to learn," he says, "was what teams were doing to be successful."
Once Jones made up his mind to invest in an Arena League franchise, Avezzano says, the commitment to success was a given. "That's just the way Jerry does things," he says. Translation: There was the assurance of top money for players, hiring of a four-man team of assistant coaches with extensive AFL backgrounds and a healthy promotion budget. A member of the Cowboys public relations department has been assigned to the Desperados.
"I see myself as a combination coach, flag-waver and promoter of the team," Avezzano notes. "When I traveled around the league last season I always sat in the stands to watch the games. I enjoyed the atmosphere and the energy. Arena Football at its best is a great evening of entertainment, and that's what we plan to provide the Dallas fans. We're not trying to compete against the NFL. We're going to have something unique, something that's going to be a lot of fun."
That, White points out, is the reason his Rattlers play to an average attendance of more than 13,000 in Phoenix's American West Arena. "What we've developed over the years is a real cult following," he explains. "The relationship between the fan and arena football is similar to that you'll find at a really exciting basketball game. Because of the closeness to the playing field there is a connect that you're never going to experience in an NFL stadium.
"I've got a picture hanging in my office that, to me, says everything you need to know about the kinship of the fans and the game they're watching. In it, one of our receivers and a defensive back have their hands high above their heads, going after a pass. Also trying to make the catch is a fan sitting in the front row."
Toss in the fact he's seen as many as eight touchdowns scored in the final two minutes of a game and that AFL rules don't allow for such time delay tactics as running the ball out of bounds, the quarterback taking a knee to stop the clock or half-hearted plunges into the line to protect a lead, and you've got what he calls wall-to-wall action. "One of the best rules we have is that the offense has to always make a genuine effort to score, regardless of the time remaining."
Standard uniforms, a regulation-sized ball and the six points awarded for a touchdown aside, this is hardly your father's football. There are eight men to a side instead of 11 (on offense, for instance, there are four linemen, a quarterback, a running back and two receivers). In addition to being only 50 yards long, the field is just 85 feet wide (visualize playing between the hash marks of a 100-yard field) rimmed by waist-high padding, which a ball-carrier can bounce off of and continue along his way. The goal posts, flanked by wide nets, are half the width of those in the NFL, with the cross bar five feet higher. Any kick or pass that bounces off the nets remains in play and can be fielded and advanced by an opposing player. Punting is illegal, a drop-kicked field goal is worth four points instead of the three awarded the more traditional kick and kickoffs are made from the end zone. Substitutions are allowed but once during each 15-minute quarter, and the clock rarely stops. "During any game," Anderson points out, "there will be as many as a dozen footballs that wind up in the stands. And, like in baseball, any fan who catches one will get to keep it."
All that and more for ticket prices that will range from $25 for a sideline seat to five bucks for an upper end zone view.