Desperate Measures

Welcome (again) to the Arena League, where Desperados are kind, giants are invisible and rock concerts turn into football games

Contacted by Cowboys Vice President Stephen Jones after Jones' father had announced purchase of the Dallas AFL franchise, Carver was invited to give the indoor game a try. "So, here I am," he says. "I'm looking at it as a chance for me to prove myself. And, yes, I hope it is my way to play again in the NFL."

Fellow Desperados lineman D.J. Cooper understands. A standout schoolboy player at Mesquite High, then the University of Arkansas, it was only two years ago that he was voted the Cotton Bowl's Most Valuable Player for his New Year's Day performance against the University of Texas. Since then, however, his pursuit of a football career has been a frustrating series of near misses. Signed by the New Orleans Saints, he lasted until the final round of preseason cuts. Later, he caught on with the Chicago Bears and spent a month on their practice squad before he was released. Then, in 2001, he joined the XFL Memphis team where he played alongside Carver until knee problems developed. Before recently signing with the Desperados, he had unsuccessful tryouts with the Cleveland Browns and newly formed Houston Texans.

Needing only six credit hours to earn a degree in criminal justice, he was back in school when Dallas called. "I know the day is fast approaching when I'll put my degree to use," he says, "but for now I'm still not ready to give up football." After signing a contract, he packed a college text he'd been studying and reported for the team's minicamp. His wife and 3-year-old daughter will join him only when the season opens and he's certain he's earned a place on the roster.

The Desperados quarterbacking corp of Bryan Snyder (12), James Kubiak (14) and starter Andy Kelly (8) talk preseason strategy during minicamp.
Mark Graham
The Desperados quarterbacking corp of Bryan Snyder (12), James Kubiak (14) and starter Andy Kelly (8) talk preseason strategy during minicamp.
Desperados head coach Joe Avezzano addresses the team after a minicamp at Texas Stadium.
Mark Graham
Desperados head coach Joe Avezzano addresses the team after a minicamp at Texas Stadium.

"I've never even seen an Arena League game in person," he admits. "But what I hope to do here is become a better football player. Sure, right now I'm thinking of it as a stepping stone. I still believe I can play in the NFL. On the other hand, if this becomes a career for me, that's OK, too.

"I look at it this way: There are a lot of guys who don't even make it to this level."

To Avezzano, the motivations of those he will coach are of no real concern. "I don't care what their reasons are for being here," he says, lapsing into the language of coach-speak, "so long as they do everything they can to help us win. Some, I know, feel they have found their niche; others see it as a continuation of their quest. I say more power to both.

"What I've told them is that this is not minor-league football. Nor is it a feeder system for the Cowboys or the NFL. It's a professional league that has its own unique style and promises an exciting kind of competition."

And with that the energetic coach has smoothly switched into his added role of high-octane pitchman. From Xs and Os, he moves to talk of halftime contests, laser lights and being so close to the action you can hear the quarterback call signals. Sit and listen to him long enough and one gets the impression that an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink brand of entertainment is coming to town.

An amateur country-and-western singer, Avezzano hints that he might even be performing an occasional postgame concert. "We're going to have a good time," he says.

And somewhere in the maniacal mix, he adds, will be a good football team.

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