- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 4, 2009

Ninety feet above the floor of the D.C. Armory, workers carefully lowered the goal posts from the ceiling.

Yes, goal posts hanging from the ceiling. A football field laid out on the Armory floor. Sandbags filling plastic barriers to keep the wall in place surrounding the football field.

This is football, baby, and not that sissy stuff they play at FedEx Field.

This is medieval football.

Indoor football will make its debut at the Armory on Saturday when the D.C. Armor play their first home game against the Reading Express.

There has been arena-style football in the area before. The Washington Commandos were one of the first four teams in the Arena Football League in 1987, but they played at Capital Centre and later at Patriot Center. There was an indoor team called the Chesapeake Tide that played in The Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro several years ago, and now there is another one playing there, the Maryland Maniacs.

But the D.C Armor, who compete in the American Indoor Football Association, will be the first indoor football team to play in the confines of the District. Their home debut will be a D.C. event, with go-go legend Chuck Brown performing at halftime.

It takes a brave man in this economy to start a professional sports franchise, especially in the world of indoor football. The premier league, the AFL, shut down operations for this season, and the sport’s history is full of teams coming and going in the blink of an eye.

Corey Bennett, the general manager and one of the owners of the franchise, said he believes they’ve got a product for the times - $20 a ticket for sports entertainment.

If he can get people into the arena, it might work; indoor football, played on a 50-yard field, is one of those sporting events that sells itself in person.

“The sticking power for arena football is amazing - action-packed games and fast-paced,” Bennett said. “You can watch a football game with the proximity of a basketball game and the passion of a hockey game.”

I’ve got a soft spot for these kind of sporting events - the off-Broadway kind of sport, or as Don King would say, “SKD - something kinda different.” And indoor football is something kind of different that, like hockey, is much better in person than on television.

I’ve also got a soft spot for the Armory, a cool, 68-year-old building where I’ve covered a number of boxing matches over the years. However, as a sports venue, it has pretty much laid an egg to date.

Maybe something kinda different is what the Armory needs.

“This is a great home for us,” Bennett said. “The facility is dated, but that adds some value to our brand - medieval, for lack of a better phase.”

“Our fans,” as Bennett made reference to, have yet to be determined. They may have to be very determined to show up for the home opener because the D.C. Armor’s debut is sort of like the old “Oregon Trail” computer game, where one roadblock after another faced the trailblazers.

Saturday brings one of the most unique and competitive sporting nights the District has ever seen. While the D.C. Armor kick off, D.C. United will face the Houston Dynamo next door at RFK Stadium. At Verizon Center, the Wizards will face the Miami Heat. In Southeast, the Washington Nationals will host the Baltimore Orioles in an exhibition game at Nationals Park. And up the road in College Park, the National Collegiate Boxing Association national championship finals will take place.

Throw in this little thing on television known as the Final Four - not to mention road construction taking place right in front of the Armory - and it would seem the D.C. Armor had better have some loyal and devoted fans.

“Saturday night is a very competitive night,” Bennett said. “And we wish the construction had been planned at a different time, but there is nothing we can do about it. But I believe a basketball fan is a basketball fan, a baseball fan is a baseball fan, and a football fan is a football fan.”

Football players are football players.

Armor receiver Randy Hymes is a football player, a receiver from Grambling who played three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens and last year was with the Cleveland Gladiators in the AFL.

“Football is football,” he said. “This is a little bit more physical. The defensive back can keep his hands on the receiver pretty much most of the time. When I first started playing, it caught me by surprise. But I am a physical receiver, so I say, ‘Bring it.’ ”

And football coaches are football coaches.

“I love this venue,” said coach Danny James, who coached in the AFL for 13 years. “It’s an old-school building, and I’m an old-school kind of coach.”

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