Going to watch the football show put on by the Portland Thunder, our new Arena Football League team, is like entering another world. It's miniature football with full-sized men and the glitz of the NFL replaced by a DIY demolition derby vibe.
The Moda Center (henceforth referred to as the Thunder Dome, obviously) was roughly ⅓ full when I went last week. Surely it's not what the team wants, but it makes for a great experience. You can stretch out, sit very close to the football show, and for the first time ever I was able to use the bathroom during a sports intermission without waiting in line.
I was already impressed when I saw smoke machines for the team introduction but they really upped the ante with a surprising number of fireworks and, for some reason, a miniature monster truck and 6-person motorcycle gang puttering around the field with their flashers on like they got really confused by the parking rules at the Thunder Dome and accidentally drove inside.
This opening was the most fun I had all night. Afterwards, they pretty much just play football. I can't tell you how good the caliber of play was because I'm not a football expert, but they all really seemed to be playing football.
Portland was playing host to the New Orleans Voodoo (The Thunder doesn't have a monopoly on bad names in the AFL. Perhaps it's a league policy?). Voodoo has been as effective against opponents as their namesake, with the 2nd worst record in the league. Fortunately Portland had the 3rd worst record so it was a close game.
The diminutive size of the field seems… dangerous. Three players were helped off the field including two with apparent head injuries. I have a hard time supporting an organization like the NFL that causes long term mental health problems for its participants. If it's weird when they're making $15 million a year, it's even worse when they're putting themselves at the same risk for $15k. Even the smaller injuries (a leg sideways, for example) are going to make it hard for these guys to work their second jobs moving furniture.
And the various stresses of a game got to some of the players. One Voodooian in particular had so many personal fouls he would have fouled out of two basketball games. He was the center of three tussles that, I am embarrassed to admit, were the most exciting things to happen since the baby monster truck drove back to its tiny monster truck cave.
The crowd, which had a high percentage of father-son outings, seemed to have a grand old time. If you like football, I gather you'll enjoy the team quite a bit. If you don't, but think you can get past the injury rate, you should still see one just to marvel at this bizarre new entertainment option we have operating out of the Thunder Dome.