Arena Football

Arena-style football has a style of its own

Two of the neat things about arena-style football are that the ball looks like a giant walnut, and that it gives guys from small colleges a chance to continue chasing dreams.

It’s sort of like the Truck Series in NASCAR, or the Tour in golf, or the lounge in the Holiday Inn on the outskirts of town for the singer-songwriter still trying to get discovered and signed to a record deal. Only with dasher boards and end zone nets.

When the third iteration of Las Vegas indoor football debuts tonight — it’ll be your Las Vegas Outlaws waging 50-yard indoor war against the San Jose SaberCats at 7:30 at the Thomas &Mack Center — the most recognizable of the Outlaws will be team principal Vince Neil, former front man of Motley Crue, who will sing the national anthem.

The players aren’t nearly as recognizable, though some have multiple tattoos like the owner.

The Las Vegas team has two guys from Iowa and one each from others schools of which you’ve heard: Florida, Michigan State, South Carolina, Colorado State, Purdue, Kansas, Cal, Wyoming, UNR.

One of the Outlaws’ quarterbacks is an Ivy Leaguer, representing Columbia.

The rest are from smaller schools or mere dots on the college football map: Appalachian State, North Dakota State, Idaho State, MidAmerica Nazarene, New Mexico Highlands, Hampton, Panhandle State.

The Outlaws have all points of the compass covered: Northern (Iowa) and Southern (Utah and Charleston); Eastern (Oregon) and Western (New Mexico).

Western New Mexico is the school from which I was graduated. The entrance requirement was that one must be breathing, or have maintained around a C-minus average in high school.

I knew a lot of the football players. Some were pretty good, but I never imagined them playing professionally. I mostly imagined them downing a pony keg of beer in one sitting. Especially the offensive linemen.

So I will be keeping an eye tonight on Wesley Mauia, No. 17. He’s the guy who went to Western New Mexico.

He’ll be one of two people in the arena who knows the only things between El Paso, Texas, and the Western New Mexico campus in Silver City are Las Cruces, Deming and lots and lots of sagebrush. And the Grant County airport, a forlorn place about 15 miles from town where if you missed your flight on Frontier, you had to wait 24 hours for the next one.

Outside. In the sage. With coyotes.

“When you’re driving out there, all you can see are your headlights,” Wes Mauia said.

Tell me about it.

It’s safe to say that Vince Neil and the Crue never played a gig at the Fine Arts Center Theatre smack dab in the middle of the Western New Mexico campus.

I recall two concerts during my four years (or so) there: Michael Martin Murphey, who sang about a horse called “Wildfire,” and this band Ace, which had a hit called “How Long (Has This Been Going On).” Then they became a country act.

So this was where Was Mauia played college football in virtual obscurity.

Make it abject obscurity.

After that he wanted like the rest of us to put off getting a real job for as long as he could. He tried out for his hometown Arizona Rattlers; they liked how he smacked guys into the dasher boards, but their roster was set.

His brother knew a guy who worked for the indoor football team in San Antonio. So that’s where Mauia began playing football indoors. He since has played for indoor teams in San Jose and New Orleans.

The League of Opportunity. That’s what Arena Football sometimes calls itself.

One season, 11 of the 18 all-Arena selections were from the nonpower conferences. Dot-on-the-map guys. It’s like that a lot of seasons. Indoor football is tailor-made for guys from small colleges who are an inch short or a step slow. Or too stubborn to admit it.

Everybody sort of remembers Kurt Warner played college football at Northern Iowa, and then he bagged groceries, and then he played arena football for the Iowa Barnstormers before playing in the Super Bowl and becoming a two-time NFL Most Valuable Player.

But for every Kurt Warner there are dozens of Wes Mauias, guys who still have a passion for the game, a passion for, as he puts it, “putting on a uniform with your name on the back” and slamming guys into dasher boards.

Wes Mauia is 29 now. He knows time is running out on his football dream.

“One more season,” he says.

He may or may not have said that last season. He may or may not say it again next season.

He admits to thinking about getting a real job, something a little easier on the body than slamming guys into dasher boards for a small paycheck and a free health club membership.

He said he’s thinking about becoming a fireman.