Playing Through

It's not the NFL, but Arena Football League 2 is still professional football, and 'you gotta take pride in what you do'

Wranglers QB Andy Hall
Wranglers QB Andy Hall

No kid dreams of strutting his stuff in Arena Football 2. He dreams of all the privileges and prerogatives that go with playing in the NFL, like Brazilian supermodel girlfriends, not making $200 a week playing in the second division of a second-rate indoor league.

But AF2, the Arena Football League's minor league, is where the football dreams have taken Ben Bennett, Andy Hall, and John Roberson. So far, anyway. Bennett is the head coach, Hall the quarterback, and Roberson a wide receiver for the Austin Wranglers (6-6), who come into this Saturday's game at the Frank Erwin Center in a tie for the Southwest Division lead. A playoff berth would be nice, a league championship even nicer. But let's face it: These guys would like nothing more than to get the hell out of Austin.

Hall makes no bones about wanting to get back to the NFL. After taking the University of Delaware Blue Hens to the Division I-AA National Championship in 2003, Hall was a sixth-round draft choice to the Philadelphia Eagles, playing third- and fourth-string backup to Donovan McNabb. But he never played a down, and after two seasons, he was gone. "The reason I'm here is I haven't had game film," he said last week between team meetings in the Wranglers' pigsty dorm, near the Erwin Center. "But pro football is a funny business. I know the NFL is just a phone call away. At the end of this season, I know they're going to say, 'Oh, this guy can still play.'"

Coach Bennett has been there himself. At Duke, Bennett was arguably the top passer in college football, chucking the ball 1,375 times for 9,614 yards. Yet he wasn't NFL material, bouncing around various professional leagues for 17 seasons, mostly in Arena Football. "I equate myself to Crash Davis in the movie Bull Durham," he said. "I've hit a lot of dingers in the minors. After this, I'd like to head coach in Arena 1, the first division, and make some people pay for overlooking me."

There probably isn't a guy associated with the Wranglers who doesn't feel that he's been egregiously overlooked. Big-time athletics are like that. It's all or nothing. Either you're pulling down millions, or you're nobody.

With a full ride to Texas A&M, Roberson saw himself in the NFL. As it happens, he never caught a single college pass. Never ran a single route. Frustrated, he quit football, quit A&M. "At one point," he said, "I couldn't even watch football. I kind of felt sick seeing it. But everything happens for a reason. This is not the NFL, but it's still professional football, and you gotta take pride in what you do."

So forget about athletic ability. In AF2, that's not what matters most. What matters is being able to take the hits, physical and psychological. Like coach Bennett says, "You've got to have inner strength to play this game."


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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Arena Football League 2, Ben Bennett, Andy Hall, John Roberson

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