Not Everyone Can Be a 49er
How Arena Football League players fare in the NFL
SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
How Arena Football League players fare in the NFL
It is not much of an exaggeration to say that every single player in the Arena Football League aspires one day to play in the National Football League. The irony of the situation—as I learned when I was embedded with the New Orleans VooDoo—is that playing in the AFL often dooms a player’s chances of ever making the NFL.
“It can be a blemish,” admitted Scott Levine, a sports agent who represents players in both leagues. “Players in the Arena league can’t run at one hundred percent, because of the size of the field, and the sidewalls. NFL teams don’t always understand that. They just think a guy is slow. Or they’ll say, we’ll only consider the guy that has the best stats in the league. But the skill sets are different—there are some NFL players who wouldn’t be able to play in the Arena league, so the statistics don’t always translate.” And yet, when the NFL is not interested, Levine always advises his clients to play in the AFL.
It beats the alternative. Before they signed to the VooDoo, players I interviewed had worked, respectively, as a security guard; a beer deliveryman; and an assistant to his father, a manufacturer of prosthetic limbs.
Nobody on the VooDoo last year made an NFL roster in 2012, but a handful of players make the leap each year. Kurt Warner is the most famous former AFL player, but there are more recent, if somewhat less spectacular, examples. One is Rod Windsor, a wide receiver who, as a member of the Arizona Rattlers in 2010, was named AFL rookie of the year. For the past two seasons he has been a member of the Cleveland Browns’ practice squad; in 2011 he was activated for two games, but didn’t play.
I asked him what was the most difficult part about transitioning between the leagues. “You have to be more mature in the NFL,” he said. “You have to learn how to talk to people. You have to look nice. You can’t go out in the streets and do dumb things. You can’t have your pants hanging off your butt.”
Some of the VooDoo I interviewed complained that the Arena game’s small field prevented them from being able to show off their skills, and forced them to develop poor habits. Isaiah Trufant, who has played for the New York Jets the last three seasons, disagrees. As a defensive back for four years in the AFL—for the Rattlers, the Spokane Shock, and the Kansas City Brigade—Trufant believes he benefitted from the AFL’s peculiar rule system, which essentially forces the offense to pass almost every single play. “I got a lot of reps,” he said, “despite being a smaller back. People know that Arena is set up for the offense to have a field day, so if you have a good game as a defensive back, you’re able to show NFL guys that you can make plays in their league. The AFL can open doors. I’m living proof.”
Windsor agrees. “If I could say one thing to a player who hasn’t gotten a shot at the NFL, I would tell them to look at Arena football. It helps you more than it hurts you.”
Windsor’s contract with the Browns has expired; he is currently a free agent. I asked him whether he would ever consider returning to the AFL.
“Nobody here has given me the opportunity to show my talents on Sunday,” he said. “I never count Arena out.”
More from Nathaniel Rich:
From the November 2013 issue
Memento Mori — October 15, 2013, 6:03 pm
On the remarkable life of the subject of “The Man Who Saves You from Yourself”
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”