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A Frenzy Within

Things have definitely looked better for the Florida Frenzy and for indoor football in general. Since its freshman game on March 19 against the creatively named upstate team Osceola Football, it's been 13 long weeks and ten games for the Frenzy, which sits now at a disappointing 4-6 within its parent organization, the National Indoor Football League.

If the Arena Football League (AFL) is where players who couldn't make the NFL go and if the af2 (arenafootball2) is the minor league for the Arena Football League, then what does that make the National Indoor Football League (NIFL), with teams as disparate as the Rapid City (South Dakota) Flying Aces and the Katy (Texas) Copperheads? Hmm, it's not quite clear. The minor-minors?

The Frenzy's final home game of the season was to have been this coming Sunday against the Dayton (Ohio) Bulldogs. But that's been inexplicably canceled. Last week's scheduled home match against the local Palm Beach Phantoms was also dumped. There has been no rioting by disappointed fans at the box office. Put a Post-It on the fridge. Next year's season starts — or, maybe, could start — sometime in winter 2007.

As it turns out, the Frenzy's final home game this year was played June 5 against the Greensboro Revolution, held like all home games in the 5,000-seat arena at the heart of South Florida's giant Russian Matreshka doll, with entertainment venues within well-lit entertainment venues, known as the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

For the several hundred of us intrepid enough to bear witness to the Frenzy on a Monday night, little did we know it would be the last home game. It was quite a show, however. Later, the Frenzy's website proclaimed: "Florida Devours Greensboro 49-23!," a headline that joined other proclamations crafted to shake the sports world, like "Florida Frenzy Upsets Osceola" and "Florida Almost Shocks Undefeated Lakeland," whatever that means.

The news release about June 5's game noted that "fans held their collective breaths on a number of occasions when a solid defensive hit rippled throughout the Hard Rock Live Arena." It went on to describe the most memorable meeting of passers and defenders like this: "One particular hit had three players laid out after the collision, and all three were shaking the cobwebs out as they slowly got back up. Carolina had beaten Florida earlier this year, and it was clear from the onset this was going to be an intense game."

Intense? No. Entertaining? Yes. Bizarre? Also, yes.

The NIFL consists of 22 teams, at least for today. A quick telephone call to the Palm Beach Phantoms office, however, will produce a disconnection recording. The Phantoms were unable to play even a single home game due to disputes with their home-field owners, the Delray Beach Tennis Center. Note, however, that if they had played a home game there, the Phantoms would have boasted the distinction of being the only indoor football team to actually play outdoors.

It's not clear what to make of the Frenzy experience. Sitting inside the casino's inner sanctum arena, you can still smell the Hard Rock's signature blend of smoke, booze, cheap perfume, and disinfectant.

You are somewhere, and nowhere, all at once. You're at a high school football game, sort of, but not. You're on the inside of a PlayStation, but not really. You're cheering a team for whom you have no loyalty, or is it that you're just heckling them?

A regulation pro football field measures 100 yards long and 53.3 yards wide. The field here, bumpered by padding and floored with what looks like pool table felt (there's no out-of-bounds), is half as long and half as wide, making its surface area a scant quarter of a normal field. Almost every play is a pass, and teams average more than 50 points a game. It's like watching a Toys-R-Us tabletop football game through Coke bottle glasses.

Regardless, what was amazing about the experience was the Frenzy organization's confident management of a professional football simulacrum. The players were indeed hitting hard and, despite whatever their day jobs might be, were actually playing football that night.

The Frenzy's amiable, furry, blue-and-white shark mascot, borrowed from the Miami Seaquarium, canoodled with the Frenzy cheerleaders, just like at real pro games, and men in the stands drank real beer while their kids ate real nachos. A perverse clown fashioned real balloon hats as he begged for kisses from the few real women who dared the night, and between plays, the PA system blasted the Black Eyed Peas: "What you gonna do with all that junk? All that junk inside your trunk?"

Much of the real fun at that Greensboro match arrived through the taunts of audience members (not "fans," any more than those gathered at the scene of a traffic accident would be called fans) chanting, "Leo, Leo!" at the Frenzy's kicker, Leonardo Zupo, who ended up 0-2 for field goals, one of which was attempted from a mere four yards deep. Every once in awhile, a kicked football would get tangled in the black drapery encircling the arena, and a lackey would be dispatched to throw other footballs up to knock it down, as if they were playing out a Charlie Brown strip.

Real fun was further consolidated in the halftime show, featuring not only a Bada Bing-worthy dance by the Frenzy cheerleaders but also a flag football game involving Hooters girls. Yes, Hooters Fort Lauderdale Beach versus Hooters Hollywood in eight minutes of... well, you just had to be there.

The Frenzy seemingly has two more games on its 2006 schedule, both away, at the Charleston Sandsharks and the Arkansas Stars. Then come the playoffs, maybe. Tryouts for next season, one is told by Frenzy's central office, start in November, and anyone can put his name in the hopper. Interested?

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Dave Amber