Offseason fix

Good news, sports fans. There's no need to put your recliner and the TV remote in mothballs just yet. Football season begins this weekend. Sure, the Super Bowl hoopla was only a few days ago. Some <!--Default For Tampa Bay is to ignore-->Tampa Bay fans are probably still celebrating. And yes, the Pro Bowl has yet to be played. But there's much more to come. Arena Football is here.

What's Arena Ball? Think football, but faster. It's played indoors. There's a smaller field. 20 active players are on the roster, and most of them play both offense and defense. Only the kicker, the quarterback, the kick returner and two defensive specialists get a break and are not out there all of the time.

The pace of the game is quick and high scores are the key. With a field just 85' wide and 50 yards long, it doesn't take long for that first touchdown to be on the board. Last year the Chicago Rush won some games by a score of 71-59,70-62 and 74-68 on the road to a semifinal playoff. As an added bonus, Arena teams have cheerleaders. The 19 member squad known as the Adrenaline Rush will be at all home games.

But are there any Bears? Yes, as a matter of fact, there are. Chicago's Arena team has two Halas Hall alumni, OL/DL James Baron and DS Cedric Walker. Baron was a member of the Bears practice squad during the late 1990s before signing with AFL's Nashville Kats. The rush acquired him as a free agent in November of 2001. Baron was named AFL Lineman of the Year in 1998 and 2001 and was the league's defensive Player of the Year in 1999.

Walker practiced with the Bears in Platteville's training camp both in 1994 and 1995 before signing with the Orlando Predators. After playing for the Predators and later for the Charlotte Rage, Walker signed with the championship Arizona Rattlers in 1997.He remained there until moving to the Rush in July of 2001. Walker has led the AFL twice in tackles with 93 in 1997 and 98 in 2002.

So what do these former Bears think of life in the AFL?

"I love it," Baron said. "I like the pace and I enjoy the game. Because the crowd is so close to the field, there is a completely different energy going on. When the hometown fans start screaming, it really tends to get you going.

"It's a great way of life. I'm having a lot of fun," Walker adds. "I think that the original idea many people had about the AFL is that it would never measure up to the quality of play in the NFL. Honestly, it's a completely different thing out there. Yes, you are in a football uniform but the pace makes it much more like basketball than like NFL football. It's exciting for the players, and it is definitely catching on with the fans. Our crowds are increasing with every game."

This year, fan familiarity with the AFL and its players will be helped to a great extent by a new contract that the League has signed with NBC Television. NBC will broadcast regional contests during the season. The League has moved its kickoff date to early February from the traditional April start to accommodate broadcast schedules and to lure fans into indoor arenas during inclement weather.

"This interest by NBC is probably one of the most exciting things ever to happen to our league," said Rush public relations representative Mike Alazamora. "It should help to build our fan base for both home and away games. We feel that we can offer a high quality product that all football fans will really enjoy."

All Chicago Rush home games will be played at Allstate Arena in Rosemont from February 2-May 19. To check it out, log on to for a complete schedule and for ticket availability.

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