Stability in a sport built on hopes and dreams

Nebraska Danger

The Following is an op-ed from the IFL’s Nebraska Danger game operations’ Drew Fausett on the recent announcement that the team was put up for sale:

Stability in a sport built on hopes and dreams or, what I’ve learned from my time in indoor football
– Drew Fausett

I write this in the hours following the official announcement that the Nebraska Danger, of which there are few fans more dedicated than I, would be for sale, or relocation. I felt like I owe the team and the sport I’ve been fortunate enough to be a small part of, a written reaction of sorts.

Nearly a decade ago my football lovin’ heart jumped for joy when it was announced that my town would be the host to an indoor football franchise. The arena in town was used so rarely I was excited to see what it might bring. Having grown up in South Dakota I was well aware of the powerhouse that was the Sioux Falls Storm, and being an incredible football fan in general, and loving the AFL’s twist on the game, it’d be an understatement to say I was excited.

I attended every home game that first season. we were terrible. The Gameday experience was clunky, drawn out by timeouts, and the on-field product wasn’t great. However, when a buddy was hired to build their Gameday Operations/Production Team for the second season, I jumped at the opportunity. The first few seasons I was an “on field promo talent scout” – the word talent was used loosely. I was paid in gift cards for the gas station that the team’s ownership also owned. It was insanity, but we did the best we could to help the gameday experience improve. The on-field experience improved as well. The team made the playoffs, and then 3 straight title games. It isn’t important that we lost them all. We were building momentum. Proving what we’d known all along, Nebraska is synonymous with football.

When the general manager moved on to work for the league, my role became more solid as the “Red Cap”, a sort of liaison between the officials and the team, orchestrator of on field promos (including timing, man, did I pride myself on not interrupting the flow of football for a relay race that might include a wardrobe malfunction, or human hamster wheels, or a blindfolded, possibly intoxicated fan searching for a gift card from a local restaurant with the crowd yelling directions) and a Johnny on the spot for anything the teams needed. If you never came to a game, you really missed out. The longer I was involved, the more comfortable I became around the players, coaches and fans, making friendships with many. The position became an awesome part time job for me as well, built on the solid foundation the organization was forming.  The Bosselman family did one thing more than right, the organization felt like family. We were all “in this together”. CEO/Owner Charlie Bosselman led this charge by being on the sidelines and cheering louder than most in the building.

Then came the lean years, missing the championship game we’d become so accustomed to, and not having a home playoff game for years. It all became hard to process. Coaching staff changes, a revolving door of players, teams in and out of the league, failed experiments in other markets (do not get me started – the Salt Lake Screaming Eagles, that’s probably a whole article in itself). My eyes can’t roll far enough back in my head.  The endless conversations of league mergers, the FCFL (the “Fan Controlled Football League” that could be a 3-part series by itself).  Through all of this, the stability was that the organization wouldn’t chase the drama, the chaos. The organization would stand its ground, built on solid business principles, and a sense of obligation to provide a quality product for the city of Grand Island, and the surrounding communities.

Indulge me, if you will, this small detour into one of my fondest memories of indoor football. Saturday, March 2nd, 2013 to be exact, a cold, windy night in central Nebraska. I recall getting to the stadium early because it was the home opener. I had my typical things to accomplish, getting ice for officials’ water cooler, shower towels, delivering footballs to refs (no deflategate here), coordinating what felt like 865 cub and boy scouts for the fan tunnel and selecting fans for various promotional time out shenanigans. You could feel it in the air, the 3rd season for the Danger was about to begin, and after an inaugural season of getting beaten around, and a sophomore season of 5 wins, but finding bright futures in players like Jameel Sewel, Darius Savage, Pig Brown and Darnell Terrell, the momentum was growing. The air was thick with anticipation.  The fever pitch didn’t take long to materialize, as Marcus “Bones” Barnett sent Eihusen Arena into orbit with a 58-yard opening kickoff return for a TD where he went nearly untouched into the end zone, the opening blast in the rivalry that was to come. Sewell threw for 129, but beyond the numbers, he showed the poise and leadership the team so badly needed. The statement of the game was Nebraska’s dominance defensively. Sioux Falls was held to 21 points, a team who hadn’t scored less than 48 points the previous two seasons.  Brown and company showed that Nebraska can play defense. Forcing 2 turnovers in the game, while the offense gave up none. Terrell’s interception with 1:31 left in the game put the Storm on ice and gave the Danger their very first “signature win”. The aftershocks of would lead to a tsunami of wins and 3 straight United Bowl appearances, all against Sioux Falls.

Why do I tell this story? Well, this was the moment when I realized the power indoor football could hold for a community. Something that may have been viewed as a gimmick and a pet project for a successful business, in this moment, became a legitimate contender in the sport. Stars were born; Sewell would set the standard that all future Danger QBs would be measured by, including winning the MVP twice in three years.  Brown showed the intensity and game intelligence that would lead him from success on the field, to the job of head coach, and the Nebraska Danger became a name that all IFL teams would respect. It also was building a community in our area. I know of several season ticket holders who drive 60 miles or more to every home game, as well as fans willing to travel to road games up to 1000 miles away.

Ok enough history, time to talk about the present. ‘Shocked’ would be the easy way to describe what I felt when I was notified that our team would be up for sale. If this news had come three seasons earlier, I’d have not been one bit surprised, but with the resurgence in on field quality this season, and the unexpected playoff run, the idea of the team folding was the furthest from my mind. I’ve predicted the demise of many teams, Billings, Wyoming, Colorado, Chicago, Salt Lake, Bemidji.  But this? Nope. Maybe I was still enjoying the success of the “Tommy Armstrong experiment”, having a Husker great leading the team, and the league in a lot of areas. Call me naive, I know internet indoor football pundit Jim “BananaCat” Roberts would, but I didn’t see this coming.  Every year at this time we watch with anticipation as the social media posts would turn to “the death pool” for what teams would roll the turf up for the last time. Each year finding some surprises and some not. Wichita Falls folding still stings.

The thing that catches me off guard the most is that where many organizations were built on cotton candy dreams and promises of attendance and success, this team was built on a family fulfilling a wish of Charlie’s late father, who had hopes for minor league sports in Grand Island, as well as hard work and learning from every step along the way, and rolling up your sleeves when something doesn’t go exactly to plan. You don’t have to look far to find evidence of this, in the 2019 season, Bosselman himself vacuumed vomit off the field to help get the game restarted.

So how do I respond to the news that the team will at minimum be changing hands? It’s one-part shock, one-part sadness, and a dash of disappointment. This community needs things for families to do. The town is exceptional at opening bars and restaurants, but opportunities to take your whole family to an event are few and far between. Sports do great things for the world. Sports shape our communities, give us a sense of togetherness, and pride in where we’re from. This small town in the middle of “nowhere” could take pride in beating teams from cities far larger than them, defeating teams from California, Colorado, Washington, Wyoming, Kansas, Texas, Minnesota, Montana and beyond.  Will I miss it if the team goes dark? Absolutely. Would I throw my hat in the ring to work for a new owner should they decide to keep it in town? 100%. But will it ever be the same? Good question.  Time will tell, I guess. But to the potential buyers, if you want to have a conversation about what indoor football can mean to this community, I’m happy to talk. Hit me up.

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