It’s been over a decade since there was an Arena Football team in New York but the waiting will be over when the New York Streets hit the field next month to begin their inaugural season in the National Arena League. The absence of the 50 yard indoor war in the tri-state area since the New York Dragons stepped off the field for the final time in 2008 is a shame because when you think about it, Arena Football was born in New York.
On February 11th, 1981, the Major Indoor Soccer League held it’s annual All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden. The New York Arrows of the MISL called the Nassau Coliseum home, but on this night, the biggest stars of indoor soccer were on the turf at the World’s Most Famous Arena. A crowd of 13,170 was on hand to see the Western Division beat the Eastern Division 8-5.
In the Garden that night to see the game was an NFL executive by the name of Jim Foster and as he watched soccer begin played inside the hockey boards on the turf laid over the ice, a thought crept into his mind.
If soccer can be played indoors in an arena, why can’t the same be done with football? So while watching the MISL All-Star Game, Foster pulled a nine inch by twelve inch manila envelope out of his briefcase and started to doodle a sketch of what a football field would look like within the confines of a hockey rink.
The concept of Arena Football was born!
Foster had to put his master plan on hold for a bit when he joined the United States Football League in 1982 when he became the Executive Vice-President of the Chicago Blitz. When the USFL folded 1985, Foster resumed his dream of getting Arena Football off the ground and the next step was a test game on April 27th, 1986 in Rockford, Illinois. A second test game was played in Rosemont, Illinois on February 27th, 1987 and then the Arena Football League began play later that year with four teams.
New York tasted Arena Football for the first time in 1988 when the New York Knights played at Madison Square Garden. The team lasted just one season and New York would be without Arena Football until the New York CityHawks were born in 1997 and played two seasons at The Garden. Also in 1997, the New Jersey Red Dogs began playing at the Meadowlands and would later change their name to the New Jersey Gladiators before moving to Las Vegas for the 2003 season.
The most recent local team to play Arena Football was the New York Dragons who were the Iowa Barnstormers before moving to the Nassau Coliseum in 2001. The Dragons played eight seasons on Long Island from 2001 to 2008 before the AFL shut down for a season. When the league returned in 2010, the Dragons did not and that began a more than decade long absence of Arena Football in New York.
That will all change next month when the Streets will be delivering the fast-paced action that is Arena Football to the fans of New York.
Different indoor football leagues have different rules and concepts but when I see the Streets hit the field in April, it will be extremely exciting and it will bring back some great memories. I’ve been fortunate to meet Jim Foster many times and on each occasion I thanked him for creating the great game of Arena Football because it has provided so many opportunities for so many people on and off the field.
Each time I’ve seen him, I’ve also been lucky enough to see and hold that manila envelope on which the game of Arena Football was designed. And it was designed and born in New York City!