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Watching the Sharks Take a Bite Out of Tampa Bay

Chaos and mayhem roared through a sea of red and costumed fans. Scanning the audience, you could see fans dressed as hippies, hotdogs and even a few cross-dressers.

Saturday’s Jacksonville Shark's game was an experience like no other. The last football game I attended involved tailgating for many hours and the scrounging for a seat in Appalachian State University’s student section.

Going into the game, I was completely unaware of the differences between arena (AFL) and National Football League (NFL) football. I assumed they just stuffed the game in an arena so fans would come and have an air conditioned seat.

To some degree, I was correct. But, I still wanted some more information and so, like any college student seeking an answer, I typed my question into Google.

Ever the researcher, I ignored the Wikipedia result and clicked onto Yahoo Answers. The best answer, as chosen by voters, provided me with the following information. Arena football is played on a 50 yard field and has no sidelines or out-of-bounds. The arena game is played with eight men on the field, compared with 11 in the NFL. Finally, Mr. Best Answer says the “commitment to fans,” is perhaps the largest difference between the leagues.

This seemed to be true as I made my way into Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. Sharks fans had gathered to tailgate in the parking lot and hundreds hovered around the entrance for the free promotional goods from sponsors.

Themed “Halloween in July,” the hometown team took on the Tampa Bay Storm. Red is the Sharks color and I definitely missed the memo. I had also ignored the memo about it being “Halloween in July.” So here’s a tip... if you want to stick out at a Shark’s game, wear a Carolina blue t-shirt.

The clock ran pretty continuously which made for a high energy game. Anytime there was a disagreement on the field regarding a call the referee made, the players would try and fight the other team to settle the dispute.

The game was constantly interrupted with gimmicks designed to engage the audience. One mini-game involved two audience members putting on a shirt that had been frozen, and the winner won a Playstation 3. A costume contest was held later on. Select audience members went on the field and whoever received the most cheers from the rest of the audience won. A man dressed as a woman won a Guitar Hero guitar painted with the Sharks’ emblem.

During my time at the game, I saw the largest “wave” done by an audience I had seen in recent memory. I sat behind the goalpost and was fascinated that fans could simply reach up and touch it, or players, if they wished.

During the brief times the clock was actually stopped, a Tampa Bay player put his helmet on the ground and sat down on top of it. I was shocked a player could just pop-a-squat in the middle of a game.

I learned that the Tampa Bay Storm was ranked the best team in the league at the time. The Sharks fans took care of distracting them and at half-time the Sharks were leading 21-14.

Fourth quarter finally came around and the game got more intense as everyone rose to their feet. The score went back and forth until the Sharks took home the “W” with a 49-47 final score.

That's right, the Jacksonville Sharks are now considered the best team in the league.

Arena football is exciting and fast-paced. I can’t decide if I actually enjoy the game, or if it was just the 13,011 fans that made the experience so much fun. (A personal highlight for me was getting to meet “SharkMan.”)

The next football game I go to will likely be a college game in the Fall, but I'm certain that I'll have had more fun inside the air-conditioned arena watching the AFL’s Jacksonville Sharks.

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