Tuesday, October 1, 2013

With LA KISS, Football Doesn't Have To End With The Super Bowl

  www.latimes.com | Photo: David Livingston - Getty Images

Arena Football League team starts its inaugural season in March at the Honda Center in Anaheim.

Say hello to Gene Simmons' new baby. It's a healthy and screaming baby oy. That's right, as in "Oy, what will they dream up next?"

The rock legend's new pride and joy is an arena football team called LA KISS, which starts its inaugural season in March.

Yep, just when you typically sink into PFD (Post-Football Depression), there will be yet more football. But is it good football? Does it have the resonance, the passion, the bada-bing-bada-boom of the conventional game?

Visionaries like you and me scoff at such thinking. Of course, visionaries always seem a little nuts.

Appreciate for a moment that a sport born and nurtured in America's steel towns now has a team called the KISS, sponsored by rock legends famous as much for their makeup as their music.

Dull, backward-thinking traditionalists see the Arena Football League as a tacky offshoot of real football. I see real football as a brutal, bloated, family-hostile sport in need of some healthy competition. Every business needs that, even raging successes like the NFL.

And if you prefer monopolies, look what an outstanding job the NCAA does. Can't wait till someone proposes an alternative to that, with a real playoff system and trust funds for players.

Till then, I say bring on the Arena Football League. Season seats sell for $99 for a package of 10 games, in the lower bowl of the Honda Center. Which, of course, technically means they are the Los Angeles KISS of Anaheim — sound familiar?

"Our best seats are like putting folding chairs on the hash marks," brags co-owner Brett Bouchy.

That could hurt, but OK. Note that KISS execs are considering painting the field black.

I also get a little tingle when I think about how KISS fans will dress. I'd say raccoon eyeliner and leather slutwear, but then how would you distinguish them from the owners? Paul Stanley, a KISS bandmate and a co-owner as well, is designing the uniforms himself.

In short, this is not Lamar Hunt's AFL.

Ever watched this stuff? Eight players a side, no punting. If a ball ricochets off an end-zone net, it's still in play. If it lands in the stands, the fans get to keep it.

Believe it or not, Arena has been around 26 years. The Avengers closed shop in L.A. seven years ago, and the league declared bankruptcy and took the year off to retool in 2009.

Since then, players have been employees of the league, not the individual teams, a novel approach that sounds much like the U.S. Postal Service. The league now seems determined to push into mega-markets, first with this SoCal expansion team, then the following year in New York.

Sat down with new Coach Bob McMillen, who played 13 years in the league. There doesn't seem to be a lot of give to the guy. Built like a bank, he admits to being a bit of a tyrant and a perfectionist. That served him well for three years with the Chicago Rush, with whom he was coach of the year last season.

Then a minute later he says he's a players' coach and doesn't like to be a dictator. So maybe the tyrant thing is a little overstated. He says communication is key, and he'll consult with players on how to practice, that sort of thing.

In my experience, if you asked players how long a practice should be, most would look you straight in the eye and say, "Five minutes, coach. That should do it."

But with his Ditka haircut, McMillen seems a capable straight arrow. And few would have a better feel for the special demands of the AFL, where rosters are limited to 24, with 20 players active for each game.

"If you can hold a team to under 40 points, you have a good chance to win," McMillen explains.

So if you like defense — no one does — this Arena Football League might not be for you.

But if you love spectacle, and quarterbacks who throw 50 times a minute, stay tuned. After all, this is the place where Kurt Warner grooved his game before lighting up the NFL.

Speaking of QBs, the team has offered Tim Tebow a slot, which I think would complete a delicious holy trinity for this new team: Rock star owners, a passive-aggressive coach and a former Heisman winner in search of redemption.

What better place for that than in Anaheim, a town that made fantasy almost a religion.

Save a hash-mark seat for me.