By now, the week-long festivities in Fayetteville should be nearing an end. Mayoral proclamations have been read, Barbara Spigner’s bust is cast for the local hall of fame, and the confetti covering Coliseum Drive is ready for sweeping. All in all, this pedestrian 5-3 regular season that propelled the hometown Cape Fear Heroes into the AAL postseason has been properly celebrated. Now it’s time to bring in the Atlanta Havoc for their first-round playoff game this Saturday night.
All the while, one question remains: do the Heroes deserve to be here?
It’s a question that has been debated ever since Cape Fear successfully petitioned for a forfeit victory after Havoc staffers could not finish securing the scoreboard netting at the Buford City Schools Arena before their scheduled game on May 26. But the Heroes’ strange road to the postseason dates back even earlier.
In March, two-thirds of the Triangle Torch ownership left for Las Vegas, and remaining owner Chris McKinney was forced to look for a capital infusion and a place to play. That led him to Kenansville, where he shacked up in the Duplin County Events Center, the infamous home of the single goalpost where the “losers walk” rule is invoked after every score. The arena – dark, cavernous, and impervious to modern communication modes – was a hotbed for logistics issues, and on May 5 amid a swirl of rumors they would fold, the Torch canceled a game there against the then 2-3 Heroes due to “unforeseen circumstances” that have never been revealed.
As innocuous as it seemed at the time, those unforeseen circumstances gave Cape Fear the first of two forfeit wins that would become the foothill of a most improbable ascent.
To their credit, the Heroes went on to beat the Carolina Energy in a pivotal home game two weeks later that forged a tie for the final pole position. That win also set the stage for their aforementioned showdown in Buford. But fickle is the hand of fate that dispatched the Fear to the only high school gym in all the league on the night immediately after a high school graduation. They came, they saw a mess, and they conquered with a big hand from the AAL’s front office, who agreed it was unfair that no one could kick from the middle of the field. The Heroes were awarded their second forfeit win.
Cape Fear’s season was becoming reminiscent of the opening sequence of Get Smart, where Steve Carell’s character stumbles down a hallway blocked by a series of doors, each of which opens just before he crashes into it to lead him to the next. For the Heroes, that next door was opened when Georgia Doom owner Kevin Adkins opted to forego the playoffs altogether.
Until then, Cape Fear’s two freebies had only been good enough for a fourth seed and a trip to Richmond. When Adkins abandoned his third seed the Heroes snatched it, upgrading to a less formidable opponent in the Havoc. Atlanta hasn’t won a game in a month, and they’re going to have to play without QB Eric Chappel for the full game and WR Ryan McDaniel for the first half. Making things even tougher on themselves, the Havoc passed on home field advantage for “business reasons.” A helluva lot of doors sure have opened for Ms. Spigner without her lifting a finger.
So, the question before us remains, are the Cape Fear Heroes deserving of this postseason?
Not that the AAL had a choice given its black-and-white selection criteria, but to deny the Heroes their postseason opportunity would be an affront to Cinderellas across the pantheon of sports. Imagine a world without the Amazin’ Mets or Broadway Joe. What if Rollie Massimino or Jim Valvano were never invited to the NCAA’s Big Dance? How about the men’s Olympic hockey team at Lake Placid? They all needed a hefty dose of breaks to augment their intrinsic talent, and the mix yielded some memorable moments. In the same way, Barbara Spigner has given us a little zest, even if others have added the spices in for her.
At some point, her guardian angel will be off the clock and that timely elevator door or swinging beam will no longer be there to lift this incarnation of Olive Oyl to new heights as she sleepwalks her way through the construction zone of the AAL playoffs. When that happens, Spigner will free fall and there won’t be any Popeyes left to catch her. But for now she’s enjoying the ascent, and we as fans should too. Havoc v. Richmond was a foregone conclusion throughout the AAL’s unremarkable inaugural season. Maybe Heroes v. Richmond can be the foundation for a better league ahead.