Last week, Southern Steam owner and head coach Bobby Dammarell reserved two passenger vans and a Ford F150 to transport his 20-man roster and equipment from Georgia to Massachusetts for a game against the New England Bobcats. A win would virtually assure the Steam the No. 1 seed in the Elite Indoor Football League playoffs, which comes with a semifinal bye and home field advantage in the championship game the following week. A loss would kill any chance of securing the top seed. Despite the stakes, Dammarell set out on the 15 and a-half hour trek with so few players that he was able to downsize from vans to SUVs before leaving.
His is a familiar story this spring. A paucity of players willing and able to make the long road trips demanded by the EIFL’s dispersed footprint along the Atlantic Coast has had a profound effect on game outcomes. The 7-2 Steam took their first loss in April when they brought only nine players to Maryland and were routed, 44-0, by the Mid-Atlantic Indoor Football League’s Maryland Eagles. On Saturday, Dammarell made it to Massachusetts with 13 players. Among the missing were six defensive starters – two linemen, two linebackers, and two in the secondary – and his entire offensive line, the latter of which had to be reconstructed from available defensive players. His efforts were to no avail as the Bobcats won, 45-26, moving to 7-1 and setting the stage for this week’s showdown with the 8-1 Western Maryland Warriors for the No. 1 seed.
We’ve passed the point where road roster depth is the single biggest determinant of EIFL standings; it is now threatening to disrupt the league’s two-game postseason. Although the three owners competing for a championship plan to be at full-staff regardless of venue, Dammarell, who also serves as league commissioner, is going one step further to ensure the games will be played.
He and Warriors owner Julien Robinson are finalizing arrangements to select a middle ground between Frederick, MD and Statesboro, GA with a suitable arena should their two teams meet in the semifinal or championship game. He’s also in discussions with Richmond Roughriders owner Gregg Fornario about similar arrangements should the Bobcats and Steam meet. Under the Fornario scenario, the Roughriders’ rental of the Richmond Coliseum would be passed on to both EIFL participants at cost, and he’d allow the use of his turf and presumably dasher board pads and goal posts. Fornario confirms that discussions have occurred but he’s not sure about viability of the venture since an attendance of 500 would be required for breakeven.
The turnkey solution would be a boon for the fledgling EIFL. The street cred associated with playing in a major arena that will have also hosted the AAL championship game would provide offseason drawing power for developmental players and perhaps even a stable franchise or two that are leery of the “warehouse league.” And there’s also the exposure in a new territory that abuts the EIFL’s Georgia and D.C. markets.
Of course, the Steam stand to gain more, since they would otherwise be looking at another 15 and a-half hour trip back to Massachusetts. And it’s unclear whether Bobcats owner Cynthia Hudson would ever agree to this since she would have earned the right to host a game against the Steam and she has the 3,500-seat Chelmsford Forum in Billerica at her disposal.
So, why would she?
The only argument is an appeal to her sense of competition and player advancement. Granted, that may fall on deaf ears. The Bobcats have the best venue in the EIFL and have become the league’s homebodies, not having played on the road since April 21. They prefer their role as hosts and for good reason: their seven wins have all been at home – one by forfeit – while their only loss was on the road.
More than any other team, New England has benefitted from the EIFL’s difficulties in filling road rosters. Their wins include one against a 7-man West Virginia Silverbacks team in a game where injuries twice reduced play to 6-on-6 before being called by TKO in the third quarter; one to a 9-man Rome Knights squad; and Saturday’s win against Dammarell’s 13-man SUV caravan.
So, Fifty Yarder put the question to Hudson but she declined to comment, stating only, “If we win, we are hosting.”
And that is her right. Yet, as crazy as it comes across, it may be in the best interests of the Bobcats organization to work with Dammarell in taking Fornario up on his offer.
The EIFL is not about crowning the champion of a four-team league. It’s not about your home roster of 20-plus players putting the hurt on a skeleton crew that has to play both sides of the ball, half the time somewhere other than in their natural positions. It’s about providing players a stepping stone to leagues beyond the EIFL where linebackers aren’t asked to protect quarterbacks and quarterbacks don’t work overtime as defensive backs.