This spring in Starved Rock Country has been more an extension of winter than a transition into summer, but then again I'm not telling you folks anything you don't already know.
With the MLB season getting settled in and the minor leagues opening this week, it will soon be time for my daughter, Jamie, and I to take trips to watch baseball at the lower levels as we did last year. I'm sure many of you will remember The Times Sports staff writing about and rating our experiences at a number of minor league ballparks last summer. I've also used this space to chronicle a number of my trips to hockey games as well as my visit to Knightstown, Indiana, and Hooiser Gym, but a week ago I witnessed something a little different.
Last Saturday was my introduction to professional indoor football. Jamie and I took a trip to the TaxSlayer Center (formerly known as the iWireless Center) in Moline to watch the Quad City Steamwheelers defeat the Kansas City Phantoms 62-34. The Steamwheelers, an inaugural member who played in the Arena Football League 2 from 2000-2009 before it disbanded in 2010, are back and in their first season in the Champions Indoor Football League. The CIF is an 11-team league that was established in 2012.
A quick rundown of a few of the major rules would start with each team having eight players on the field, which is 50 yards in length with end zones eight yards deep. Teams kickoff from their own goal line, three linemen must line up on the line of scrimmage, one coach is allowed on the playing field, one player on defense can blitz, two receivers may run towards the line of scrimmage prior to the snap, and no punts are allowed. On fourth down, a team must either go for it (still 10 yards for a first down) or try for a field goal through uprights that are 10-feet wide. It's a game of speed to say the least, and in my opinion very entertaining.
Tickets range from $30 in the first two rows to $10 in the upper bowl (we settled on the $15 seats in the sixth row in the upper bowl), but with action happening all over the field, there didn't seem to be a bad seat to be had. The food and drink varieties, like at many minor league venues, was very good and at pretty decent prices.
As for the game itself, the Steamwheelers jumped out to a 21-7 lead after the opening 15 minutes, extended things to 34-21 at halftime and 49-28 heading to the fourth quarter to earn their first win of the season in three tries. Quarterback E.J. Hilliard (Florida International/Valdosta State) threw for 122 yards and six touchdowns plus ran for 78 yards to lead QC to the win and was named CIF Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts. Running back Tyler Williams (Toledo) rushed for 68 yards, while wideout Quinton Pedroza (Hawaii) caught four passes for 52 yards and three scores.
There were a handful of contests during the game, which included fans trying to throw a football into a car sunroof, or attempting a 40-yard field goal, or guessing the missing lyrics to a song. Much like baseball, fans were able to keep any football that ended up in the stands, which I would estimate was as many as 30 by game's end.
Overall it was a very fun night, but I can't think of an event that I have attended at the TaxSlayer Center that wasn't. It's a very clean, fan-friendly, easy-to-get-to arena, and now once again, a place one could go to quench that football fix —albeit with a little bit different flavor.
The Steamwheelers are on thier bye week then on the road next Saturday, but return home April 21 and will also host contests May 12 and 19 as well as June 9.
If you take a trip northwest to catch one of their games, shoot me an email to tell me what you thought.