The Orlando ExperienceThe Way I See It...
By Andrew Mason
July 19, 1996
ORLANDO, Fla. - For those who have only attended Arena Football League games at the ThunderDome in St. Petersburg, Fla., a trip northeast to Orlando for a Predator game is like going from the Royal Albert Hall to the fields of Woodstock in upstate New York.
It's not that there's not been a lot of noise in the Dome---after all, it's been enough to cause quarterbacks to forget snap counts and, in one case against Connecticut last year, for a referee to charge the Storm with a time out as the play clock hit zero, in spite of the fact that no one on the field called for one. Turned out that two fans in the sideline stands yelled "Time out!" so loudly, the officials figured it must have come from the field of play.
But Orlando takes the decibel level to a new plateau. The music is turned up to excruciating levels and, unlike the Dome, most fans actually clap along in time with the music, accentuating a deafening roar with rhythm.
The Predator fans' vocal intensity is unmatched in the AFL. Throughout the game, fans made enough noise that I had to yell just to talk to the person sitting next to me in our seats at the back row of the lower level of the O-rena.
In the fourth quarter, as the game went back and forth with both teams unable to gain a comfortable edge, the noise was incessant. A decibel meter on the Arena scoreboard hit as high as 109 dB. So regular is this occurrence that several fans in the end zone seats brought along ear plugs to wear during the game, a la what you might see at a Guns 'n Roses concert.
Speaking of the Gunners, it is their music that gets this loud party started. In particular, their 1988 hit "Welcome to the Jungle" has become the Predators' fight song, if you will, as the Arena has been nicknamed "The Jungle" for Predator purposes.
It is Guns 'n Roses, plus 19 motorcycles circling around the field, plus fireworks going off in the O-rena rafters, plus a cloud of smoke engulfing the field in a sight reminiscent of the 1988 NFC Playoff "Fog Bowl" in Chicago that greets you before the game starts.
Finally, after much fanfare, the game gets underway. But in a sight that evokes thoughts of Jimi Hendrix, a strange purplish gray haze hangs over the playing field. A result of the pregame smoke cloud and fireworks, the haze creates an eerie gridiron milieu, almost like playing the game on a foggy English morning.
In the wake of the 40-39 loss, it's back to the Dome and all its sterile beauty. But perhaps such shows are coming soon for Storm fans. Next year, the team will move into Tampa's Ice Palace. It will then be possible for the Storm to turn out the lights and introduce the players via spotlight, as the Predators do. It will be possible to set off fireworks, and equally possible to play in leftover haze.
And it will be possible to have louder crowds. Raucous as some Storm fans---especially those in the end zone---may be, most of their noise sails up into the vastness of the Dome. An actual arena, with a much lower ceiling and more intimate seating configuration, should allow Storm fans more of a chance to become part of the intensity.
Perhaps then, a trip to Orlando might not seem so much like a trip to a foreign land.
And that's the way I see it.
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