Little Big Men

The Crush is ready for its close-up.

It's unlikely that Foster, who landed a U.S. patent on arena ball in 1990, ever envisioned a group of AFL co-owners like Elway, Broncos majordomo Pat Bowlen and Avalanche-Nuggets magnate Stan Kroenke -- the high-powered group that oversees the Crush today. Or pop star Jon Bon Jovi, who owns the Philadelphia Soul. Neither did Dailey. "Never in my wildest imagination did I think the AFL would get to this point," he says. "I certainly didn't think there would ever be a day when I would sit on one side of a desk and John Elway would sit on the other."

Of course, expectation and reality often clash in the realm of capitalist adventure. If Kurt Warner was to become the most famous player in league history, the guy who played quarterback for the Detroit Drive and the Cincinnati Rockers in the '90s was just as well known -- for a time. Former Ohio State star Art Schlichter's experiments with illegal gambling, fraud and forgery eventually made him a top draft choice of the Medaryville Correctional Facility, where he will remain until May 2008. Elsewhere, Darryl Hammond, the AFL's all-time career tackle leader, is still confused with Darrell Hammond, the Saturday Night Live cast member. And San Jose quarterback Mark Grieb tells a story about meeting a fellow traveler in an airport, who asked what he did for a living. Grieb explained, only to have the man ask: "Reno Ball? What's that? Why don't you turn pro?"

But then, that's life in a league that, while on the rise and certain now of survival, must play nice with the fans and remain humble in the face of obscurity. Brass tacks: After every game, players sign autographs, sometimes for an hour.

Christopher Smith

As far as Kyle Moore-Brown is concerned, all of that is fine. A 306-pound lineman in the league since 1995, he has started 173 straight games without a miss -- mostly for the Albany Firebirds, where his first-year salary was $250 a week, and now for the Colorado Crush, where he puts a fire under the new kids and teaches them veteran tricks. After graduating from the University of Kansas he had a brief stint with the Detroit Lions, but for years Moore-Brown has embodied the lunch-bucket values of the battle-scarred AFL fraternity. "When I started eleven years ago, guys came out every day and worked hard to feed their families," he says. "The players are much better now, and we get more respect. But one thing hasn't changed. We still play for the love of the game. On Sunday, you never know how much a guy is being paid, just that he's out there trying to help his team win. To me, that's everything."

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