The Columbus Lions open their season today at the Civic Center against the Knoxville Nighthawks. You know the Lions, right? Our Professional Indoor Football League team? Coached by Jason Gibson?
Oh, yeah. Those Lions.
The Lions are not to be confused with the WarDogs, our ill-fated venture into the equally ill-fated af2, which stood for Arena Football League Lite. Remember the af2? It was the concoction of David Baker, who dreamed of expanding the af2 into every small city or large town large enough to have at least two Subway restaurants. And an arena, of course.
The poor WarDogs. They didn't win a game their first year, never came close to a winning season, and folded after four seasons. The rest of the af2 wasn't far behind, folding after 11 seasons. So much for 100 franchises.
They were replaced by the even more ill-fated Chattahoochee Valley Vipers, who lasted one season (2006) in the American Indoor Football League.
Along came the Lions, who have been the antithesis of the Wardogs and Vipers. They have made the playoffs every year of their existence, albeit it in four different leagues. They won the Southern Indoor Football League championship in 2010.
They've changed leagues, or their leagues have changed, and players have come and gone. Their rosters have been comprised of players that even Mel Kiper Jr. has never heard of. Even ownership has morphed over the years.
The one constant has been Gibson. It's easy to dismiss the Lions as being irrelevant. It's not so easy to dismiss Gibson, who exudes passion for success. Gibson has run a first-class organization. His official title is Head Coach/Director of Football Operations. To say that incorporates a whole laundry list of duties would be quite literal.
"The mentality we have here is you just find a way to get it done," Gibson said. "We don't have the attitude of 'that's not my job.' If I see a dirty towel on the floor, I pick it up. I don't go tell somebody to do it or send out an email. If I have to put jersey patches on uniforms, I'll do it."
Shep Mullin was one of the original investors in the Lions. The attraction to him was the relatively low start-up cost and low overhead. But more than anything, Mullin was sold on Gibson.
"He was convinced it could be successful," said Mullin, who sold his interest after the first year but remains a season-ticket holder. "I thought it was a good thing for Columbus, and still do. I wasn't looking to make any money. Minor league sports is not an easy sell. It seems to me the Lions have things together. It's pretty good talent out there."
They are expecting big a crowd for today's game. They've already sold 3,400 tickets, and walk-up sales are usually about 500. So a crowd of 4,000 is within reach.
"I'm expecting better results on the field this year," Gibson said. "I wasn't expecting attendance to be this much. I'm a little bit shocked. It's going to be one big party."
Something else refreshingly different about Gibson is his attitude toward community support.
"Most indoor teams come into town, plop down a team and say, 'We're here. You need to come support us,'" Gibson said. "That's the wrong attitude. It's the other way around. If you want the community to support the team, you need to go out and earn it."
They have done that much.
-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.