In Beijing, a Rivalry is Born
- Updated: October 6, 2016
Beijing. China, October 3, 2016, – by Lou Tilley
Is it possible for a rivalry to exist before the a game is even played? Maybe. When the teams on the field of play bear the names of certain cities. Even in China, where “sports rivalry” is still a relatively new term, there certainly exists a rivalry between “Beijing people” and “Shanghai people.” So, throw cool jerseys on some tough guys, add helmets, put Chinese faces in those helmets, book a slick modern arena with lights, music and cheerleaders and … Voila! Welcome to the China Arena Football LEague – China Ball is on the air!
There were 5 years of grinding work combined with faith. There was intensive research and planning. And then there was the moment. An opening weekend. The gates were opened. The CFAL built it. Would they come?
Saturday was the official opening. A doubleheader at the sparkling LeSport Arena in Beijing, the home of the China Basketball Association’s Beijing Ducks – China’s answer to the LA Lakers. And the openers were deemed a success. More than 11,500 Chinese fans took it in, if still somewhat befuddled by “collision ball” as many here call US-style football. “Clearly they like the football flying through the air. Long passes, even kicks. I mean I have never heard so many oohs and aahs for a kickoff. Not the return, but the kick!” said a hopeful Ron Jaworski, one of the CAFL’s principles.
That was Saturday. The big opener. Ceremonies, official speeches (big in China.) Now it was Sunday. A single game.
Fifty minutes before kickoff, Jaworski looked up into seats, and saw lots of – seats – not so many people.
So the CAFL people learned something new – Chinese fans do not show up early. And did they ever show up. More than 6500. The biggest gathering of the weekend. On a Sunday. On a national holiday.
“There is no doubt in my mind, that the fans here tonight, from Beijing mostly, knew that the guys in black an gold were their team, and they wanted them to beat the guys in blue (from Shanghai) said Jaworski, wrapping up his week in the China capital city. He and his partner Marty Judge, the Founder of all this, had launched China’s frst professional US-football arena league with three games in two days. Total turnout – 18,000. “Again, this is a holiday, at our turnout with very little real promotion. And more important, the better the game got today, the louder and more invested they got.”
I would have been hard for even the least interested spectator to not get involved. The Beijing Lions, coached by Clint Dolezel, who also coaches Jaworski’s US team the Philadelphia Soul, was running the crisp, controlled short passing game he is known for as both coach and Hall of Fame player. His two-headed quarterback tandem of Luke Collis (pass) and Chris Dieker (power runs) was nursing a 2-score lead into the fourth . That’s when Shanghai, coached by another US arena league veteran, Derrick Stingly began to turn things around. Down 42-26 the Skywalkers get chipping away behind their qb, Shane Austin and a talented trio of receivers, led by Arena Bowl champion wide-out Shane Kauleinamuku of Hawaii. After recovering a fumbled kick return, Austin completed the comeback with a short run of his own. With 5 seconds left in regulation, a two-point conversion was successful and the CAFL, in a weekend of firsts, had its first overtime.
Beijing scored on their first possession for the lead. By CAFL rule, Shanghai got their chance to match. And they did. Facing a fourth and goal at the 3 Kauleinamuku took a handoff, circled left, cut upfield and powered across the goal-line to draw within a point. Stingley then decided to go for the two point conversion. Win it right there. Or not. Austin fired a quick lateral pass to Kauleinamuku on the opposite flank, putting the ball in the all-stars hands to win. But Beijing’s defense saw it coming. Defensive back James Romaine, a team mate of Kauleinamuku’s back in the states, was waiting, sliced under the lead blocker and through to the legs of “SK” to stop him short of the goal-line. Beijing had won. Some of the fans seem to understand it. A true rivalry had been born. Football in Beijing, Week 1 of the Super Series 6-city tour was complete. Dalian and a Sunday, October 9 triple-header is next.
Click below for the entire Super Series Schedule.
With the official announcement of approval from the China government, the new professional league will be called CAFL (China Arena Football League), and the Beijing based operating company, formerly known as Ganlan Media International, will carry the same name.
“We think this acronym says it all,” said David Niu, the President of AFL Global, the founding corporation based in Conshohocken, PA, USA. “The league, and all of our efforts, are unique to China. We want to highlight the fact that we are playing American-style football, not to be confused with soccer. And we want to emphasize that this is China’s first ever professional league, played by the best players in the world.”
Many of the rosters will feature Chinese players, who have been learning and training for the arena game specifically for over a year, at 6 select Chinese Universities, under the guidance of AFL Global.
CAFL headquarters are located in Beijing, with leadership comprised of senior media executives and sports professionals with an array of government and commercial experience.
For more information please contact the following:
Lou Tilley, VP CAFL Communications and Media
Alvina Alston, CAFL Public Relations