After packing US Airways Center Friday night (by giving all the tickets away for free), and bringing Kurt Warner out for some pre-game, go-team accolades, the Arizona Rattlers lost their home opening game against the Chicago Rush.
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The Rattlers came on strong, with rookie quarterback Nick Davila completing 10 of his first 12 passes, four for touchdowns. The Rattlers led 28-21 toward the end of the first half, but then things went downhill: Rattlers fullback Johnie Kirton was injured on a kickoff and pulled from the game, Rush quarterback Russ Michna completed 12 of 26 passes for seven touchdowns, and Davila threw an interception and got sacked. Game to the Chicago Rush, 70-56.
The Arizona Rattlers were Arena Football League champions in 1994 and and 1997, but they haven't won a home opener since 2002. That didn't matter much to the nearly 15,000 enthusiastic fans that showed up for the Rattlers-Rush game, the first in Phoenix in almost two years (the Arena Football League was inoperative most of 2009).
Many of the fans that were sitting down in front have been season ticket holders since the Arizona Rattlers debuted in 1992.
The most noticeable superfan was definitely "Rattlerman," who has been dressing up at games for 18 years. His elaborate costume includes scaly body paint, yellow snake eye contact lenses, fangs, and two huge, skeletal staffs.
"Oh yeah, baby, we're back!" Rattlerman proclaimed just before the start of the game, then proudly pointed out to the girl next to him that Rattlers team manager (and former coach) Danny White used to play for the Dallas Cowboys.
The fans roared when the teams came onto the field, and the pyrotechnics shot into the air while the Rattlers "mascot" -- a long-haired biker dude named "Fang" -- circled the field on his chopper.
Former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, whose career included three years in the Arena Football League playing for the Iowa Barnstormers, was at the event to raise awareness of his First Things First Foundation. He said a few words before the game, and then it was on, and over.
Despite the Rattlers' loss, their superfans won't be deterred. This was, they pointed out, only the Rattlers' second game of the season (they won their first game, against the Cleveland Gladiators, 61-56). And there will be plenty more games to come (visit www.azrattlers.com for a full schedule).