Omaha Nighthawks take on Las Vegas Locos
Though I have never, in all my years of high school, collegiate, and professional sports spectating ever seen a stadium empty faster than it did following Jeff Garcia’s final pick-6 interception, I got the feeling that most fans left Rosenblatt Stadium satisfied after the Nighthawks game despite the 24 - 10 loss, a sign that the fledgling United Football League is packaging together a good product at a fair price, both on the field and in the lot.
Enthusiasm for the UFL Nighthawks, making their debut in the league’s sophomore year, ran high against the visiting Las Vegas Locos, and this being my first game, I was impressed with the shear number of t-shirt, jerseys, and Nighthawk hat-wearing fans. I was depressed by the guy with black and silver facepaint, a cape, leather gauntlets, and buckled platform boots that he clearly bought during his phase as a GWAR roadie…but that, as they say, is another story.
A sell-out crowd of nearly 10,000 had Rosenblatt mostly filled by kickoff. We had already enjoyed a pleasant tailgate on a near perfect autumn evening. Meats were grilled, vegetarian chilis were warmed, and frothy libations were coozied and consumed. Thank God for coozies—may we ever have gnarled clubs for hands without them.
One upping the NFL’s curiously furious (and potentially misguided) devotion to pink in October to promote breast cancer awareness, the Nighthawks donned bright, bright fuchsia socks in addition to the usual pink accessories. I thought it was bold thrust of support, not necessarily for breast cancer, but certainly for the idea that one can look silly and still play professional sports at a high level.
Taking the field to fireworks (which would also be fired after scores, at halftime, at the close of the game…and anytime a penguin wondered onto the field from the nearby Doorly Zoo), the Nighthawks energized the crowd before promptly proceeding to play a very boring 7-7 half of football. Aside from left field, where binoculars or highly evolved mutant vision are required to make out the opposing teams, there’s hardly a bad seat in the house, and a rowdy swell of Omaha pride filled in for generally lackluster football. Plus, there were fireworks…really, has there ever been a city that loves fireworks more than Omaha?
With less TV timeouts than NFL games, shorter beer lines than some bars, and cheerleaders just as unattainably attractive as they were in college, the UFL experience has a lot going for it. True, things like run blocking, punting, and field goal kicking are decidedly suspect, but with both teams struggling, at least it appeared to be an even playing field! Plus, the number of ex-NFL players still performing at a high level is noticeable, with the skill positions being especially well-stocked with recognizable names.
The Nighthawks cheerleaders also added to the amusing Halloween/Zombie vibe with a rousing performance set to Michael Jackson’s Thriller—probably the highlight of the night given the tepid offense—falling only a few hundred zombies short of the previous week’s Omaha Zombie Walk.
So, are the Nighthawks poised to overtake the Huskers in terms of support?
To answer this, I asked one fan sporting a black Nighthawks shirt to gauge his interest his in the team on a scale of 1 to 10.
"Seven!" he replied.
"Seven?" I questioned incredulously. "Seven, as in you’ll go home significantly annoyed if they lose?"
"Well, two I guess then, but seven in terms of civic pride!" he beamed.
We agreed that Omaha having a team was more important than Omaha having a winning team, at least for now, slotting the Nighthawks below our alma mater’s sports, our chosen professional teams, our sport-specific national teams, and right above hockey, which is Canadian, and by default less interesting.
Nighthawks football: great tailgate, great seats, great value, great cheerleaders, not Canadian. For the win…