Picking Up Steam

Seven reasons why the defending UFL champion Locomotives are worth a look

There have been four professional football franchises in Las Vegas since 1994, and none of them managed to stay afloat for very long. There were the Posse of the Canadian Football League in ’94, the Outlaws of the XFL in 2001 and two Arena Football League teams—the Sting in 1994-95 and the Gladiators, who managed to last from 2003 through ’07.

The latest addition to that list are the Locomotives, who begin their second season of play in the United Football League at Sam Boyd Stadium on Sept. 18 against the Florida Tuskers. And while history is against them, here are seven reasons why the Locos could be part of our landscape for a while, and, in the short term, why they might be worth your attention:

1. We are the champions. OK, it might not be winning the Lombardi Trophy, but the Locos are still the team to beat in the UFL. Las Vegas, after a 4-2 regular season last year, earned a spot in the title game at Sam Boyd where it upset the unbeaten Tuskers 20-17 in overtime. How many times in a lifetime do fans get the chance to wave a giant foam finger and scream, “We’re No. 1” and really get to own it?

2. Real coaches. The guys calling the shots aren’t just some clowns who are happy to have a job; the UFL’s five head coaches are NFL-quality minds. Locos coach Jim Fassel took the New York Giants to the Super Bowl in 2001, and was NFL coach of the year in 1997. Sacramento’s Dennis Green was an NFL head coach for 13 years with Minnesota and Arizona; Hartford’s Chris Palmer coached the Cleveland Browns in 1999-2000; Omaha’s Jeff Jagodzinski has been an NFL offensive coordinator; and Florida’s Jay Gruden is one of the greatest players and coaches in AFL history and served as an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers under brother Jon.

3. Players you’ve actually heard of. UFL rosters are filled with guys with NFL experience, and there’s even a couple of former Pro Bowlers taking snaps this year in Omaha’s Jeff Garcia and Sacramento’s Daunte Culpepper. The rest of the league’s quarterbacks—Las Vegas’ Tim Rattay, Florida’s Brooks Bollinger (last year’s league MVP) and Hartford’s Josh McCown—also have NFL starting experience. The team with the most recognizable names is definitely Omaha, which, besides Garcia, has running backs Ahman Green and Maurice Clarett, and ex-Colts linebacker Cato June. The Locos have former Cardinals running back Marcel Shipp, as well as …

4. Our own hometown hero. The biggest offseason acquisition by the Locos was bringing home former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ed Hartwell, a 1996 Cheyenne High School graduate. The eight-year NFL veteran will man the middle of the Las Vegas defense and bring experience and intensity to the unit.

5. You can bet on it. Yes, most local sports books take wagers on UFL games. And unlike the stuffy NFL that publicly and hypocritically turns its nose up at sports betting in Las Vegas, UFL officials openly encourage fans to bet on league games. And look at it this way: While it’s nearly impossible to find a bad line on NFL or major college games, if you are willing to put in enough research, you could become a UFL wise guy.

6. It’s a party. The UFL is doing more than just offering a solid product on the field; it’s also shooting for an overall entertainment experience. There will be musical acts performing at halftime of each game, with pop-rockers Sugar Ray getting the nod for the opener. Local act Yellow Brick Road will perform outside the stadium before the game as part of the interactive “UFL Experience,” which will include face painting, balloon artists and other activities in a carnival-like atmosphere. And don’t overlook the Locos’ cheerleading squad, known as the LocoMotion.

7. They could be your favorite team in 2011. With the great likelihood of no NFL season next year because of a lockout by the owners, the UFL is in a potentially perfect spot to grab America’s attention in the country’s desire for football.

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