When the Tulsa Talons relocated to San Antonio in 2011, it left a sour taste in a lot of people's mouths. As we all know, football reigns king in Oklahoma, and a lot of Talons fans were left wondering what was going to happen next. Well, the wait is finally over. The Oklahoma Defenders, Tulsa's first American Professional Football League team, is here to entertain the masses on turf.
A lot of blood, sweat and tears go into preparing for a professional sports season. But as a new team, with new ownership, getting ready to play in a new city, the Defenders' preseason to-do list has been extensive. While preparing for their inaugural season, the Defenders have signed former Baltimore Ravens safety Bobby Blackshire, ex-Oklahoma State linebacker Jeremy Nethon, and former University of Tulsa wide receiver Trae Johnson.
On March 3, we had a glimpse of what may be coming on the field as the Defenders held a "meet and greet" at the Wyndham Hotel-Mulligan's Sports Bar and Grill. The festive scene confirmed that a lot of area football fans are committed to helping indoor football make a statement on Tulsa's landscape.
Trying to sell a product or concept that hasn't had much success in the past can be hard, but the Oklahoma Defenders' owner, Lamar Baker, thinks the fans will enjoy indoor football more than they did when the Talons were here. "The Defenders are in the American Professional Football League. This league is actually the longest continuously run indoor football league in America and is made up of 8 teams.
"Indoor football is more exciting but can be a bit more confusing for the defense... It takes more preparation because in an arena football game 95 percent of the time they are going to pass. In an indoor game, teams run the ball 80 percent of the time or come out with four wide receivers and throw 90 percent of the time. Indoor football is more traditional football and I think the fans in this area can relate to this brand of football better than arena football -- it is more familiar -- we have players playing their traditional positions," he said.
"In this game we have true running backs, a free safety, linemen, offensive and defensive players; whereas in the American Professional Football League, on their 21-man game day roster, you have players that are playing on both sides of the ball. You might have a receiver, who has played that position his entire career, but he gets into an arena football game and he has to know how to play defensive back too. That can be challenging for players and confusing for their fans!"
The Tulsa Talons failed to sell enough tickets during their last season in Tulsa, but Baker doesn't see that being a problem for his team. "My wife and I bought into this league because they have a 90-mile rule, which means all the players and coaches have to live or work within 90 miles of their home state. When the Talons were here, 95 percent of their roster was from another state.
"We are promoting local talent so fans can come out and watch players they may have seen play in middle school, high school or college. We have seven players that played at TU -- it's just fun to watch players that are already a part of our community. As a player and a coach, you have to be more prepared for anything in an indoor game which makes it more exciting for the fans. When you have coaches and players preparing more you tend to get more exciting football and a better brand of football."
Filling the roster with familiar faces is a step in the right direction for the Defenders, but adding new faces to the mix will help complete a championship-worthy team. Building a high caliber squad has never been a problem for Tulsa semi-pro football teams.
The Tulsa Talons won the AF2 championship game in 2007, so teams know what it takes to win and so does Baker. "Another thing about the guys we do have is that they are guys with character. When they sign their contract it is not only required that they perform well, but also acknowledge their responsibility to be a model citizen, someone fans -- especially the kids -- can admire and respect.
"As an owner, general manager and now a defensive coordinator for this year, when I sit down with these guys initially I only have three expectations: that they practice hard, play hard and make at least one kid smile. I wholeheartedly believe that if we commit to all three of those things we can be successful here in Tulsa and continue to play good quality football," Baker said.
"I'm just excited to see these guys be the first to do something new. Being the first indoor football team in Tulsa is completely challenging because the rules are different. It's a totally new team and I just want to see these guys be a part of something that could be an integral part of the community, like the Talons were for so long. We are expecting a team that is very competitive on the football field, but just as competitive off the field, from reading books to kids at elementary schools, to giving time to people at the YMCA, they want to support the community just as much as we support them."
If Baker's players live up to his expectations, they should avoid many of the pitfalls of their predecessors. The American Professional Football League was started in 2003 so it hasn't been around very long, but the game of football lives on. Before you doubt these athletes, go check out what they have to offer because you won't be disappointed. These players have the athleticism and talent and eventually fans will be asking, "Who were the Talons?"
The 2012 season will be played at Expo Square Pavilion, 4145 E. 21st St.
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