Whither the Believers?

Make kickoff time for the season opener of the River City Rage

The River City Rage -- formerly the River City Renegades and then (in a brilliant stroke of red-state marketing) the Show Me Believers -- plays its first game of the 2005 season this Saturday, March 26, when it hosts the Fayetteville Guard at 7 p.m. at the St. Charles Family Arena. The pride of St. Charles is one of twenty-one active teams in the National Indoor Football League (NIFL), an off-season offshoot league not to be confused with the Arena Football League -- though the NIFL rules are closer to arena ball's than to the nation's fearlessly profitable new national pastime's.

We've had an NIFL team in the River City area since 2002, the second year of the league's existence. The NIFL caters to the same small-town markets as baseball's minor leagues, with teams like the Lakeland Thunderbolts of Florida and the Billings Outlaws of Montana. The indoor-football league itself is a phoenix risen from the ashes of two failed indoor-football leagues, and like its unrecognized half-brother, arena ball, the NIFL is constructed to be fast, pass-friendly and high-scoring. It's like someone took the fans' love of touchdowns and dislike of the XFL, then built a hybrid sport that will hold your attention while you wait for traditional football to lumber back onto the field.

Some of the differences between the NIFL and the NFL are easy to spot: The NIFL games are played by eight players (instead of eleven), and a drop-kick field goal is worth four points instead of the standard three (plus, field goals must be scored through narrow uprights that look like scaffolding). The other differences are more "between the lines," so to speak: The NIFL is "family entertainment" (miles away from the XFL and the NFL, though the Rage still has cheerleaders), with a goal of keeping tickets inexpensive. What's this? Football without sex and capitalism? Surely this implies the true believers have moved from the field to the office.

See these differences for yourself at one (or all) of the Rage's seven home games at the Family Arena (2002 Arena Parkway, St. Charles; 636-896-4242); tickets are $10 to $20 and are available via MetroTix (www.metrotix.com or 314-534-1111).

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