The game of football is dear to the hearts of many Baltimore natives. When the Colts set their sails on the Mayflower trucks towards their pilgrimage to Indianapolis on one snowy night in 1984, Baltimore was without football for about ten years until the Baltimore CFLers, then later the Stallions, showed up and won the Grey Cup, becoming the first American established CFL (Canadian Football League) team to accomplish that fit. Thanks to Art Modell (former owner of the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens and should-be Hall of Famer), Baltimore returned to the NFL in 1996, experience quick success by winning a Super Bowl title within ten years of existence (the 2000-2001 season) and are among one of the best teams in the league. It’s great to be champions on all the highest levels of professional football, but there’s one more high level of football (indoor) Baltimore is ready to claim, another mission, to conquer the AIFA (American Indoor Football Association) Championship. A mission that the Baltimore Mariners’ general manager Greg Justice is proud to take on, but it would be more exciting when Baltimore knows or recognize this competitive, contending team.
“It’s still early to judge, but our web traffic has increased by about 120 percent since the end of the season and our season ticket sales are up over 300 percent,” said Justice. This is the Mariners third season and since their inaugural year, they finished third in the Northern Division that was five teams deep, at the time, with a 4-10 record in 2008. The Mariners made a one-eighty in 2009 by coming in second place in the division, finished with a 9-5 record and a playoff berth. Baltimore is a tough town, especially on their pro teams. If the teams are winners, Baltimore has their back, but Lord help them if they are losers because the support from ‘Charm City’ won’t be there. This is not the case for the Mariners because are winners and they look to become a big time team in a big time city. “Once the team becomes recognizable and we continue our winning ways, I see no reason we will not be one of the big teams that Baltimore supports,” said Justice.
Justice is tirelessly working the beat to promote the Mariners. Justice, an Annapolis native, is unlike any general manager in any major sport franchise. Although no front office staff member, let alone a general manager, can actively play for the team and if they could, they wouldn’t. Justice works in his big office, take conference calls, make appearances at local radio shows and advertise the Mariners the best way he knows how during the week. On gameday, Justice tape up his ankles, wrists, put on gloves, pads, a helmet, and probably use some profanity on the field with his teammates as an offensive lineman for the Mariners. The Mariners are more aggressive in promoting the team this season along with some good old fashion word of the mouth. “We are currently in the early stages of a very aggressive TV and radio campaign with over 9000 ads running on 98 Rock, WBAL TV, WNST, 100.7 the Bay, and all the social networking,” said Justice. “Of course good old fashioned face to face with the great fans of Baltimore are still my favorite.”
When football fans think of indoor football players, immediately they think it’s just a bunch of rejects that couldn’t make the NFL. Not true. On an average bases, there are 132 Division I football programs in America, not including I-A, Divisions II and III. Twelve seniors (not including the underclassmen) are eligible for the NFL Draft, giving the grand total of 1,584. Only a half of those players, or a little less, enter their name into the selection praying to be one of the 279 chosen within the seven rounds. Talent will always be over looked and you do the math on the chances that these athletes has in making it to the NFL. Indoor is a great place to start a professional football career via Arizona Cardinals’ quarterback Kurt Warner and Kansas City Chiefs’ wide receiver Chris Chambers. The notion that indoor football, along with its players, isn’t considered to be professional or irrelevant irritates Justice and all who are affiliated with indoor football. The Mariners don’t players who just want to play football on weekends like it’s a part-time job, but they are loaded with serious professionals who have been there, done that and will eventually return. “It’s pro football,” said Justice. “Just because we are indoors, we are still the real deal. Our players are all of high quality and character both on and off the field. Approximately 92 percent of our training camp roster has been to the NFL, CFL, AFL and AF2. Many players from the AIFA have been to and hopefully return back to the NFL.” Mariners’ linebacker Brian Bradford was invited to several NFL camps last season, including the Ravens.
The Ravens support the Mariners and had Captain Defense at the 1st Mariner Arena (home for the Mariners) to help with fan support last season. To what capacity the Ravens cooperate with the Mariners is unknown, but the purple and black has their back.
Baltimore is one of the few cities that have won championship titles in all of their respective professional sports, the Baltimore Colts, Ravens, Baltimore Orioles, Baltimore Blast, and Stallions. The Mariners look to add to that tradition; hopefully the city will notice them in the process. “Yes, I do and it is in our players’ handbook as a specific goal for 2010,” said Justice.