The West Virginia Roughriders will host the Jacksonville Sharks in the National Arena League Kickoff Classic. This will be the Roughriders’ first year in the National Arena League (NAL), but this type of champion v champion week one storyline isn’t unprecedented.
Back in 1950, the National Football League (NFL) absorbed a few teams (similar to how the NAL took the West Vergina Roughriders and Jearsy Flight from the American Arena League) from the All-American Football Conference (AAFC), ) the most notable and dominant of them being the Cleveland Browns (yes, the Browns were a powerhouse at one point in time). Cleveland was far and away the cream of the crop in the AAFC as they won the league championship for all four seasons the league operated. The NFL looked down on this team from another league and wanted to make an example of them by feeding the Browns to the two time defending champion Eagles that first week of the season.
This sounds a bit like the National Arena League Kickoff Classic. The Jacksonville Sharks are the Eagles of the situation as many see them as the class of the NAL, being a former Arena Football League (which was the top league in the nation during the Sharks tenure) team that was integral in shaping the NAL into what it is today; leading the league rebranding from the Arena Developmental League to the National Arena League. The Sharks roster currently boasts nine former Arena Football League (AFL) players, four former Indoor Football League players, two former CFL and two former NFL players (practice squad players are counted in these numbers). Some of their marquee names include wide receiver Devin Wilson, defensive back Ken Walton and former Phidelpiha Soul receiver Darius Renolds.
I don’t believe the NAL is looking down on the Roughriders who dominated Arena Pro Football (APF) and the American Arena League (AAL) like the Browns did in the AAFC, but some fans do look down on the old APF and the AAL. However, like the Browns back in 1950 there are some big names to watch out for on the Roughriders. At quarterback, you have former AFL star Arvell Nelson, former NFL (practice squad member), AFL, and CFL receiver Larry Beavers and AFL, Alliance Of American Football and XFL (was cut before the final roster) receiver Darius Prince (he was cut by the Guardians for the final roster).
In this fabled opening NFL game back from 1950 the underdog Browns went into Philidelphia’s Franklin Field (note: the NAL isn’t sending Roughriders into VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena) the and demolished the Eagles 35-10 in what the NFL Network would later deem the fourth biggest upset in NFL history. Though there isn’t animosity between the Roughriders and the NAL, the parallels between that week one matchup almost 70 years ago can’t be ignored. The big question now is whether history will repeat itself with a Roughriders upset win, or will it be the favored Sharks coming out on top as the NFL had hoped the Eagles would have?