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DC’s New Arena Football Team Plays Its First Game Friday

Photograph by Flickr user Kevin Harber

You’d be forgiven for scoffing at DC’s newest team, the Washington Valor—or for confusing the league it’s joining, the Arena Football League, with Vince McMahon’s disastrous XFL or the maligned ’80s NFL competitor that was the United States Football League (former owner of that confederacy’s New Jersey Generals: our current President). But rest assured, some of the biggest boosters of DC sports are trying to make arena football a thing here. Before their Verizon Center debut ($10 to $155;, here’s our explainer about the team, the players, and the appropriate time to cheer for a drop-kick double-point touchdown bonus (yes, that’s a thing, too).

What’s the difference between arena football and the NFL?

The basics are similar enough: four downs to advance the ball ten yards, the same scoring mechanics for touchdowns, field goals, and safeties. But the resemblance ends there. Arena football is eight-on-eight and played on a tiny indoor padded field 85 feet wide and 50 yards long, making for fast, high-scoring games. And it wouldn’t be the AFL with-out an extra point for using a drop kick instead of a place kick on field goals and post-touchdown conversions. Also, no punting—on fourth down, a team can attempt either a first down, a touchdown, or a field goal.

Who are our star players?

Well, the biggest name is probably the guy in the owner’s box—Ted Leonsis, the emperor of local sports, who also runs the Capitals, Wizards, and Mystics. On the field, we’ve got Tracy Belton, 2016’s AFL Defensive Player of the Year, who had 90 tackles and nine interceptions last year with the Philadelphia Soul. He’ll join veteran receiver Mike Washington, who has racked up a whopping 141 touchdowns in his seven years in the AFL.

What can we expect of the first season?

Who knows—maybe a better playoff chance than the Redskins’? The AFL is the smallest it’s been since 1989, but we’re not the only new team this year. Also joining the league—and also owned by Leonsis—is the Baltimore Brigade, who play at Royal Farms Arena. They’re our opponent on opening day, potentially creating a new local sports rivalry. They also have a dumb name.

This article appears in the April 2017 issue of Washingtonian.