The Arena Football League playoffs kick off tomorrow night when the Orlando Predators host the Jacksonville Sharks. By Aug. 26, one team will be holding the Foster Trophy, the equivalent of the NFL’s Lombardi Trophy. But who is Foster?
His name was James F. Foster. On Feb. 11, 1981, the then promotion manager of the NFL’s marketing group attended an indoor soccer league game at Madison Square Garden in New York, NY. While sitting there, watching the game, Foster came up with an idea.
“I bet if you could play soccer indoors, you could play football,” he told colleague Mark Fagan, who Foster was at the soccer game with. Fagan asked him how he would do it.
Foster pulled out a briefcase and inside the briefcase, he had a manila envelope that has become famous in Arena Football League history. After examining the field around him, Foster began to draw what he pictured what an arena football field would look like. He added things such as the skinny field goal posts with the nets on each side of them, 7-on-7 play around midfield and league rules.
Foster showed his drawing to his NFL colleagues and one of his friends, John Geohegan, brought a model of what an arena football game would look like in a black portfolio to Foster.
After a year of planning everything out to make the league possible, Foster was still concerned about one thing: getting games on television. Another friend of his, Brad Barton, set him up with a meeting with ESPN to get games on ESPN. He wound up signing a deal with NBC Sports, however. The broadcasting company told him they would allow him to air a test game. Unfortunately, the launch of the United States Football League in 1983 put those plans to bed.
After years of working in the USFL and indoor soccer, the time for Arena Football was here. The test game was played on April 26, 1986. 1,300 people attended the game and it wound up being a huge success.
It was such a huge success, however, that there was a second game played exactly 10 months later, on Feb. 26, 1987. 8,200 people attended the game in Chicago. Again, it proved to be a success.
ESPN agreed to a contract deal with Foster and the Arena Football League’s inaugural season launched a few months later. “Without ESPN, I don’t think we would have gotten off the ground completely,” Foster said.
The league named the championship trophy after their founder in 1992. The trophy was redesigned in 2004 with the words Character, Excellence and Teamwork on it.
The Arena Football League will still be celebrating their 30th season in 2017. As it stands right now, there will be nine teams playing during the 2017 season, including the newest edition in the Washington Valor.