Night Train needs to pick up speed

04/13/02 La Crosse Tribune
Last week, a third-grader in my apartment complex with big, blonde hair told me that he goes to school 15 hours every day.

"FIFTEEN HOURS!," he said again, like I might not believe him.

I did believe him, of course, because for the most part, I am also an 8-year-old.

So I just stood there, counting on my fingers, figuring out what time his parents took him to school every morning, especially since he was home at 3:30 p.m. with the other kids. Maybe this is our new plan for keeping up with the Japanese, I was thinking. Fifteen-hour school days for third graders! It's ingenious.

Luckily, he stopped me before my brain exploded.

"Well," he said sheepishly. "It seems like it takes that long."

He talked on. I listened like he was revealing the Colonel's secret KFC recipe.

"The things that aren't fun always take forever," he said. "And the things you like, they go by fast. It shouldn't be that way."

He's right. It shouldn't. I see it every day...

4-hour round of golf: Fast.

4-hour DMV visit: Forever.

30-minute Seinfeld rerun: Fast.

30-minute jog: Forever. (Technically, I collapse after 6 minutes ... but it does take 24 minutes to get up.)

So by my third-grader calculations, last Sunday's La Crosse Night Train game took 6 months, 17 days and 12 minutes. Roughly.

Ask any of the 2,200 people that were there. It seemed like it. It really did. Fans walked out of the La Crosse Center wondering if that chill in the air was the end of winter, or the beginning of fall.

Seasons could have changed, empires fallen, Darryl Strawberry put in rehab, then released, then put back in again. That's how long it took the Night Train to give up 62 points, and for two teams to rack up 25 penalties for 102 yards on a 50-yard field. That's like seven miles on a normal field. Only an instant replay system would have made things slower.

The worst part of it all was the Night Train started off so well. Receivers got open. Quarterback Colby Vogt whipped the ball all over the field. Fans cheered. It was exciting.

The second half was brutal. The game dragged. The announcer tried to keep the crowd in it. He pleaded with fans to get loud. There was nothing to get excited about.

Two years ago, La Crosse's first indoor football team had the novelty of indoor football on its side. The River Rats lost game after game, but the fans kept coming. They supported a 2-12 team, and then had it yanked out from under them when IFL owner Keary Ecklund sold the league. Maybe fans are still a little wary.

"The first game we almost had 3,000," said Night Train general manager Michael Grego. "We were happy with that. This last game was less than we wanted."

Yes, it was raining. It was Sunday. Attendance was bound to suffer. But you know what, the Night Train are 0-3. The novelty is gone. They need a win.

"We're going to have to win," said Night Train coach John Schimon.

"Obviously, wins bring people to the games," Grego said. "If you're going to consistently bring people in, you have to."

The Night Train are trying everything. They signed three new players this week. Good players, we're told. Two offensive linemen and a defensive end.

Schimon benched Vogt. He's starting Doby Howard at quarterback. Howard is Mr. Excitement. He's explosive. Every time he touches the ball you sit up in your seat. At the end of last Sunday's loss to Sioux City, a group of fans in the upper deck chanted, "Doby. Doby. Doby."

Schimon was listening.

"We're going to spread the offense and use his scrambling ability," Schimon said.

It will be more exciting. No doubt about that. It has to be. But it might not be enough to keep the fans coming back.

After all, winning is fun. Losing isn't. So the Night Train had better make it fast, because La Crosse fans won't wait forever.

At least not the third-graders.

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