It was only a few years ago that the Arena Football League was one of the hottest properties in sports. With its games televised on NBC and ESPN and celebrities like John Elway and Jon Bon Jovi as owners, some media outlets earlier in the decade speculated openly about whether the AFL, and not the NHL, deserved to be called the fourth major sports league.
Unfortunately for fans of indoor football, times have changed. After seeing several franchises close up shop after the 2008 season, the AFL suspended play for 2009 with an eye on restructuring for 2010.
The league got as far as drawing up a new collective bargaining agreement in case it was able to right the ship. But the current economic climate has proven to be too much of a hurdle to overcome, and even though no official announcement has been made, ESPN has been running pieces for several days suggesting that the AFL is finished.
Though it may be gone for good, signs of the AFL's legacy to the world of football will remain in various places. Its small market offshoot, afl2, is still in operation and will likely step up to become the top level of indoor football in the U.S.
Arena football also produced several alumni who went on to bigger and better things, most notably NFL MVP and Super Bowl winner Kurt Warner. It also will be fondly remembered by fans as a place where they could get close to the athletes they supported, with post-game autographs readily available.
The AFL will also be survived by its collectibles and memorabilia, including football cards. The league made several attempts to have regular card sets produced but it wasn't until 2005 that it actually happened.
The first licensee to sign to produce AFL cards was Pacific Trading Cards back in 2001. A three-year deal was announced and promo cards were made, but Pacific went belly up before any product could hit the shelves.
Donruss/Playoff (now Panini America) was enlisted as a partner in 2003, with plans to create team sets sold in arenas and through team websites. The only cards that came out of that partnership were inserted into that season's ArenaBowl program, though the Texas-based company did produce team sets for the Dallas Desperadoes during their final two campaigns.
It was Upper Deck who finally did the AFL justice with complete sets of cards in 2005 and 2006. Released in the spring of each year, these products came complete with all the bells and whistles football collectors had come to expect from NFL cards, including autographs and game-used memorabilia cards.
The 2005 Arena Football set featured a 90-card base set with gold parallels and five insert sets, plus two game-used cards and an autograph in every box. The 2006 edition was even bigger, with 200 base cards, a second autograph per box and redemption cards for team-signed footballs.
As a product with a small niche, the AFL cards never captured the attention of the hobby as a whole and can still be found today at inexpensive prices. Charm City Cards of Baltimore has several boxes of the 2006 set in stock on its website for just $29 a box.
Barring an unexpected turn of events, the AFL has played its last game. Thanks to its cards and collectibles, though, the league's memory will endure.