KENNEWICK -- Tri-Cities Fever coach Adam Shackleford thought he might have something special last season by about the fourth game of the 14-game schedule.
"After we beat Omaha in Omaha I thought we may have something here," Shackleford said. "That was a big win. I told my wife I felt like it was Rocky IV when the Russian got cut. We might be able to do this, with all of our hard work, we may do what everybody said couldn't be done. And that's win in the Tri-Cities."
Of course, the Fever did win, finishing with a 13-5 record and playing in the United Bowl, the Indoor Football League's championship game, where it lost 37-10 to the Sioux Falls Storm.
It's a new season, however, and it all begins tonight with a 7:05 p.m. kickoff in the Toyota Center against the Everett Raptors.
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Neither Shackleford nor Everett coach Sean Ponder know what quite to expect in tonight's opener -- especially in the first quarter.
Both coaches and players will be feeling the other team out, trying to get a handle on their game plan.
"First games are usually sloppy," said Fever quarterback Houston Lillard.
These teams and coaches have faced each other many times over the last few seasons.
But every year, each team has a lot of turnover.
"We have a young team this year," said Shackleford. "Of our 25 guys, eight of them have indoor experience. The rest of them haven't."
And the indoor game is a lot quicker because the field is smaller than an outdoor field.
"You have 16 great athletes out there on the field at the same time," Shackleford said. "It's a lot different. Everything happens quicker. The quarterback has to get rid of the ball quicker."
Ponder's team has a lot of indoor experience.
"Of our 21 guys, only four haven't played an indoor game," Ponder said. "We were lucky that we have some guys with 1-2 years of experience played in other indoor leagues. Adam has more NFL-type defensive backs. I've got more indoor DBs."
Ponder's bigger problem has been getting things settled in Everett. The franchise was basically set in Kent the last few seasons, but the owners moved to Everett in the offseason.
"The move up here was a tough move getting started," Ponder said. "We're a new franchise here, so we're trying to get the player housing and the food situation taken care of off the field. But our coaching staff is working hard."
Both teams feature strong quarterbacks.
Lillard was the second-team QB on the All-IFL squad last season.
Charles McCullum is in his third year with this franchise, and he's given the Fever defense fits over the last few years.
"Charles is a good quarterback who does a lot of things well," said Ponder. "There is no hidden agenda with him. He's a good athlete. He had a couple opportunities for tryouts. He said 'Coach, a lot of coaches called me, but I'm coming back to play for you.'"
In the end, though, for a first game, both coaches believe the key to winning tonight will be taking care of the ball.
"Who makes the least amount of mistakes will win," said Shackleford. "The team that protects their quarterback the best, and which quarterback comes out and doesn't feel the pressure to win the football game with every pass or run, will win."
In that respect, Shackleford brought in a new, larger, offensive line to help protect Lillard better and try to keep hard-rushing Everett defensive end John Fields at bay.
"I think we have the beef up front," said Shackleford of linemen William Falakiseni, Lance Evbuomwan, Roddrell Stewart and Anthony McNac. "They're bigger, they're stronger. And not one has played on an indoor field. They'll get a big test in John Fields."
Ponder expects another key is to keeping the new players' emotions in check.
"The ups and downs of the indoor game and how players react to it will be key," Ponder said.
In a high-scoring game -- which can happen a lot -- it's easy for a defensive unit to get down on itself.
And with a large crowd on top of the players, emotions will be running high.
The quicker a team masters its emotions, the quicker it's off to the races -- and the IFL playoffs.
And it all begins tonight.