Tri-Cities Fever

IFLers play for love of the game film

KENNEWICK -- Thyron Lewis never came to the Tri-Cities expecting to get rich this season.

And the standout Tri-Cities Fever wide receiver hasn't.

He's come for the game film, video that could be the key to something bigger and better down the road.

"It's about the love of the game," said Lewis. "I love this game. If it ever gets to the point where it's just about the money, it's time to hang it up."

But a player needs to survive, and that means he needs to have some amount of money coming in.

And with the Fever hosting a travel team posing -- for one week only -- as the Alaska Wild at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at the Toyota Center, never have two organizations ever been on such opposite ends of the spectrum.

While Fever owner Teri Carr makes sure her players are taken care of, Wild owner Charles Matthews walked away from his team after one game this season. He didn't have the money to keep the team running.

Soon after, the Wild started missing payments to its players -- some players as many as three weeks behind.

Finally, Indoor Football League commissioner Tommy Benizio shut the team down in mid-May, awarding the Fever, the Kent Predators, Billings Outlaws and LaCrosse Spartans each a forfeit victory for their scheduled games in Anchorage.

But Benizio wanted to make sure the Fever got its seventh home game in -- Alaska at Tri-Cities on Saturday -- and announced that the league would put together a traveling team for that game.

Carr said she looked quickly at the Wild roster this week.

"I wanted to make sure there wasn't anyone from Kent," Carr said. "There wasn't."

Regardless of who shows up Saturday, the Fever is just glad to have an opponent. The players need that game film.

"They are here for that film," said Fever coach Adam Shackleford. "That film is very important. That's what we send out to the NFL, the CFL and the UFL."

Players in the IFL make $225 per game, with $25 thrown on top for a victory.

It's not much, but they really get more than that.

"We take care of almost all of their meals," Shackleford said. "We do supply their housing."

Almost every day of the week, an area restaurant has free meals for the players -- and the players get two meals like that each day.

"The only day where we don't have anything set is Sunday," Carr said.

But even then, some of the more loyal Fever fans take care of the players with meals.

Players live around the Tri-Cities, in homes, apartments and in hotels.

The team has vans to pick players up. So players don't even need their own transportation.

"If they come in debt-free, they can do OK," said Carr. "They won't get rich."

Lewis agrees.

"You get to the point where you learn how to save money so you can take care of your family," he said.

Some players, if they can swing it by finding a flexible employer, also take side jobs.

But the majority are here for the football -- and the game film.

Lewis is one of those guys.

"No job for me," he said after a game recently. "I'm here to concentrate on football."

After spending the 2006 season on the Washington Redskins' practice squad, Lewis has had the taste of the high life in football.

And that's why he's here: He's working his way back up to the top.

"We try to make them as comfortable as possible," said Shackleford. "It's still a sacrifice. That film is very important. We look at this as kind of an internship for these guys."