While I was up in Duluth this past weekend, I was looking at AMSOIL Arena (home of the University of Minnesota – Duluth’s men’s and women’s hockey teams) and realized it would make a great venue for an Arena Football team. I have always enjoyed designing hypothetical football teams in my head, on paper, and on Madden (back when they let you be creative instead of choosing from a set list of options). There’s not really a whole lot else to say, so here is what an AFL team in Duluth would look like if I was asked to design it:
Venue: AMSOIL Arena – Duluth, MN
From what I’ve read and heard, if you want to establish a professional sports team (or really any type of business) you have to capitalize on the rich history of the area. For Minnesota, that would be the lakes – after all, this is the Land of 10,000 Lakes. For Duluth specifically, it’s Lake Superior and the city’s history as a harbor town. With the AMSOIL Arena location, it is right down by the shore of the lake and you can see the iconic lift-bridge in the background. AMSOIL Arena is a good selection for the home of this yet-to-be-named Minnesota AFL team because the facilities already are built and in a prime location with accessible parking.
Team Name: The Duluth Light
Could go with the obvious Northern Minnesota team name of ‘Lumberjacks’, but Duluth and Superior (WI) already shared an indoor football team with that name and they played the 1998 and 1999 season in the Indoor Football League with a combined record of 3-23. So they weren’t quite as bad as the Cleveland Browns of 2016 and 2017, but that’s not really something to be proud of. So rather than try to rebuild that failed legacy, I decided it was time to start a new one. The ‘Lakers’ were briefly in contention for the name, as a not-so-subtle jab at the Los Angeles Lakers who didn’t think to change their name when they left the land of lakes. As was the ‘Miners’ due to Northern Minnesota’s rich iron range, but that would be sure to draw protesters if a team was promoting an industry that receives so much criticism. Due to the legend of Paul Bunyan and his blue ox named Babe, I thought about using that but the ‘Bunyans’ doesn’t sound like a good team name and the ‘Babes’ sounds like it belongs in the LFL not the AFL. Ultimately, I decided to base the team’s name on the plethora of lighthouses in the area used to safely guide ships to harbor. To simply name them the ‘Lighthouses’ would be too clunky. So I opted to go with a much more vague name that can still have an easily explainable origin and be spun in many different ways for promotional purposes.
Team Colors: Gunmetal Gray, White, and Navy Blue
The team name references the light from the lighthouses, so the colors could have gone with a white and red or another lighthouse color scheme – but I decided I wanted to focus more on the dark and stormy waters for the team’s colors.
First of all, I’m just going to acknowledge the fact that I drew these logos (and the jerseys in the next section) with colored pencils, no sharpener, and limited artistic ability and time – so bear with me. The first logo would be the primary logo. It features the navy blue ‘D’ for Duluth and has a silver lightburst/compass behind it with the state of Minnesota as the centerpiece. The lightburst element of the logo represents the light from the lighthouses and the compass element of it represents the process of guiding a ship through Lake Superior using both compasses and lighthouses. The second logo would be a secondary and endzone logo. It features the team name with the ‘I’ acting as a lighthouse shining bright. The tops of the letters that appear to be inside the beam of light are gray to differentiate from the golden-yellow beam of light and the lower half of the letters that are the team’s navy blue.
These two uniforms are the colored versions of the Light uniforms. The left uniform is a gray base (helmet, jersey, and pants) that features a white and blue stripe on both shoulders and the pants, a navy blue color, navy numbers, and ‘DULUTH’ written across the chest in navy. The helmet features a block navy blue ‘D’ that is the same on all the variations, this gray helmet has a navy blue facemask and a white/navy stripe down the top of the helmet. The uniform on the right has a navy blue jersey with two-toned silver/gray stripes on the shoulders and torso with white numbering and gray pants. This helmet is a silver/white two-tone helmet featuring the block ‘D’ and the Michigan/Delaware stripes on top.
These two uniforms are the two white versions of the uniform. The uniform on the left pays tribute to Minnesota’s deeply rooted hockey culture/history by utilizing the navy blue hockey-style captain’s patch (for captains only, of course) and a simple white/navy color scheme with the white jersey and navy shoulder stripes, collar, and numbering with navy pants. The helmet is a gray helmet with the Michigan/Delaware stripes and the block ‘D’ all in navy blue with a gray facemask. The uniform on the right is a whiteout uniform and is my favorite of the four I designed. The white jersey and pants feature a connected silver stripe that is accented with navy blue on the shoulders of the jersey. The jersey has the team name written across the chest in silver and the numbering is silver with a navy blue accent to make it pop out on the white jersey. The helmet is really what completes this look, it is a pure white helmet with a navy blue facemask and the block ‘D’ featuring the lightburst/compass in silver.
Head Coach: P.J. Fleck
Who better to lead a team based on rich nautical history than the man who created the motto “Row the Boat”? Fleck would bring the energy needed to be exciting and competitive in the Arena Football world. Fleck and family wouldn’t even have to leave the state since he already is the head coach of the University of Minnesota Gophers football team. Fleck also has the professional playing experience to be able to relate to the level and type of players an Arena team is made up of – Fleck made it onto the San Francisco 49ers roster as an undersized receiver who outworked everybody.
QB1: Johnny Manziel
Is there really any better choice for a QB of an AFL team? Money Manziel can create just as much hype and excitement as Coach Fleck. As for Manziel’s partying problem; it seems like he’s genuinely maturing this time, if anyone can motivate someone to shape up it’s PJ Fleck, and it’s the AFL so it doesn’t really matter. Bottom line is, Johnny Football got his nicknames for a reason, he can make magic happen on the field – and that’s what I want my QB1 to do in the arena.
QB2: Darron Thomas
Darron Thomas is a guy who most people have likely forgotten about by now. He was a phenomenal dual-threat quarterback for the Oregon Ducks and helped lead them to a Rose Bowl victory and a BCS National Championship Game (narrowly losing to Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers). Since then, Thomas has bounced between the Canadian Football League and various leagues in the US. Thomas was fun to watch at Oregon, and he will make for a solid backup to Manziel – since both are dual-threats.
RB1: Eddie Lacy
Lacy had a good but brief time with the Green Bay Packers, but then his weight became a concern. Lacy is currently a free agent and will have a hard time finding a roster spot since the NFL prefers smaller and faster running backs over bruisers like Lacy. If Lacy were born 10-20 years earlier, he would have been one of the best in the league because of his size and powerful running style – but he’s stuck in an era where his kind is extinct. While the AFL typically favors smaller players with high stamina, we have seen Jared Lorenzen (the hefty lefty) succeed in an indoor football league as a quarterback despite having worse weight concerns than Lacy. Lacy would be the bulldozer in the offense.
RB2: LaMichael James
Since it’s already been determined that Lacy will be the bulldozer, it makes sense for the second RB to be a shifty and speedy running back. James played with the backup QB, Darron Thomas, in college and was a huge part of Oregon’s success in the early 2010’s. James earned numerous honors and records before he was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. James was rarely used and wasn’t properly utilized. James did play in a Super Bowl, in very limited action. He then tried to catch on with the Miami Dolphins but that never worked out. Even though it’s been a few years, I think James would be an excellent signing for the Duluth Light.
WR1: Dez Bryant
The AFL would benefit so much from Dez Bryant coming to the league. He would sell out AMSOIL Arena and any other venue the Light play in. His skill is unbelievable, but so is his ego – which is perfect for the arena. Bryant is still a free agent, so anything is possible. One thing is for sure though, if Dez came to Duluth, there’d be lots of X’s being thrown in the air.
WR2: Jeremy Maclin
Maclin is another talented receiver who has yet to sign with a team. Maclin doesn’t have the same issues as Dez, he just isn’t as good and is aging. Maclin has the ability to turn quick passes into big plays, which is perfect for the arena.
WR3: Dwayne Harris
Technically, signing Harris gives the Duluth Light another former NFL Pro-Bowler. Granted, Harris made it as a returner, but those return skills can be utilized on kick returns and short passes in the arena. Harris would be electric coming out of the slot spot for the Light and could very well lead the team in yards.
WR4: Eric Decker
Decker has fallen off the NFL radar fast, despite being with the Titans last year. Decker has aged real quick and will be lucky to get one more chance in the NFL. Decker is a Minnesota-native who went to the University of Minnesota, so this would be a fun homecoming for Decker and the Light.
OL: Luke Joeckel
Joeckel was originally the second overall pick of the 2013 NFL Draft when the Jaguars selected him. After Jacksonville wrote him off as a bust, he ended up with the Seattle Seahawks and didn’t clear the bust label. While he looks like a bust in the NFL and is still a free agent, he was still once considered good enough to be the second best player in a draft class – so maybe he could succeed in a complete life reset where he joins a new team in a new state in a completely different league, aka welcome to the Duluth Light.
OL: Greg Robinson
Very similar story to Luke Joeckel. Former 2nd overall pick. Labelled a bust. Still a player with great size and potentially untapped skill. Duluth could have two big name linemen turn their career around and draw NFL attention to the roster.
OL: Jahri Evans
Unlike Joeckel and Robinson, Evans is not battling a bust label. However, Evans is battling with time as he is coming towards the end of his career. Evans would be a good mentor for Joeckel and Robinson, while still giving Duluth a couple years as a solid player.
DL: Karter Schult
Schult is a beast of a pass-rusher. He was the top FCS defender during his last year at Northern Iowa. He had some pre-season success with the Cleveland Browns. He also stood out at this year’s Spring League. Schult would be a great player to have in Duluth.
Update: Karter Schult signed with the Carolina Panthers on 5/14.
DL: Courtney Upshaw
Upshaw is a talented pass-rusher who is currently a free agent. He already won a Super Bowl ring when he was with the Baltimore Ravens (against LaMichael James and the 49ers) and forced a fumble in that game (it was James who fumbled), he also made it back to the Super Bowl with the Atlanta Falcons and sacked Tom Brady despite ultimately missing out on his second ring.
DL: Johnny Jolly
With the other two defensive linemen being more athletic pass-rushers, I decided it was time to bring back a big defensive lineman who can eat up space. Jolly played a few years with the Packers before getting into legal trouble, but did come back to the NFL a few years later and played one more year with the Packers. Jolly is still only 35 years old, so it’s not unreasonable for him to still play a year or two for Duluth.
OLB: Aldon Smith
Yes, legal issues would be a huge concern with signing Smith. But what about the upside? Smith was one of the best when it came to putting pressure on a quarterback and taking the QB down. He’s still relatively young too. With Smith, Schult, and Upshaw on the team, offenses will struggle to find their rhythm going against Duluth.
MLB1: Korey Toomer
Toomer is on his 6th team since he was drafted in the 5th round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Toomer has been okay-at-best throughout his career, but is coming off one of his best years yet, with the Los Angeles Chargers – and now he is with the San Francisco 49ers. Toomer has not really emerged yet, so I have him at MLB1 because I’m hoping he can peak late in Duluth.
MLB2: Navarro Bowman
Bowman has been a 4-time all-pro during his 8-year career (he’s only played 7 years, due to an injury). Both Bowman and Toomer are 29 years old. The only reason I have Bowman behind Toomer is because it would appear that Bowman has already peaked, but maybe Bowman’s aging decline will still be better than Toomer’s peak. Regardless, both middle linebackers should be solid – or at least one or the other should be.
OLB: Shea McClellin
McClellin, like Aldon Smith, is a pass-rusher. Because this team is so loaded at pass-rusher, I went with three corners to account for the passing game. McClellin was a first round pick out of Boise State as a defensive lineman. However, he was eventually converted into an outside linebacker/pass-rusher which is where I have him playing despite this leaving pass coverage as a major vulnerability in the linebacker corp. The goal is that the top-notch pass-rush will allow the defensive secondary to handle any passes.
CB: Delvin Breaux
Breaux knows how this works. He spent his time in the Gridiron Developmental Football League, Arena Football League, and Canadian Football League before getting a contract with the New Orleans Saints. Breaux recorded 3 interceptions in his three seasons with the Saints.
CB: Bashaud Breeland
Due to a failed physical with the Panthers, Breeland is still on the market. In his four seasons with Washington, Breeland has recorded 8 interceptions and forced 7 fumbles. Breeland may not be part of the top tier of cornerbacks in the NFL, but the receivers in the Arena Football League are not exactly the best in the world (for the most part).
CB: Deiondre’ Hall
Hall is a promising young corner who has played part of one season and been on the IR the second season of his career. Entering the third year of his career, Hall’s future looks bright with the Chicago Bears. But the chance to bring him to Duluth could take him from being a good NFL player to being a legendary AFL player.
FS: Tre Boston
Over the past four years, Boston has recorded 187 tackles and 8 interceptions. Five of those eight interceptions came last season when he started 15 games for the Chargers. Boston has been decent, but not excellent. Boston will for sure be on an NFL roster for 2018, but he could become a star in the Arena.
SS: Kenny Vaccaro
In the past five years, Vaccaro has recorded the same number of interceptions (8) as Tre Boston did in the past four. However, Vaccaro has also recorded 4 forced fumbles and 7.5 sacks. Vaccaro’s hard-hitting style would fit well on the smaller field of the Arena.
K: Blair Walsh
Just like Eric Decker, Walsh presents a fun Minnesota-homecoming. While Decker brings back fun memories of his time as a Golden Gopher, Walsh will get his chance at redemption for a single missed field goal in a clutch situation followed by a shaken season of mediocrity. As a rookie, Walsh was 10/10 on attempts of 50+ yards, was 3 points shy of the NFL rookie record for points in a season, tied the NFL rookie record for field goals, beat Green Bay in week 17 on a field goal to make the playoffs, and was named to the Pro Bowl – all as a rookie. The following year, he broke the NFL record for consecutive makes of 50+ yards with his 12th in a row versus the Pittsburgh Steelers in London. In 2015, his third year, Walsh had back-to-back weeks where he kicked a game-winner (vs. the Bears in week 8 and vs. the Rams in OT in week 9), went 5/5 on field goals twice, and led the league in field goals. The only bad part about 2015 came when Seattle came to Minnesota and he missed an “easy” game-winner in the playoffs. While missing a clutch kick like that always puts the blame on the kicker, what Minnesota fans like to forget so easily is that they lost that game 10-9 and Walsh was the only player to score for the Vikings – so should he really get all the blame for not being able to completely put a team on his back? Regardless, Walsh’s next few years were mediocre. However, this does not negate the fact that he; has a career percentage of 82.4% on field goals, has an even one dozen Vikings records, has an even half dozen NFL records, and was the only rookie named to the 2012 NFL All-Pro team. Love him or hate him, Blair Walsh is one of the better kickers the league has seen recently – the stats don’t lie. I would be glad to have him as my kicker in Duluth.