by Howie Stalwick & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & N & lt;/span & early a decade has passed since Nian Taylor was hauling in passes from Ryan Leaf against Charles Woodson and the Michigan Wolverines before 100,000 fans and millions of television viewers in the Rose Bowl. Thursday night, Taylor will be playing indoor football for a couple hundred bucks in the Spokane Arena before a few thousand fans and Lord knows how few local television viewers.
And you know what? That's just fine with Taylor. After all, the former Washington State standout still loves to play, still puts up big numbers and still dreams of playing in the National Football League.
"It doesn't really matter what league it is and how much money you make and all that," Taylor insists. "I just love catchin' the football and making fans happy."
That much is obvious, because Taylor and his Spokane Shock teammates risk life and limb to play minor league (barely) professional arena football for $200 per game. Throw in the other standard arrangements in the arenafootball2 (af2) league -- an extra $50 for wins, and most housing costs and meals are covered by the team -- and you're still living in semi-poverty for the four months the season lasts.
"I'm not complaining," Taylor says. "Just as long as I'm competing with somebody."
The Shock and the Stockton (Calif.) Lightning, two af2 expansion teams, debut Thursday in Spokane in a league with lower-case letters and even lower salaries. With more than 3,000 season tickets sold, all eight home games on local cable TV and all 16 home and away games on local FM radio, the Shock is already quite the winner by af2 standards.
"The front office is absolutely on fire," Shock coach Chris Siegfried says.
Whether the same will be said of the on-field product remains to be seen. The Shock is short on experience, but the 29-year-old Taylor is a rarity, a five-year veteran in the 7-year-old af2.
"I'm getting a little old," Taylor says with a smile.
"Yeah, he is getting a little older," Siegfried agrees -- without a smile. "But I think he's still having fun."
Siegfried values Taylor's experience in the indoor game, which is played on a much smaller field (enclosed by padded walls) with much higher scoring than regular football. Indoor players must alter some of their techniques and angles from regular football, and it takes a while to get used to the fact that you can field a ball off one of the giant screens in the end zone and run it back.
"Lots of scoring, lots of hitting, lots of balls going into the stands, lots of guys going over the wall," Taylor says.
Like most indoor players, Taylor plays on both sides of the ball. He's a wide receiver on offense and a linebacker on defense. Taylor led the San Diego Riptide with 91 receptions last year, and he was second on the Riptide (which suspended operations at the end of the season) with 28 solo tackles and three interceptions.
Perhaps most impressively, Taylor accomplished all that without quitting his job as a baggage handler at the San Diego airport.
"That was hard work," admits Taylor, who is permitting himself the luxury of not working during the football season in Spokane.
Taylor starred at running back and cornerback at Ramona High School in Riverside, Calif., then was converted into a receiver at Washington State. Taylor holds the WSU record for average yards per catch in one season (25.9 in 1997), and he ranks in the top three in school history in receiving for yards in one game (254), career yards (2,447), career receptions (140) and career touchdown catches (18).
Still, Taylor's lack of speed turned off NFL teams. Despite his impressive college and pro numbers (he's sixth in af2 history with 96 career touchdown catches and eighth with 594 career points), he's never been invited to an NFL training camp. Taylor was cut after two brief stints in the Arena Football League, the parent of the af2.
"It doesn't look like I'm fast, but I'm fast," Taylor insists.
Only two af2 players have ever made it to the NFL, but Taylor says he might as well be the third. Why, the lifelong bachelor has even pledged to give up such past sins as "partying so much and having so many girls," which Taylor said has caused him some problems in college and the pros.
"Hopefully, I can get a Seattle Seahawks job at the end of this season if I do well ... maybe I can go out there and play for them maybe one or two years just to say I put on an NFL helmet," Taylor says.
Taylor knows it's an unlikely scenario, and he's already talking about the possibility of retiring after this season. He's not certain what he'll do after football -- coaching is one possibility -- but he's content right now to share an apartment with two teammates and keep dreaming the dream.
"I just live day by day," Taylor says. "I don't really try to plan anything, because once you start planning stuff, it usually never comes out like you want it to."
The Spokane Shock and Stockton open the arenafootball2 season Thursday, March 30, in the Spokane Arena. All home games start at 7 pm. Tickets: $6-$18. (The $35 and $50 seats have all been sold as season tickets.) Visit www.ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT or 242-SHOC. All home games will be televised on KQUP 24, and all home and away games will be broadcast on KZBD 105.7 FM ("The Buzzard").