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 Mouse Still Roaring
 On an Indoor Stage

  By Pigskin Pete

He stands a mere 5 ½ feet tall, but his deeds tower above the accomplishments of any Oregonian who has practiced the pigskin profession.  Darrell “Mouse” Davis first parlayed a creative mind and booming voice into national notice at Portland State University.  He espoused the theories of a little-known Ohio high school coach, Glenn Ellison, who was mentoring when Mouse earned a state prep championship for Hillsboro high. Davis avidly read a manual written by Ellison (who, legend has it, sprung to success, winning three state small school prep titles by adapting an offense he first saw in a sandlot football game when he was facing a losing record).

Mouse burnished Ellison’s offense into the “Run ‘N Shoot” that has terrorized defenses, amassed yardage and scoring records and turned quarterbacks into supermen at every level of football (sidebar).

Today, Mighty Mouse is preparing for his second season of coaching the Detroit entrant in the Arena Football League, a version of football that owes its life to this little big man who recognized the same entertainment potential here that he has realized at every coaching level in a long career that began as a mentor in Oregon high schools.

Mouse, who neatly combines self-effacement, humor, drive and inspiration, can now be fully credited for putting fun back in football with the twin legacies of Run ‘N Shoot and Arena play.  We caught up with Mouse on a Houston golf course, “having a little fun in the sun with my son,” as he put it.  Davis declared optimism for Arena play’s future:  “it looks like the NFL may get fully involved, and that would give our league an NBC television contract.”  Arena play enters the 2002 April-July season with 16 major league teams and no less than 35 minor league franchises (the latter, opening play in 2,000 already have advanced 80 players to the Arena majors, NFL, Canadian League and the World Football League—European teams subsidized by the NFL).

No XFL stupidities here

No one mourns the passing of the XFL, the overhyped brand of football a wrestling impresario created (and watched collapse) a year ago.  This disaster racked up the worst national television audience ratings in grid history.  Arena football approaches its 15th season with a solid majority of both major and minor league franchises turning a good profit.   The game’s future seems assured, with the National Football League considering expansion of its participation.  Last year corporate sponsorships from Ford Motor and Wilson Sporting Goods augmented an agreement with the TNN cable television network.

In 1990, Arena football was issued a U.S. patent, the only sports league in our history to play a patented, rival-free game.  Mouse Davis saw Arena play as a way to bring football indoors and perform during what is the off-season for eleven-man squads.  Arena ball was invented in the midwest in the mid-‘80’s by one Jim Foster, who brought in Davis, as the king of ‘fun’ football, to assist in league development (Foster was an NFL marketing veteran searching for a summer ‘hybrid’ game that wouldn’t compete with the bigs).  Mouse served as the league director of football operations, 1986-88, and attracted the key coaches and players who got this new venture off to a sound start. 

Rules of the game

Arena football is played inside on an artificial turf surface half the length of an eleven-man football field.  Goal posts are narrower and higher than in the outdoor game.  There are eight players fielded per team.  Davis is credited with revising the original positioning to create a wide-open offense that includes three linemen, one running back and three receivers, plus the quarterback.  Four downs are awarded to make a first down for each 10 yards gained.  The shorter field opens the game for kickers, who can choose a drop kick to augment a point-after-touchdown (2 points), or rack up four tallies for each drop-kicked field goal.  Scoring mounts quickly, and combined point totals of over 100 are no rarity.

Arena football lured over two million fans last year to its two levels of play.  Popularity is enhanced by per game ticket prices ranging as low as $5.  One team, the Dallas Desperados, has been added to the top Arena level, which now has 8 teams in each of two divisions.  Play begins in April and extends into July, with a national championship game following.  The game made a non-lasting impression here as the Portland Forest Dragons, whose failings both on the field and in the management office couldn’t be overcome in two seasons.  Highlight of the local effort was the crowning of receiver Oronde Gadsen as  the league’s rookie-of-the-year in ’98 (he now performs with Miami in the NFL).

Mouse says he’s heard of no plans to bring Arena ball back to Portland, but this writer endorses the idea, looking at the progress the sport has made and the possibility of a major national TV network lashup.

Current Arena performers from Oregon collegiate ranks include former Duck QB Tony Graziani with the Los Angeles Avengers, OSU QB alum Erik Wilhelm with the Tampa Bay Storm and two former Portland State receivers: Orshawante Bryant, Arizona Rattlers; Hassan Probherbs, Buffalo Destroyers and ex-PSU running back Steve Papin with the New York Dragons.

Warner most prominent alum

Super Bowl quarterback hero Kurt Warner of the St. Louis Rams is the most prominent AFL alum.  He first earned post-collegiate attention as the signal caller for the Iowa Barnstormers.  Like Warner, who played at Northern Iowa, a majority of roster members in both Arena divisions attended small colleges…no drawback, as Mouse Davis proved by starring at Western Oregon.  Davis credits the relaxed atmosphere of a small college program for showing him a high level of fun in playing football…an atmosphere seldom resembling the pressures at the Division I collegiate level.

You can count on the Fury fans being well entertained by the stratagems of the guy who one admirer credited with “turning smash-mouth football into tennis.”  Mouse only went 7-7 in his first seson as Detroit Fury coach, but “we claim a ‘building’ year, and expect to be right up there this season.”

In case you wonder why pure Run ‘N Shoot is not currently found in NFL offenses, Davis declares “everyone is running part of it…particularly when you see one-back sets, which never used to be used.”  And whenever you hear reference to the “West Coast offense” be reminded that this popular trend was spawned from Run ‘N Shoot.  Grid coaches are a conservative lot, and embracing all of the elements of Run’N Shoot is a bit wild for traditionalists.  Pity, that, since we think the bigs would be even bigger had they stuck with a larger measure of wide-open offense.

Check out Arena Football at www.arenafootball.com 

Mouse Davis milestones

1975-80--Portland State goes 42-24, leading nation in total offense 6 times and scoring three times while setting 20 NCAA offensive records.  Quarterback June Jones sets Division II passing records, is succeeded by walk-on Neil Lomax, who developed his NFL all-pro skills while setting eight NCAA records, including a four-season passing completion rate of 68%.  PSU scored a national record 49 points per game in 1980.

1983—Davis coaches Toronto Argonauts of CFL to Grey Cup title.

1984—as offensive coordinator of USFL Houston Gamblers, Davis inspires pro records that still stand:  QB Jim Kelly’s 5,311 single season passing yards, team’s 79 td’s, 618 points and 7,684 yards.

1985--as head coach of the USFL Denver Gold, he led the team to a fine 11-7 year..

1987—June Jones becomes QB coach for NFL Houston Oilers, Run ‘N Shoot introduced to NFL

1989—Mouse hired as offensive coordinator for NFL Detroit Lions, proves Run ‘N Shoot can also break rushing records as Barry Sanders becomes league rookie of the year. This same year, Run ‘N Shoot offense propels U. of Houston QB Andre Ware to the Heisman trophy.

1990—Houston Oiler QB Warren Moon parlays Run ‘N Shoot into all-pro status.  Same offense carries U. of Houston QB David Klingler to NCAA single season records including 5,221 yards total offense, 54 touchdown passes, 716 single game passing yards (vs. Division I Arizona State) and six td passes in one quarter.

1991—three NFL teams (Detroit, Atlanta, Houston) reach post-season playoffs with Run ‘N Shoot offenses, Warren Moon breaks NFL record with 404 completions.

1995Mouse and pupil June Jones coach Atlanta into NFL playoffs with Run ‘N Shoot playbook that creates NFL’s first 4,000 yards passer (Jeff George), while producing a 1,000 yards+ rusher (Craig Heyward) and three 1,000 yards+ receivers.

1999—Mouse hired as head coach, director of football operations for Detroit Fury of AFL, building for first season in 2001.

Arena Football Major Teams

American conference
Arizona Rattlers, Dallas Desperados, Los Angeles Avengers, San Jose Bearcats, Chicago Rush,  Detroit Fury, Grand Rapids Rampage, Indiana Firebirds
National conference
Buffalo Destroyers, New Jersey Gladiators, New York Dragons, Toronto Phantoms, Atlanta AFL, Carolina Cobras, Orlando Predators, Tampa Bay Storm

Arena Minor Teams—an exercise in nicknames!

American conference
Albany Conquest, Mohegan (Conn) Wolves, New Haven Ninjas,
Rochester Brigade, Wilkes Barre/Scranton Pioneers, Cape Fear (NC) Wildcats, Greensboro Prowlers, Norfolk Nighthawks,  Richmond Speed,
Roanoke Steam, Augusta Stallions, Carolina Rhinos, Florida Firecats, Jacksonville Tomcats,  Charleston Swamp Foxes, Talahassee Thunder

National conference
Arkansas Twisters, Memphis Xplorers, Bossier City (LA) Battle Wings,
Tulsa Talons, Lincoln (NE) Lightning,  Louisville Fire,  Peoria Pirates,  Wichita Stealth, Quad City Steamwheelers, Mobile Wizards, Birmingham Steeldogs, Tennessee Valley Vipers, Bakersfield Blitz, Pensacola Barracudas, Fresno Frenzy, Hawaiian Islanders, San Diego AF2

(C) 2002 Oregon Magazine

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