116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
HIAWATHA - There will be no former NFL players in the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena Saturday night, other than Tim Dwight, who will be there to sign autographs at halftime.
The Indoor Football League game between the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks and Cedar Rapids Titans is for the romantics, for the dreamers. It features men who live out of motels and work second jobs to keep their playing careers alive.
The Titans began their Wednesday practice on the indoor turf field of the Sport Zone at 11:15 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday's practices had the more “reasonable” start time of 10 p.m. It's when the facility was available.
“This is almost a second job for a lot of these guys,” said Titans Coach Kyle Moore-Brown. “I've got guys working for a janitorial service. One is training at Olive Garden. Some are substitute teachers.
“They work their jobs, then they come to me from 7 to 12 at night for meetings and practice.”
Travis Miller is an offensive guard. He grew up in Philadelphia, and later moved to Stillwater, Minn. He played college football at North Dakota College of Science.
Miller tried out for the La Crosse Spartans a couple years ago, made the team, and Moore-Brown (who had been the Spartans' coach) invited Miller to join him in Cedar Rapids after the Spartans moved here after last season.
“I'm working for Per Mar Security right now during the day,” he said.
That's wanting to play football. That's believing there's something better within reach, a spot in the higher-paying Arena Football League or, dare it be said, a shot at an NFL roster.
It's not a 100-to-1 shot. It's much less likely than that, really. But Coe College's Fred Jackson went from minor-league indoor football's Sioux City Bandits to start at running back for the Buffalo Bills, and if one guy can do it ...
“I'm only 23 years old,” Miller said. “Coach believes I have the talent to play at the next level as long as I keep working hard. He's never steered me wrong in the three years I've known him.”
Moore-Brown, describes himself as an indoor football “lifer.” After his college career ended at Kansas, he played for 15 years in the Arena Football League and set the league's record for consecutive starts.
Once, Moore-Brown broke the thumb on his right hand while playing center. He switched to snapping with his left hand and never left the game.
After his playing days ended, he became an assistant coach for his brother, former Green Bay Packers star Gilbert Brown. Brown left the team in midseason last year, and Moore-Brown took over.
“I have a desire to help these young men get better,” he said. “I played this game, and I'm proud of the time I did.
“There's an opportunity here to try to step up and go to the next level. That's every player's dream to do so. Coaches, also.”
When Moore-Brown began his AFL career with the Albany Firebirds, his salary was $225 a week. That went up considerably as the league gained traction. But here in the IFL, with the Lehigh Valley team making a 1,934-mile round trip to Cedar Rapids via bus from Bethlehem, Pa., the weekly pay for players is in the $250-$500 range.
After Wednesday's practice, the players were handed meal coupons at a variety of Cedar Rapids restaurants. You didn't see any one refusing them or looking at them with disdain.
“I've got a large family back home that I take care of and support,” Miller said after Tuesday night's practice, which ended after midnight.
Then he headed to his motel room to get some sleep. Wednesday was a work day/night.