-- Long gone but never forgotten, Friday is the 20th anniversary of perhaps the best non-NFL game in American football history. Arena Bowl X pitted a pair of quarterbacks who would move on to bigger things, trading scores throughout the night in a tiny auditorium filled with 11,411 fans dressed as farm animals in Des Moines, Iowa.
What was it like to play Arena League football, and that game in particular? ESPN.com has the video and spoke with the quarterbacks -- Jay Gruden of the Tampa Bay Storm and Kurt Warner of the Iowa Barnstormers -- for details. (They're now known as Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden and surefire Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, but you've probably made the connection already.)
On this particular day, Gruden's Storm held off Warner's Barnstormers with a late goal-line stand to win 42-38.
Warner: Jay was the best Arena quarterback up until that time. I'm not sure what has happened since then, but I consider him the best Arena quarterback ever. He was a smart guy that maybe wasn't the most talented physically, but he had that intelligence and the ability to put the ball where he needed to. He threw a very catchable ball, and, at that point in his career, he was like a coach on the field. People make such a big deal about arm strength, but that doesn't matter as much if you can throw the ball with anticipation and accuracy and make it catchable, and he had those skills and he did them so well. He was the model quarterback of the Arena League. He really was. We all wanted to be like Jay.
Gruden: At the time, we were pretty damn good and we had a strong reputation. Had we known what Kurt was going to turn into, it might have been a different story. But we were the intimidators.
Warner: It was a great back-and-forth game, very much like what Arena football was in those days.
Gruden: I remember Steve [Houghton] hit me about six times, and one time he hit me in the end zone and I fell into the security guard back behind the wall. It was fun. Those were my favorite kinds of games.
Warner: I've always said, if everything was equal, from money to retirement to endorsement opportunities -- all that stuff -- if everything was equal, I'd play Arena football over the NFL. It was built for quarterbacks. It was just backyard football. You ran the ball 4 or 5 yards per game. It was always a two-minute drill. There was always pressure on the quarterback to score. If you didn't score on one possession, you might lose. Those scenarios to me were so much fun. (Note: Warner and Gruden combined for nine touchdown passes in the game.)
Gruden: I loved the crowd. It was like 9,000 [actually, 11,411] people packed in this little barn dressed like farm animals screaming. I can remember Johnnie [Harris] fighting a fan who had grabbed him. It was so loud you couldn't hear from me to you. It was a blast. It was a lot of fun.
Warner: It was a typical, last-team-with-the-ball-wins type of game, and that's exactly what we had the chance to do. We drove inside the 5-yard line.
Gruden: [T]hey complained about their guy getting called out of bounds at the 3. They thought he got in. Oh, boohoo. But they had a first-and-goal at the 3 and we stopped them four plays in a row.
Warner: We weren't able to finish inside. We had the chance to win and I didn't make the plays to finish the deal. It was a classic Arena game where you were just going back and forth with guys making plays all over the place.
Gruden: We had to get one first down, and I threw a pass out to Stevie Thomas on the left. Game time.
Warner: I don't think there's any question that the Arena League allowed me to flourish. I played three years in a league where the quarterback wasn't supposed to be stopped. We never wanted to kick. When I went into the NFL, I had that same mentality. We were very good on top of that. But we had that mentality [with the St. Louis Rams]. We were not going to punt. We were going to score every time.
Gruden: We were all young guys trying to get the chance Kurt got. I tell you what, he had a quick release and he was accurate. He showed no fear in the pocket. For quarterbacks, say what you want, you learn a lot about the position playing Arena ball as far as anticipation, timing and getting the ball out of your hand. That was a different era. We had defensive linemen playing offensive line, so the pressure was a lot different as far as the pass rush was concerned. It was a great experience making the tight window throws on the goal line, anticipation throws, fades, touch. It was good.
Warner: When you think back to Jay in those days, you think about a coach on the field, how he handled things and managed things. The way he led his teams, to championships and just on the field, it's absolutely no surprise the kind of offensive mind he's become and the success he's had as a head coach. He was a very fiery competitor, but a great leader and a very smart player -- you see all of that now in his current job.