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This is where it started: minorleaguefootballnews.com. I read, "The 4th Annual 'Hall of Fame' All-Star game is Saturday, December 8, 2007, 3:00 p.m., at Virgin River High in Mesquite, Nevada. Mesquite is the home of the Minor League Football Hall of Fame, at the Oasis Resort Casino."

Thunder offense

It's Virgin Valley High School, but I don't think the Bulldogs will mind the error. I was a regular visitor to Mesquite in olden days. It was a battered, idiosyncratic border town, the Utah/Nevada border, which is its own unique category. Now, Mesquite has 12,000 residents, five casinos, five golf courses, curbside recycling, 12 registered sex offenders, and the Minor League Football Hall of Fame.

I began clicking around minorleaguefootballnews.com, specifically, clicking on a random selection of the 235 team/league decals framing its welcome page. Shortly, I found a decal featuring a football with "SWFL" imprinted on its side. SWFL turns out to be the Southwest Football League, and -- looky here -- one of its five league teams is the San Diego Thunder.

And, further, San Diego Thunder is ranked number 20 in the nation at minorleaguefootballnews.com1 And further still, San Diego Thunder is ranked 16th in the nation in the National Events Coaches' Poll, the only California team on the list. Yet and even more, the San Diego Thunder is coming off a January 2007 victory, 19 to 16, over the Conshohocken Steelers (of Philadelphia) at the Manatee Bowl (of Fort Pierce, Florida). This led me (now in a celebratory mood), to sdthunder.org, home of our champion San Diego Thunder.

Before we get started, a word about minor league sports...football in particular. Don't blink or your team will disappear, re-form, and come at you again under another name in another league. Follows is a partial list of current and past San Diego County men's developmental football teams: San Diego Bombers, North County Cheetahs, North County Cobras, San Diego Jaguars, San Diego Patriots, San Diego Warriors, San Diego Saints, San Diego Enforcers, Southeast Raiders, San Diego Thunder.

The San Diego Thunder used to be the Southeast Raiders. As the Thunder, they won the 2005 SWFL championship (beating the California Outlawz 31-19 in Long Beach) as well as the 2006 SWFL championship (shutting down the California Tide 14-0 in Glendale). Attendance was 350 human persons in '05 and 250 human persons in '06.

The Thunder's 2007 schedule includes five preseason games and nine regular-season games. Their regular season opens in Yuma on Saturday. Their home opener is September 1st against the Long Beach All-Americans. Home field is Balboa Stadium. Game time is 7:00 p.m.

Yes, everything seems in order, but, a moment, please...what is this? The Thunder is scheduled to play the San Diego Stallions on September 22nd. I spy rivalry. Mayhap a thrill-of-victory/agony-of-defeat situation. Looking deeper, I learn the Thunder is a member of the SWFL and the Stallions listed in the West Coast Football League. Even better. League competition. Deathmatch.

The Stallions' regular-season opener is Saturday. They're playing at home (Montgomery High School), hosting the West Coast Rams. Game time is 4:00 p.m.

But, wait, here's a posting on leaguelineup.com, "WCFL/SWFL Honeymoon is OVER!... After only a few months, the merging of the WCFL and the SWFL (PDFA) has flatlined. Inside sources have informed the WCFL fansite that six teams have walked out on the PDFA and are going back to being the WCFL...where does this leave the SWFL with only four teams?..."

Elsewhere on leaguelineup.com: "The schedule is changed due to the fact that the West Coast Football League decided to bail and the PDFA has been changed back to the Southwest Football League. The NEW schedule is NOW up on this site."

The new schedule includes the September 22nd game between the Thunder and the Stallions. Obviously, this is a game of destiny and that's all we need to know. Oh, and it's billed as "Battle Bowl 6."

From I-Newswire: "Since the Battle Bowl came in the year 2000, it's been rough.... First, in the year 2000, the San Diego Patriots were going to play the Santa Barbara Condors, but their team didn't show up. We didn't know why they did not show up. So, that game had to be cancelled. The next game in 2001 with the San Diego Saints had to come to a screeching halt because the owner told me he did want me on the team because of a website complication. But one day as I was sitting in my room reading the paper..."

That's minor league football; it's small-town, and I like it. But, don't be fooled -- this is not high school or junior college football -- these men can play. There are Thunder/Stallions game clips on YouTube, video.yahoo, and MySpaceTV. Take a look. You might be impressed.

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