Albuquerque-area sports fans have seen plenty of brawls before at Tingley Coliseum. But they usually occurred during Central Hockey League games when the New Mexico Scorpions called Tingley Coliseum home. Or maybe during some wrestling shows.
On Saturday night, an estimated 800 pro indoor football fans at Tingley not only got to see almost a full half of rock-em, sock-em football, but also some fisticuffs and grappling during the home debut of the Duke City Gladiators of the Champions Indoor Football league.
With the Gladiators holding a 27-13 lead against All-Stars Mexico in their exhibition game, a chippy game became chippier when the opposing sides got into a rumble that resulted in one Gladiator being ejected and three of the All-Stars, all of whom were semi-pros.
All-Stars assistant coach Fernando Angeles described scenario this way:
“The Gladiators were holding a lot, so we told the referee to just check it because otherwise somebody’s going to start a fight. Guys were getting their hands on the jerseys and holding on.”
Next thing you know, Francisco Mendez, a rookie offensive tackle for Duke City, and Mexico’s Felipe Barajas and went at each other after the whistle.
“Francisco wasn’t wrong until he lost his composure,” Gladiators coach Dominic Bramante said of Mendez’s blocking technique. “It’s when he started throwing haymakers that we knew we were in trouble.”
Mendez and Barajas were ejected, as well as two other All-Stars who entered the melee off the bench.
Even after the situation defused somewhat, the embers of anger were still burning for the Mexico head coach.
Said Bramante: “The Mexican coach lost his composure and was still arguing with the referee (veteran high-level college official Land Clark) that he can’t play defense minus three guys thrown out and they only have one.
“The ref said ‘It was because your guys escalated the fight’ and he then asked the coach to leave the field. He refused. Land asked him two more times. Again, the didn’t leave. Then Land said, ‘That’s it. We’re done.'”
Gladiators GM/co-owner Matt Caward pleaded with Clark to return, but no dice.
“I called the head official over the league’s officials and told him the situation, and he was very understanding,” Caward said. “But the person in charge here was unwilling to come back on the field.
“I question his reasoning for leaving the field. I think it was a misunderstanding. They were arguing back and forth through an interpreter and (Clark) decided he’d had enough and took his officials and left.
“He’s an accomplished official, there’s no doubt about that, but I question his decision particularly in light of what’s going on here with this being our first home game in front of our fans.”
Caward said he hopes the fans understand.
“We just hope people didn’t become soured because of what happened tonight because of the decision of one person,” he said. “We’re going to do something special for the fans. We just don’t know what it is.”
Before things got out of hand, the Gladiators had scored two TDs within 30 seconds late in the first half to break a 13-13 tie. QB Kasey Peters had three touchdown throws on the night.
One fan who had mixed emotions about the evening was Albuquerque native Dee Lucero.
“I was sad to see that Mexico forfeited. I mean, come on, give me a break. That’s ridiculous,” she said. “I’m a big sports fan, I love football, I love soccer, but I don’t like bad sportsmanship.”
But that won’t keep her from coming back.
“Oh, absolutely not,” she said. “I think we need to support them here in Albuquerque.”
And speaking of support, on hand early Saturday was 3-year-old Max Rohde, who attended the game with his uncle Todd Rohde. They were among the first fans through the gates.
Ninety minutes before kickoff, Max already was wearing a Gladiators T-shirt, holding a foam sword, eating cotton candy and drinking a soda.
“We we saw they were playing this game he was all excited,” Todd said of Max. “So I though I’d bring him here to check it out. It’s nice we have something here in Albuquerque.”