NEW ORLEANS — On a day when some of his NFL counterparts were signing deals worth millions, Zack Eskridge was smiling about making $850 a game.
“Hey, last year it was $400, before taxes,” Eskridge, the VooDoo’s backup quarterback, said during the local Arena Football League team’s media day at Tad Gormley Stadium. “Of course, we’re responsible for our own housing this year.”
Such is life in the AFL, where a player’s airfare and hotel to road games usually is more than his salary, even after this season’s leaguewide pay raise.
“Not many of us are in this for the money,” Eskridge said. “We’re playing the game we love for as long as we can.”
Not that Eskridge and his teammates wouldn’t love to be able to make the move from playing in the New Orleans Arena to next door in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, which, actually, they will be doing for six games this season because of renovations to the arena.
“You never really give up the dream,” said Eskridge, who spent time in the Dallas Cowboys training camp in 2011. “Any time somebody goes to an NFL or even a CFL camp, the league will congratulate us. It’s motivates us all.”
That, second-year VooDoo Coach Pat O’Hara said, is precisely the attitude he’s looking for, even if few AFLers even get the chance to be a camp bodies.
“I want guys who are doing everything they can go get to the next level,” he said “Sometimes you get veteran guys who know that this is the best they’re going to do, but that can work both ways.
“The best formula I know for winning in this league is to have young guys who are still hungry.”
That includes players like ex-LSU defensive lineman Marlon Favorite, who has spent time with eight NFL teams and received a Super Bowl ring as a member of the Saints’ practice squad in 2009. Favorite prepped at Archbishop Shaw, making him a local product which many AFL teams crave both for fan appeal and because they tend to have less financial issues than their teammates from out of town.
“Some teams stress that more than others,” O’Hara said. “It’s part of our focus here because there’s such a strong sense of community in New Orleans, and that makes people want to come out to support them.”
Obviously, few of the players make it for the year on $850 a game, which is the strictly monitored rate for all players regardless of position or experience.
Most have offseason jobs, coaching in high schools and the like. Some have part-time gigs during the season, although O’Hara said team requirements — six hours of meetings and practice during the week and coast-to-coast travel to away games — usually put a quick end to such ideas.
“I try to be smart and save my money,” said Eskridge, who moonlights by giving quarterback instruction in the Dallas-Fort Worth area when he’s not VooDooing. “But a lot of guys have wives and kids to support.”
Anything to keep the dream alive.