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West Valley City • When Russell Wilson threw a goal-line interception to end Super Bowl XLIX, fans couldn't believe the Seahawks didn't hand off the ball. As the Atlanta Falcons' lead in the big game slipped away this month, they grumbled about offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's refusal to run the ball. And whenever his beloved Dallas Cowboys made a decision he didn't agree with, Sohrob Farudi found himself screaming at his television set.
That gave the software developer and entrepreneur an idea.
Why not let the fans decide?
On Thursday at the Maverik Center, Farudi and his team will put that idea to the test when the Salt Lake Screaming Eagles, the newest franchise in the Indoor Football League, lines up under center for the first time and waits for the fans in the seats to vote on the play call.
"There's no other team in the world thats doing this," Farudi says.
The enterprise is banking that a generation of digital natives who have never known life before cell phones are ready to redefine the way sports are not just consumed but how they are produced.
From the outset, Farudi's FANchise operation has looked to regular Joes to shape nearly every aspect of the football team.
"If you look at how sports are going right now, people care more about their fantasy team than they do about their favorite team," said Screaming Eagles president Thom Carter. "You can get a scholarship to the University of Michigan to play video games. There's a whole generation of people who were raised playing Madden football that could show you an out-route and talk about a cover-2 defense and have never played football."
Fans voted for the team to set up shop in Salt Lake City. They flirted with goofy names the Stormin' Mormons and Teamy McTeamFace before voting to be called the Screaming Eagles. Some 37,000 voters selected the team's head coach. Some fans are even paying to do work for the team. There are about 200 people in their "digital front office," who are being groomed as online scouts, coaches and general managers.
Former Chicago Bears defensive back Ray Austin, who had been developing his own play calling app when he was introduced to Farudi a few years ago, helped design the team's playbook.
On game days, fans will be allowed to pick from about a half dozen play calls based on down and distances. With a 25-second play clock, fans are given 15 seconds to vote on the call. That leaves coach William McCarthey 10 seconds to relay it to his team on the field.
"It's a learning curve," McCarthy said. "We've got a lot of moving parts and we're just trying to figure out how things go."
For some players, the idea of leaving their fate in the hands of a few thousand fans was unsettling, if only at first.
"In the beginning it bothered me a little bit," said former Utah lineman Junior Salt.
But former BYU tight end Devin Mahina didn't see how it would be much different than any other team he'd played for in his career.
"As a player, you do what you're told anyway. I just want to play football. I want catch a ball. Just give me a helmet and shoulder pads and I'll be OK," he said. Then he added, "The fans better do their homework."
At the team's first practice earlier this month, Austin huddled the players around, trying to quell doubts about the legitimacy of a team based upon such an unusual gimmick.
"I don't want the guys to get all wrapped up in the technology and the fan engagement," he said. "This is football and football is never going to change."
Plenty around the game, he hopes, will be changing, though.
Austin played three years in the NFL before spending a season with the Chicago Enforcers of the XFL. The former defensive back sees former XFL running back Rod Smart's infamous "He Hate Me" jersey as a symbol of what a well-placed gimmick can do.
"Everybody then thought he was stupid," Austin said, "but everyone remembers him now."
That seems to be working for the Screaming Eagles so far. The arena football team has garnered national media attention. Its first game will be streamed on SI.com.
It's enough exposure to even ease the mind of a quarterback who isn't allowed to call an audible at the line of scrimmage.
"Of course you're going to have some naysayers and people who want to see it fail," quarterback Verlon Reed said. "But it's still publicity. You're going to get your name out there. They're going to watch to see if it works or not."
Farudi and company hope to take their fan-centric model to an arena football team they own in Colorado by midseason before implementing it league wide next year.
And as they prepare for their season debut in Utah, they believe their fantasy can become reality despite some early challenges.
The Utah Blaze built up some fan interest, but the defunct Arena Football League also left a bad taste in the mouth of sponsors who felt shortchanged when the team folded. Farudi said the Screaming Eagles have garnered about a quarter of the sponsorship dollars they'd hoped to receive.
"But we're committed," said Farudi, pointing to the $100,000 worth of wifi technology the group donated to the Maverick Center, where they have a five-year lease. "This is not a one-and-done situation. … We're committed. We're here to prove this is the future of sports."
Salt Lake Screaming Eagles vs. Nebraska Danger
What • Utah's newest arena football team debuts its fan-run model as it opens the Indoor Football League Season.
When • Kickoff is Thursday at 7 p.m.
Where • Maverik Center
Watch • The game will be streamed at SI.com.