The United Football League has no dress rehearsals. Every game matters, and the importance of each one is magnified by the teams playing only eight-game schedules.
The Locomotives tonight take the first step in their title defense, hosting the Florida Tuskers at 8 at Sam Boyd Stadium in the season opener for both teams.
The importance of a fast start is not lost on Las Vegas.
“It’s really like a playoff game,” running back Marcel Shipp said. “You can’t afford to fall behind in this league because there’s so few games.
“In the NFL, you can overcome a slow start. Not in the UFL.”
Tonight’s game is a rematch of last year’s inaugural UFL championship game, which Las Vegas won 20-17 in overtime. But both teams have made many changes, so what happened last year doesn’t matter.
“We’re starting a new quarterback (Tim Rattay),” Locos coach Jim Fassel said. “We’ve got new faces on both lines and in the secondary. I’ll be very interested to see how they do.
“I like this group. We brought in guys who are passionate and excited about what they do.”
The Tuskers, who went 6-0 in the 2009 regular season, return league Most Valuable Player Brooks Bollinger at quarterback. But they made wholesale changes since November, including bringing in a new coach. Jay Gruden replaced Jim Haslett, and Gruden said his focus is on the present.
“Revenge is only if we can take the rings off their fingers,” Gruden said. “But we can’t do that. Last year is last year. Hopefully we learned from it.”
Bollinger, who led the UFL in passing last year, said nothing has changed in the way the Tuskers want to play, as well as the high standard the organization set for itself last year.
“It’s taken a little time for the new guys to adjust to what we do, but our core guys from last year understand how we do things, and they’ve passed it on to the new guys,” Bollinger said.
Fassel said he believes his team is ready to play, too.
“I feel good about this team,” he said. “I thought we had an outstanding camp. Guys were paying attention, and they worked hard. We had a lot of competition at a lot of positions, and competition makes everybody better.
“I know we’re better than last year, and I’m sure Florida thinks they’re better. We’re excited to get started.”
“I was jealous last week when I watched the NFL open the season,” Shipp said. “Now, it’s our turn. I’m ready to rock and roll.”
■ NOTES — The Locos listed 15 players as probable and guard Frank Davis (elbow) as questionable on the UFL injury report. Florida had 10 players listed as probable and wide receiver Chris Gessner (thigh strain) as doubtful. … The Locos will unveil their championship banner before the game. … Former Cheyenne High School linebacker Ed Hartwell will start at middle linebacker for Las Vegas. … Rock band Sugar Ray will perform at halftime.
Contact sports reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 702-387-2913.FLORIDA VS. LAS VEGAS
WHEN: 8 p.m. today
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium
TV/RADIO: HDNet; KBAD-AM (920)
LINE: Locomotives -2; total 42