It’s no tired cliche when Ryan Vena says he plays football for the love of it, not the money. He proves it every day.
Vena is a professional quarterback, and he’s putting up passing numbers that Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning won’t touch this season. But you’ve probably never heard of him until now.
He stars in the obscurity of arena football2, where each player makes only $200 per game.
“There are several hundred guys in this league, and I don’t think one of them would tell you they play for the money,” Vena said. “I never really got any type of look from the NFL. But I’ve felt blessed to play professional football at this level. I’ve loved it.
“I can be a kid. I can be myself. To play football is the greatest thing in the world. You get to go out and have fun.”
Vena leads the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers (16-3) against the Spokane Shock (18-1) in ArenaCup 10 at 7 p.m. today at the Orleans Arena.
He passed for eight touchdowns and ran for one last week in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s 72-67 victory over the Green Bay Blizzard in the American Conference Championship Game. The previous week, he threw 11 touchdown passes.
For fans who appreciate offense more than defense, the af2 is nonstop action, and no one in the league is doing it at a higher level than Vena. But he gets paid just like every other player.
There is an incentive to win in the af2 above pride. Players on the winning teams make a $50-per-game bonus.
“Everybody gets the same pay, and everybody has a side job in the offseason to compensate for that,” Vena said.
A former Colgate standout who earned a degree in sociology, Vena has two careers. He works as a medical supply salesman in the offseason. For a few years, he was a bartender at a hotel on a New Jersey beach.
In his six seasons in af2, the 6-foot, 220-pound Vena has piled up 23,816 yards passing and 479 touchdowns. He ranks second in league history in passing yards and first in rushing touchdowns.
Vena also played two years (2004 and 2005) in the Arena Football League, where he threw for 57 touchdowns in 14 games as a rookie.
But he’s still seeking his first championship, and after eight years in arena football, he’s unsure if he will continue playing. It definitely won’t be the money that brings him back.
“It’s kind of the Brett Favre syndrome. You always say you might retire, and then the season comes around and you want to play again,” Vena said. “I’m not sure. I’m always kind of up in the air. It could go either way for me.
“I love it more than anything. It has been a great ride for me.”
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at email@example.com or 702-387-2907.