Nothing was sweeter for Tony Levine than his first touchdown catch as a Minnesota Fighting Pike, the new arena football team. After five years with the Gophers he finally did something he had wanted to do for a long time.
He had a little end-zone celebration.
"By far the best experience was being able to spike the ball without getting a penalty," he said.
Levine had just connected on a 17-yard touchdown pass from former Gopher Rickey Foggie in the season opener two weeks ago against the Texas Terror. Immediately after the catch, a Terror defender slammed him into the sideboards. So in retaliation, or just for fun, Levine did what any other arena football player would have done.
"I just turned around and spiked it at his feet," he said. "No penalty, and the crowd booed me. It was great."
Levine has been enjoying his short time with the Pike, who play their second home game of the season tonight at Target Center against the St. Louis Stampede. Levine plans to graduate from the University on June 3 with a kinesiology degree, but said he's not ready for a suit-and-tie job just yet. And what better way to put that off than sign a contract with an arena football team?
"I just wanted to have some fun and travel," Levine said. "I didn't want to worry about sending out the resumes and working a 9-to-5 job."
But playing professional football doesn't fulfill a lifelong dream for Levine. He said he did that with the Gophers.
In fact, when Levine was asked to play for the Pike he wasn't sure whether he wanted to. His mind was on graduation, and if there was a conflict between that and football he would drop the sport in a second.
Fortunately that didn't happen. The St. Paul native is balancing his time with school and the Pike. It has worked out great, he said, and he sees himself playing arena football for a few more years.
That is, unless he gets slammed into the boards a few too many times, or can't handle playing defense, something he hasn't done since he was a junior at Highland Park High School.
In arena football most players are required to play both offense and defense. In Levine's case, he's wide receiver and linebacker.
That became quite an adjustment for Levine. Defense isn't exactly his forte. He spent his entire Gophers career at wide receiver. During his senior season, he caught 38 passes for 396 yards with one touchdown.
"It's an adventure, put it that way," Levine said of his linebacker duties. "Defense is really not my thing. I stand back there and try to fake it the best I can and hope the ball carrier doesn't come around my area."
Pike coach Ray Jauch said Levine has handled his responsibilities at linebacker just fine. But Levine brings much more to the team than just defense.
"I think it's great to have local players on our team," Jauch said. "Nowadays fans can't identify with a team because they don't know the players. We want to make this a team for the fans. And having players from Minnesota helps us do that. It helps give us stability."
Sure enough, when Levine was introduced Saturday at the home opener at Target Center, he received some of the loudest cheers. Foggie and former Gopher lineman Mike Sunvold also received lots of applause.
"I'm just trying to have fun," Levine said. "The guys are out there talking the whole game. They still talk about you, your family and how you can't play. But it's all fun."