Cobras, Arena Football Make L.A. Debut Tonight

Times Staff Writer

Arena Football will make its Los Angeles debut tonight when the Cobras play host to the New York Knights at 7:30 at the Sports Arena.

ESPN will televise the game, although it will be blacked out within 35-mile radius of the Sports Arena.

Cobra Coach Ray Willsey, who previously was the Raiders' special teams coach, has put together a speedy team featuring former Raider receiver Cliff Branch.

"It is nice to have this new challenge," said Branch, 39, a 15-year National Football League veteran who spent his last season (1986) on the Raiders' injured reserve list.

Branch is not the only local athlete on the Cobra roster. Matt Stevens, formerly of UCLA, is the starting quarterback.

Stevens, who played for the Kansas City Chiefs during last season's National Football League strike, will have other receivers to throw to besides Branch, among them Wade Lockett and Gary Mullen.

Mullen was picked up by the Cobras from last season's Arena Bowl champion Denver Dynamite, which subsequently folded. Mullen, an All-Arena Football first-team receiver, joins five other former Dynamite players who made the Cobra roster.

Some Arena football facts and figures:

--Six teams: Cobras, New York Knights, Pittsburgh Gladiators, New England Steamrollers, Detroit Drive and Chicago Bruisers.

--Regular season, 12 weeks leading to playoffs that conclude with the Arena Bowl, July 30.

--Played indoors on a synthetic surface, 50 yards by 85 feet.

--Has padded barriers surrounding the field.

--Has end zone nets that allow the football to be played live inbounds on every play.

--Has narrowed goal posts.

--Single-platoon football, quarterbacks and kickers excepted, with eight players on each team.

--Each team has 18 players with a 3-man taxi squad.

--There is no punting, but drop kicks are allowed.

--Man-to-man pass defense only.

--Game clock does not stop between plays, except for the last minute of the second and fourth quarters.

Cobra Notes

In an exhibition game at Daytona Beach, Fla., April 16, the Cobras lost to the New England Steamrollers, 58-51. Quarterback Matt Stevens completed 12 of 15 passes for 174 yards and 4 touchdowns. Receiver Wade Lockett caught 8 passes for 103 yards and 2 touchdowns. Cliff Branch played briefly, catching 2 passes for 17 yards.

The Knights won their exhibition game, defeating the Pittsburgh Gladiators, 21-14. The Knights' quarterbacks, Stan Yagiello and James Crocicchia, combined for 152 yards passing and 3 touchdowns. . . .

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