Saturday Night, thanks to the sweet hookup of FrankD over at Pensburgh , I caught my first arena football game. The Philadelphia Soul vs the Cleveland Gladiators. Before I get into everything that happened, I wanna say that I had a blast. It was a great game that came down to final play and the people who run the Soul really do put on a great show around the game. The Soul won 62-61 to remain the top team in the AFL.
Unforunately for Frank and I we didn't realize that the same night as the Soul game in the Spectrum was Rush live at the Wachovia center and Jimmy Buffet live at Citizens Bank Park . We hit up Chickie and Petes before the game and ended up having a quite a time trying to make our way through the parrotheads to get the game...
When we did get to our seats we realized they were front row in the end zone. Nice.. The game started with introductions that would put the WWE to shame. There were crazy lights, fireworks, & blaring music as all the Soul players were given rockstar like intros. They make such a spectacle of it, it's hard not to get sucked up into the whole atmosphere. Speaking of atmosphere... I have to mention the crowd. Despite the fact that there were two big concerts going on either side of the Soul game, they did sell out the spectrum and the crowd was into pretty much every second of the game. There were lots and lots of Soul jerseys(most with the name "Bon Jovi" on the back ), kids with faces painted the Soul colors, people with blue hair... These were typical philly fans that really were into this team. The person in the building probably most emotional about the team was owner Ron Jaworski, who sits in the front row around the 35 yard line and spends a good portion of the game berating whatever ref is closest to him. I thought it was great!
The game itself was, as you'd expect, filled with scoring. In fact, the Soul scored on 2 of the first 3 plays they ran. It's interesting the kind of tension that amount scoring builds. Traditionally, in NFL or most other sports the "payoff" you get is when the team scores. In arena football, scoring is almost inevitable. When a team gets the ball, most likely they'll score... So, like in the NBA, a defensive stop is really exciting. When the defense makes a play that seemed to be the real payoff.
Speaking of defense... that leads me to how I nearly blew the game(but not really). With less than a minute remaining the Soul scored to take the lead 62-55. That left about 30 seconds(plenty of time) for Cleveland to drive down the field. The Cleveland QB threw a pass that tipped off his WRs hands bounced off a few fans, and ended up in... my hands.
Now, the ball was clearly out of play to me... but apparently the Soul defensive back on the play didn't agree. He felt he had a chance to intercept the pass and came up to me and started yelling "We needed that! We needed that!" At first, I thought he was congratulating me and awkwardly put up my hand to high five him before I realized that was the last thing he wanted to do to me... So on the next play Cleveland scores and I got the feeling a couple Soul players and some fans were looking at me like I was some sort of Steve Bartman ! To make matters worse, Cleveland decided they weren't going to kick the extra point for the tie... they decided to go for 2 and win the game. Lucky for me, the very DB who thought I robbed him of a pick on the TD made the play of the game and intercepted the two point conversion tie effectively sealing the game for the Soul.
I have to give props to Soul QB Matt D'Orazio who had a great game. WR Chris "Money" Jackson who made at least two circus TD catches in the game. One where he laid out in the end zone and made a diving fingertip grab and another where he caught a pass in the end zone and was knocked over the boards and onto the concrete of the spectrum floor! There was the Donte Stallworth lookalike and speedster Brent Holmes who had a great game and of course my pal DB Eddie Moten who made the game winning INT.
All in all I had a great time and I highly recommend seeing the Soul play live. Like hockey, I think the live atmosphere of the AFL far exceeds the experience of watching it on TV. The Soul have their final game of the year coming up next weekend and then it's onto playoffs where they should have home field throughout. I'll definitely be rooting them on!