It's been interesting to read fan reactions to the Arena Football League's ArenaBowl XXV in New Orleans on Aug. 10. There seem to be a lot more negative reactions than positive ones to the game between the Arizona Rattlers and the Philadelphia Soul.
I attended the game in person--my first live ArenaBowl experience--and I thoroughly enjoyed the entire trip, including the game itself. In no particular order, here are some of my impressions of ArenaBowl XXV.
One major complaint I read is the 10:30 p.m. ET kickoff time. If I had watched the game at home in central Indiana, it would have concluded after 1 a.m. for me. As it was, it was after midnight local time when the game ended, and I was there well after 1 a.m. local time by the time I experienced everything that I wanted to experience.
Yes, it was late, and yes, I saw more than one absolutely wiped out little kid leaving the arena after the game. But the fact remains that the Arena Football League did not change the game time from its original 8 p.m. ET spot--the NFL Network did that because Tim Tebow and the New York Jets in preseason action would bring them far better ratings.
It's hard to fault the NFL Network. After all, they bumped the AFL for their own league--their own product. Very understandable. And arena football wasn't exactly a very pleasant guest in the NFL Network's home this year with a crackpot season opener in Orlando and a forfeit in Cleveland.
Fans who are angry with the league about the kickoff time are barking up the wrong tree.
Besides, I bet Rattlers fans back in Phoenix--and everyone else in the western half of the country--didn't mind the "late" kickoff.
The league announced attendance for ArenaBowl XXV as 13,648. I'd be really hard-pressed to believe that there were 13,648 people in the New Orleans Arena. I don't know how attendance is calculated--maybe it's by tickets sold--but if I had to ballpark the actual number of people who were there, my guess would be closer to the 6,000 range.
Why was it low? Shoot, if I knew the answer to that question, I'd be burning up the phone lines with the commissioner so we could all get to work on fixing that issue.
Perhaps the later kickoff had something to do with it, but that can't be the entire factor.
Some will make the neutral site argument for why attendance was low, but I'm not sure that I buy that position. I rambled on for an eternity in another piece about why I like the neutral site. There were plenty of fans there representing all sorts of teams, including both the Rattlers and the Philadelphia Soul, and there were a lot of New Orleans VooDoo fans there, too.
Would attendance have been higher if the game was played in Philly? Maybe, but that 10:30 p.m. kickoff time would have been a tough sell to the locals, I would imagine.
My best guess as to the lousy attendance was a combination of the kickoff time and all the labor issues that have plagued the league all year.
Fans could very well be sick of all the disruption and chose to stay home, instead. It's hard to ask fans to invest money in coming to the game when they can't be assured that one team won't forfeit at the last second or that we won't be watching a game played by a bunch of replacement players.
The Rattlers beat the Soul by a score of 72-54, but I've read countless comments and articles about how boring the game was to watch because it was a blowout. Somewhere along the way, I even read someone's analysis that the game was over after Philadelphia's first possession--one that ended with Rattlers LB Kevin McCullough intercepting a pass at the end of a multi-player tip drill.
I must disagree with those analyses. The Soul absolutely were not dead in the water after McCullough's interception. That happened with 11:59 left in the first quarter.
Even though Rattlers DB Arkeith Brown made Dan Raudabaugh's first half a living nightmare, intercepting him twice and nearly a third time, the Soul's defense hung tough, forcing the last two Arizona drives to end in field goals. Philly went into halftime down only 14 points, which is nothing in arena football--especially with an offense as lethal as the Soul's.
I distinctly remember looking at the clock in the fourth quarter after a Soul touchdown and thinking to myself that a 60-42 lead for Arizona with over 11 minutes left in the game is anything but safe. This is arena football we're talking about here!
Sure, the outcome of the game didn't come down to the final play, but that's what makes ArenaBowl XXIV so special--it wasn't a typical finish. ArenaBowl XXV had plenty of action in its own right, and as a neutral fan with nothing invested in either team, I found it to be a thoroughly entertaining game.
Any suggestion that Philadelphia came into the game overconfident--which is a common theme--is farfetched. The fans? Maybe. The players? No. Throughout warmups, the Soul were loose and in good spirits but not overconfident by any stretch of the imagination. I heard Raudabaugh barking at his receivers to fine-tune routes, and I heard defenders talking to each other about how best to defend the Rattlers in certain situations. They weren't out there goofing off.
If anything, Arizona looked a little uptight during warmups.
It was easy to pick Philly as the overwhelming favorite to win, but in reality, they spent most of the season obliterating subpar American Conference teams. Meanwhile, Arizona spent most of the year navigating teams like San Antonio (twice), Utah (three times), San Jose (three times), Spokane (twice), and Chicago (once). It was no huge step up for the Rattlers to face a team of the Soul's quality, while for the Soul, the quality of this Arizona squad was out of the ordinary. Advantage: Rattlers.
What may have also been overlooked is that Arizona has been here before. Just last year, in fact. And this Rattlers team looks very much like last year's Rattlers team. Experience in the title game was a monstrous advantage for Arizona.
Arizona is a very good team, and they played a very clean, efficient game. No sacks, no turnovers, no drives--save the clock-killing final drive of the game--ending without points of some sort.
Philadelphia, which entered the game with a gaudy +23 turnover margin in the regular season and a +6 margin in two playoff games, were beaten at their own game on Friday night. Their minus-3 turnover margin in this game was simply too much to overcome. Turn those three picks into three touchdowns, and Philly walks away with a 75-72 win.
We Got This
A very unfortunate catchphrase for the Soul, given the outcome of ArenaBowl XXV. Opposing fans are having a field day with it, as you might imagine.
In case you're curious, the players did not come up with that saying, and while I didn't speak with the entire roster, I talked to several guys who said they hate it and have hated it all season long. Given the blowback that they're going to take now because of it, I don't blame them a bit.
I was quite impressed with how both teams carried themselves before, during, and after the game. There was no chippy-ness between them, there were no flagrant penalties, there was no jaw-jacking, there was no juvenile nonsense like running through the other team's warmups. There were certainly celebrations after touchdowns--Soul FB Derrick Ross' "lawnmower" routine cracked me up--but they were done well away from the opposing team and could in no way be construed as taunting.
All in all, I thought both the Soul and the Rattlers carried themselves very professionally, and I applaud both organizations for that.
To top it all off, I had the double fortune of being on a plane from New Orleans to Dallas-Fort Worth with the Soul and of being seated right in the middle of the team. I chatted with a few of the players, and I listened to quite a few of their conversations.
There was no whining about how the referees rooked them out of a win, about how the Rattlers cheated somehow, about how anyone blew their assignment and cost them the game, or any of that. No excuses.
"We just didn't get it done this time," was the general consensus. "Arizona was a really good team," was also commonly stated.
Classy. And I liked it.
The author is a Featured Contributor in Sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network and holds media credentials with the Chicago Rush and the Arena Football League. You can follow him on Twitter at @RedZoneWriting and on Facebook.