While the city of Philadelphia prepares for Week 3 of the NFL preseason, the game each summer most traditionally resembling actual football, there is another football game to keep an eye on this weekend; one that doesn’t resemble actual football much at all. On purpose.
Twenty-four hours before the Eagles travel to face Indianapolis on Saturday night at 7 p.m. in the penultimate preseason contest, the Philadelphia Soul — the self-purported “winningest team in Philadelphia” — is back in the ArenaBowl.
For the sports diehards in town, this game should be more important than an August scrimmage against the Colts. This Friday in Arizona, there’s a trophy on the line. And in Philly, we don’t get too many opportunities to win trophies.
The Soul have had a wonderful season, and are back in the ArenaBowl for the third time in five years. Like the title games in 2012 and 2013, the Soul face the Arizona Rattlers, who felled Philly in both of those contests.
The Soul are winless in their last two trips to the AFL title game, but they do have one title in the team’s history back in 2008. The Soul’s 2008 title was a watershed moment for the team — they technically “broke” the curse before the Phillies did that season — but that came just before the entire league shuttered, missing the season in 2009 and reshuffling under new leadership a year later.
Since the league rebooted, the Soul haven’t won a title, but they get their third chance to do so this Friday night. The only problem: The Soul are a huge underdogs. From ArenaFootball.com:
Soul head coach Clint Dolezel certainly knows the issues at hand and accepts the fact that his team is going to be the underdog headed into enemy territory next Friday night.
“They should be favored,” Dolezel said. “They’re playing at a super high level. They’ve put up an average of 83 points the last two playoff games, so why wouldn’t they be favored?”
The similarities are obvious. Both Philly and Arizona finished the season 13-3, tops in their respective four-team conferences. Arizona landed four players on the AFL first team All-Arena Offense, while Philly had two on the first team and four on the second. On defense, Philly nabbed three first-team spots and another two on the second team, while Arizona got two players on the first team and one on the second.
The Soul’s Jake Metz was named Defensive Lineman of the Year and the Rattlers’ Jordan Mudge was named Offensive Lineman of the Year. Philly’s Tracy Belton was named Defensive Back of the Year, which means an Arizona player will probably win the receiver award, while Tommy Frevert of the Soul was the league’s best kicker for the second straight year, which means Arizona will surely land the punting award this yea— what’s that…there’s no punting in Aren— Point is: the two best teams in AFL are clearly and unequivocally Philadelphia and Arizona, which should make for a great championship game.
And yet, the Rattlers are expected to win. Big.
Arizona won its two playoff games by an average of more than 42 points. The Rattlers haven’t lost since May, and have scored 62 or more points in each of their nine-straight wins, including 80-plus three times. The Soul have only beaten the Rattlers once in their history, a 65-58 victory on Week 7 in Philly this season, but the ArenaBowl is in Glendale, Arizona, ostensibly a home game for Arizona to win a championship.
The Soul are certainly not backing down from the challenge. Quarterback Dan Raudabaugh said in an interview last week, “we’re going to come down there and take the fight to them. We know you’ve gotta play a big game against a big opponent like that. There’s going to be blows back and forth, and you’ve gotta hit the gorilla in the mouth, and you’ve got to be ready to fight back once he answers.”
No, Dan. No. You don’t “gotta hit the gorilla” anywhere, especially not in the mouth. That’s a terrible idea. Even a cursory Google search for “hitting a gorilla in the mouth” produces terrible returns.
And yet, when facing a team that attacks as much as Arizona, maybe trying to punch them in the mouth is the only way Raudabaugh and the Soul can win.
“It’s an opportunity to win the world championship,” Raudabaugh told AFL’s Adam Markowitz, “and we put ourselves in a position to accomplish our goals.”
ArenaBowl XXIX kicks off Friday, August 26 at 7 p.m. on ESPN.