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ArenaFan Travelogue: Cleveland Gladiators
posted on ArenaFan.com, Monday, July 19, 2010
Last year, when the Arena Football League was
absent from the sports landscape, I used the opportunity to take in some
arenafootball2 games with my sons. We traveled to Wisconsin from Michigan to see
the Milwaukee Iron play twice and we even made a trip to Oklahoma to see the
Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz play a game. This year, the AFL is back and the
Cleveland Gladiators were on my radar as a team to see in person.
When I looked at the 2010 AFL schedule and saw that Oklahoma City was going to
be in Cleveland on Saturday night, July 17, I decided to make my first trip to
Quicken Loans Arena for the game.
It didn’t hurt that former Grand Rapids Rampage head coach Steve Thonn was now
in charge of the Gladiators. Thonn led the Rampage in 2008 and took the team to
within one win of advancing to ArenaBowl XXII.
My son, Aaron, and I left Kalamazoo for the four and a half hour drive to
Cleveland that morning with more than just a football game in mind. We also
wanted to take in another Cleveland attraction, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
We parked about a block away and walked to the Hall, admiring the unique glass
pyramid structure located right on the shore of Lake Erie.
As we entered the Hall, a young woman was taking everyone’s picture in front of
a green screen as they waited in line to buy tickets. She then gave us a card
with a number on it to identify our picture later. After purchasing out tickets
we took the escalator to the lower level and began the tour. There were a ton of
displays and interactive exhibits. Being a huge Beatles fan I was most
interested in anything having to do with The Fab Four. Guitars used by George
Harrison and John Lennon in the early days were there on display as well as a
Grammy that Paul McCartney received for the song “Band on the Run” with his
post-Beatles band, Wings.
There are actually six levels of the Hall containing exhibits. The lower level
is the largest since the Hall is contained within a pyramid shape. The fifth and
sixth levels at the top are where featured exhibits are contained. Currently, a
Bruce Springsteen exhibition is on those two levels.
Instead of having a bust of those enshrined there, like they have at the Pro
Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame features
several signature walls where their names are forever preserved in the artist’s
As we left the Hall we stopped at the photo counter to look at the picture that
was taken of us when we first arrived. There were actually three pictures with
different background scenes added to our picture. One showed us standing in
front of the Hall with the familiar glass pyramid behind us. A second had us on
a rock stage and the third had us in front of the Hall once again, but this time
at night. I bought one for each of us to commemorate our visit.
From there we headed a few miles down 9th Street to Quicken Loans Arena to get
ready to attend the game. Across Huron Street from the Arena is the Gladiators
office’s and team shop. We stopped in and Aaron found a T-Shirt that he liked,
so we bought it. As we walked down the block we ran into former Rampage intern
Alex Meachum sitting at an outdoor table of a restaurant. She was also in town
for the Gladiators game that night. What a nice surprise that was.
Gladiators Director of Communications Phil Tesar had arranged press passes for
me and Aaron, so we headed to the media entrance. As we crossed Huron Street we
were met by a horde of people leaving the Cleveland Indians baseball game at
Progressive Field, which is located on the other side of the Quicken Loans
Arena. The Indians were playing a double-header that day against the Detroit
Tigers and Cleveland had just won the first game, 4-3.
While the teams were warming up, I went down to the field and talked to Yard
Dawgz head coach Sparky McEwen. He is also a former Rampage head coach
(2005-2007) who I have known for many years of covering Grand Rapids for
ArenaFan. Since he has coached Oklahoma City the past few years in the af2, I
asked him how things had changed now that the team is a member of the AFL.
“The biggest difference in the league is the talent level,” McEwen said. “The
game itself obviously is the same, but when you are watching film and preparing
for the next week, the talent level has gotten back to where it was with the
I also talked to Coach Thonn and asked him whether he thought an Arena Football
team will ever return to Grand Rapids. “I hope they do (put a team back in Grand
Rapids),” he said. “Obviously, I liked my time up there. I know the fans would
love to have a team back because they had a team for so long (11 seasons). The
year I was there we got hot there at the end and it got the city all excited.
It’s kind of a shame that it just ended on them , so I hope they get (a team)
Up until the spring of 2009, Steve Thonn was still employed by the Rampage and
planning for the team and the league to return to the field. He spent his time
scouting players in the af2. But in June the league officially filed for
bankruptcy. Thonn then began looking into coaching opportunities in the af2 but
when the AFL finally reemerged again late last year, he was hired
Both teams were fighting for playoff spots when they met last night. Cleveland
was 6-8 and Oklahoma City was 6-7.
The Yard Dawgz jumped out to an early 13-0 lead in the game, but Cleveland
finally scored when former Rampage wide receiver Jermaine Lewis caught a
four-yard touchdown pass from quarterback John Dutton with 5:29 left in the
On the first play of the second quarter, Oklahoma City kicker Michael Salerno
missed a 32-yard field goal. The live ball was picked up by Gladiator wide
receiver Brent Holmes and returned 55 yards for a touchdown. The extra point
game Cleveland a 14-13 lead. The Gladiators led 21-19 at halftime.
Cleveland extended its lead to 28-19 in the third quarter when Jermaine Lewis
caught his second touchdown pass of the game, this time for 30 yards.
Later in the third, Yard Dawgz quarterback Tommy Grady was injured and replaced
by backup QB/WR Xavier Lee. Lee led the team down the field and scored himself
on a 31-yard scramble that saw him literally run over at least three defenders
on his way to the end zone. A two-point conversion made the score 28-27 in favor
In the fourth quarter, another former Rampage player, WR/KR Timon Marshall
caught an eight-yard touchdown pass that gave the Yard Dawgz a 39-38 lead, but
with under a minute to play in the game Cleveland wide receiver Victor Williams
hauled in a 45-yard pass for a score giving Cleveland the lead once again 44-39.
It all came down to the final play of the game for Oklahoma City. With 5 seconds
left on the clock, Lee threw a pass into the end zone. It was tipped in the air
twice by Cleveland defenders but it was still almost caught Timon Marshall.
However, the ball hit the ground and the game was over. Cleveland had secured a
44-39 victory in front of a crowd of 7,682 enthusiastic fans. It’s great having
AFL games broadcast every Friday night on the NFL Network this season, but
nothing beats going to a game in person.
We drove back to Michigan after the game and listened to the second
Indians-Tigers game on the radio. There had been a rain delay of almost 2 hours
and the game was in extra innings tied 1-1. The Indians eventually won the game
2-1 in the 11th inning.
We arrived home at about 3:15 AM. It was a long day but Aaron and I had a good
time seeing the sights of Cleveland as well as the football game. However, as
soon as I finish writing this article, I am going back to bed!
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