to Articles Menu
Cleveland Rocks...The AFL
posted on ArenaFan.com, Tuesday, August 5, 2014
It seems that the city of Cleveland is all the
sports world is talking about lately. From the return of LeBron James to the NBA
Cleveland Cavaliers to the minute-by-minute coverage of everything that rookie
quarterback Johnny Manziel is doing at the Cleveland Browns NFL training camp.
But where is the national coverage of the most exciting sports story to come out
of The Forest City so far this year, the incredible season of the AFL Cleveland
All that the major sports media outlets can focus on right now is who will bring
a championship to Cleveland first, Manziel or James. The answer to that question
just might be none-of-the-above. Rather, it could be a former University of
Hawaii quarterback who has the Gladiators poised to host a conference
championship game this Sunday in his first season with the team.
It all began back in March when the Arena Football League kicked off its 27th
season. The Gladiators, who posted a disappointing record of just 4-14 last
season, went on a nine-game winning streak to begin the 18-game regular season.
During that stretch, a couple of games were won by Cleveland on the final play
of the game. The only blemish on their record this entire season is a 48-34 road
loss to the Pittsburgh Power on May 31. Cleveland finished the regular season
17-1, an AFL record.
Head coach Steve Thonn has led the Gladiators since 2010. The team won their
division in 2011 but lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Georgia
Force. Thonn also led the Grand Rapids Rampage to a conference title appearance
in 2008 before losing to the San Jose SaberCats.
But there is something very special about this 2014 Gladiators team. I have
travelled to Cleveland four times this season from my home in Michigan to see
them play in person, including Saturday nightís playoff game against the Soul,
and not once was I ever disappointed. They are a team that never gives up and
always believes that they can win every time they take the field.
Before 12,684 screaming fans at the Quicken Loans Arena Saturday night, the same
venue where LeBron James will lead the Cavs this coming NBA season, the
Gladiators hosted the Philadelphia Soul in the first round of the playoffs. The
game began in the worst possible way for Cleveland, with an interception on the
very first play from scrimmage. This led to an early 6-0 deficit. Philadelphia
took a 12-6 lead later in the first quarter, but the extra point was blocked by
Cleveland and returned by the Gladiators for two points of their own, making the
Cleveland led 15-12 at halftime in a game that that neither team seemed to want
to take control of. Both defenses were outstanding; knocking down passes,
covering receivers and keep the opposing offense from getting into a rhythm.
The game was tied 29-29 with one-minute remaining in the fourth quarter. (And
thatís when the nail-biting began) With 42 seconds left to play, Cleveland took
a 36-29 lead but Philly came right back to score its own TD on the ensuing
possession, and also made a daring two-point conversion for a 37-36 lead with
just 25 seconds remaining. But once again, the Gladiators did what they have
done so many times before this season. They won the game on the final play of
regulation, this time thanks on a clutch 36-yard field goal by Aaron Pettrey.
Cleveland quarterback Shane Austin completed 23 of 40 passed for 246 yards and
two touchdowns. He also ran four times for 26 yards and three more touchdowns.
However, he threw five interceptions in the game, which kept Philadelphia within
striking distance all game long.
So donít count this Gladiators team out of any game they play this season, as
long as there is time left on the clock for just one more play. So LeBron James
and Johnny Football may have to get in line behind Shane Austin in their
attempts to bring the NEXT sports title to Cleveland. Come on all you major
sports media outlets, give some love to the Gladiators, who are currently the
best team in Cleveland!
LAST MINUTE VICTORIES
Six times this season, the Gladiators have won games on the very last play.
Three of those wins came against Philadelphia. They beat the Soul twice in the
regular season and again last Saturday in the playoffs. The other last second
wins were against the Spokane Shock, the Los Angeles Kiss and (in overtime) the
San Antonio Talons.
PARKING AT THE GAME
Usually, when I make the four-hour drive to Cleveland for a Gladiators game, I
pay $10 to park in a parking garage across the street from Quicken Loans Arena.
But this time there was also a Cleveland Indians MLB game going on at the same
time at Progressive Field, which is right next door. Because of that, I ended up
having to pay $25 to park. Thanks, Major League Baseball, for turning my
affordable, fan-friendly experience into a big pain in my wallet.
The Gladiators (18-1) will host the Orlando Predators (11-7) in the American
Conference Championship game on Sunday, August 10 at 3:00 PM EST on CBS Sports
Network. A win will bring the ArenaBowl to Cleveland for the first time ever on
Saturday, August 23 at 8:00 PM EST on ESPN.
to Articles Menu