Meaning no disrespect to the 12 other members of the Arena Football League, but a modest proposal:
Let’s just make this a best-of-seven for the Foster Trophy and call it good.
Is everyone “All-In” with that?
If some of the electricity had drained out of the Spokane Shock experience over the past couple of seasons – and it had – there was a reasonable explanation. A fan base spoiled by impossible instant success – three championships, in both incarnations of Arenaball – possibly sensed it was being fed a diet of games without much gravitas.
And, no, the team wasn’t as good.
Well, it’s that good again.
And if it took a few quarters before the sellout (but not filled out) crowd of 10,358 at the Spokane Arena grasped that and got things really cranked up, well, the rendezvous of decibels and dig-deep plays by the home team was something to behold.
In the end, Spokane’s 66-49 victory over the defending ArenaBowl champion Arizona Rattlers is just one game in the regular season of 18.
But without winning it, the Shock couldn’t do what they want to do.
“Our only goal is to be 18-0 – undefeated,” said Andy Olson, in a rare coachly display of shoot-for-the-moon. “That’s our goal. So far, we’ve won four of those. Now let’s go get another one.”
Oh, not quite yet.
This one deserves a little afterglow.
It didn’t just match the two teams who have managed to generate the most AFL animus over the past couple of seasons, even if that’s mellowed some without the agitating presence of Olson’s predecessor. It also happily pitted the teams ranked No. 1 and 2 in this week’s AFL coaches’ poll – a ceremonial distinction, yes, but probably not far from the truth.
Both were 3-0. Neither had been tested all that much, though the fact that Spokane’s successes had all come on the road was an eyebrows-up. Surely the AFL’s two most efficient offenses were represented.
And it showed.
Stops are always at a premium in indoor football, but for most of the night it appeared amending some of the rules on the fly would be the only way to see one in this game.
Not until the game was on the line late in the fourth quarter did a defense really rise up – and it was Spokane’s that embraced the moment. A well-defensed deep ball by Patrick Stoudamire and some amped-up pressure by Terrance Taylor helped force the Rattlers into a four-and-out – as did the din generated by the mostly full house.
Just minutes later, Beau Bell made an I-spy interception of Arizona quarterback Nick Davila as the Rattlers were driving for a touchdown, saving the game from coming down to an onside kick.
“The response in the fourth quarter,” said Olson, “it was just fantastic.”
And not just on defense. Adron Tennell’s two touchdown catches that period were nothing short of sensational, especially the one-handed, careening-off-the-dashers and out-the-tunnel grab that put the Shock ahead for good.
But until then the Rattlers had answered the challenge blow for blow, Davila going into the full windup and heaving fastballs downfield on seemingly every snap.
“It was a great game – and an outstanding crowd here, as always,” said Davila, who took Spokane to an af2 title before his Arizona getaway. “They just made some plays and we couldn’t answer. That onside kick in the first half changed the momentum and put us in catch-up mode.”
The Shock might not have blinked in the face of this challenge, but they did wince a bit. Arizona going deep so often out of stationary routes was a bit of an echo from the Iowa game. And quarterback Erik Meyer got hit a bunch, and eluded scads of others. A rude pop from Tyre Glasper put Meyer on the deck in a play reminiscent of the one that ended the quarterback’s season a year ago. But the protection tightened up down the stretch, in time for the winning to be done.
“I think our guys just realized how important it is,” Olson said. “If we’re going to win this game, Erik’s got to be on his feet.”
The Shock are certainly on theirs. But one thing to remember: The season isn’t 25 percent complete yet.
“My message next week is just this: Stay humble,” Olson said. “We’ve won four games; there are 14 more. But even during the offseason, I felt really good about this team. I felt good about the chemistry we’d have and I knew that would help us early in the season. I think I’ve got 24 guys who are really all-in.”
And another 10,000 or so who once again seem to be all-in behind them.