They’ve battled for division supremacy and in the playoffs. They’ve staged classics won on the game’s final play and stinkers that were still captivating.
There’s been contro- versy and memorable plays. They’ve won by lopsided margins. They’ve won in the opponent’s arena.
They don’t like each other.
Welcome to the Spokane- Arizona rivalry. It’s not old – four years and counting and just 10 games – but it’s been one of the best things going since the Arena Football League resurfaced in 2010. Spokane won the Arena- Bowl that season in its inaugural AFL campaign, going 3-0 against the Rattlers. Arizona, which joined the AFL in 1992, swept the Shock 2-0 en route to its third championship last season.
Not surprisingly, they stand in each other’s way again. No. 1 Arizona (16-3) and No. 2 Spokane (15-4) collide Saturday at US Airways Center with the winner advancing to ArenaBowl XXVI. Arizona defeated bitter rival San Jose in the first round.
“No. 1 vs. No. 2,” Shock quarterback Erik Meyer said. “To have a chance to go down there and beat them in their stadium, their house, it’s exciting.
“Couldn’t be any other way right now; couldn’t be better.”
It only took one game for this rivalry to start brewing. Spokane won the initial meeting, 63-56, in Phoenix. William Mulder, now Spokane’s secondary coach, intercepted former Shock quarterback Nick Davila on the Rattlers’ final play. Arizona coach Kevin Guy, incensed that Spokane wasn’t flagged for illegal defense, was seen afterward screaming at former Shock coach Rob Keefe.
“Everyone knows Keefe was one of those guys that gets fired up,” said offensive lineman Chris Pino, who played in that contest. “That’s the type of game it is. It’s one of those rivalries. We don’t like each other, but we respect each other.”
Adding fuel is the fact that Arizona has had numerous Shock players since 2010. QB Davila and standout defensive back Virgil Gray are franchise cornerstones.
“It shows Spokane gets a lot of great players. I think about half of their championship team was ex-Shock,” Pino said. “We’re pretty good friends, but when we get on the field we’re enemies until afterward.”
Defensive back Terrance Sanders is one of the few Arizona players to end up in Spokane. He led the Rattlers in tackles in 2010 before joining the Shock.
“They wanted me back but I just felt like that wasn’t the place for me city-wise,” Sanders said. “I didn’t feel the connection. I came here and instantly found it.”
Spokane defensive lineman Terrance Taylor has a pretty good feel for rivalry games after playing collegiately for Michigan.
“With Ohio State and Michigan, we were both good teams and at the end we met for a spot in the Rose Bowl or the national championship game,” he said. “There’s always going to be tension there. I love rivalries. When it’s all on the line it really brings out character.”
Shock majority owner Brady Nelson noted, “We battle so much on the field, off the field recruiting players. …
“After the first game (this season) when we beat them, almost one by one their players came to me and said good game and had the look on their face like, ‘You got us. We’re going to see you in the playoffs.’ You hate to be in the same division in some ways but in order for us to potentially advance we have to keep up with Arizona, San Jose and Utah, which makes us better.
“I think we push each other.”
Spokane’s Terrance Sanders, who broke the AFL single- season record with 2,265 return yards, was named the All-AFL first-team kick returner.
Sanders was the only Shock player to make the All-AFL first or second team. San Antonio led the way with three first-team selections. Arizona and San Jose each had four first- and second-team selections.
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