Patrick Afif and Kevin McCullough want to make their arena football sendoff a long, drawn-out process.
Both are guaranteed at least one more game when the third-seeded Spokane Shock (7-11) open the playoffs against No. 2 Arizona (14-4) on Saturday in Phoenix. Win and it’s on to the National Conference title game. Lose and a rollercoaster season is over – and Afif and McCullough will almost certainly remove their uniforms for the last time.
“Ruff (James Ruffin) and I were joking about this: Everybody says they’re going to retire at the end of the season because your body is all banged up, then you get six months off and get that itch again,” said Afif, the former Washington State Cougar offensive lineman. “I’m pretty sure this is it. I’ve had more family than usual showing up for games.
“I had a (former) coach text me and say, ‘Enjoy every down of it,’ and that’s really what I’ve been trying to do. You never know when your last play is, your last practice is. It’s definitely on my mind.”
McCullough, one of the most popular players in franchise history, is in his second tour with Spokane. The jack linebacker was traded during the 2010 season and played for Arizona from 2011-13.
“I’m pretty sure,” said McCullough, who dates back to Spokane’s arenafootball2 days. “It’s a lot different for me this time around. I had an injury that kept me out in 2014 and I thought maybe I was done. Now that I’ve had a chance to come back and finish it where it all started, I want to ride this as long as possible.”
McCullough joined the Shock, 2-5 at the time, in mid-May after an 83-28 loss to San Jose, the worst setback in franchise history. The defense ranked last in points allowed (58.7) at the time but has since lowered that figure to 53.9. The unit has been the driving force as the Shock clinched a playoff berth, winning three of their last four games.
“We’ve been playing some darn good ball lately,” McCullough said. “I think we’re coming together at the right time.”
Afif has played for six AFL teams and another, Philadelphia, held his rights while he played with Sacramento in the UFL. He was with Spokane briefly in 2006 but never signed. He played for a month with af2 Rio Grande Valley before helping San Jose win the 2007 ArenaBowl. He’s had stops in Arizona, Orlando, San Antonio and New Orleans, as well as Edmonton in the CFL.
Afif has been a fixture on Spokane’s line for three seasons, his longest stint with an AFL team. He wants to prolong his playing days.
“I already told my fiancee at the house I might be in a bad mood this week,” he said. “I’m doing film, taking care of my body and getting in the weight room, not that I haven’t been doing those things, but I’m focused. This could be over after this week. After it’s over, I’ll have all the time in the world.”
McCullough is married, has a young child and a job.
“I’m excited about the next phase of my life,” he said. “Really it had already started, but I was blessed with this opportunity to come back. I’m going out on my own terms.”
The AFL’s ironman days of two-way players are pretty much gone but Shock mac linebacker Derrick Summers is an ironman in at least one aspect. He’s started all 18 games, joining kicker Taylor Rowan as the only Shock players to do so.
Summers also played in every Shock game last season. He said he doesn’t recall missing a game in his four-year AFL career. That’s not easy for a player who has lined up at defensive end or mac and is involved in a collision on virtually every play.
“It’s tough,” said Summers, who has 9.5 sacks, one shy of his 2014 total. “Even if you do all the right things, you still can get hurt. I do extra work, lifting, swimming, flexibility, but I’ve just been blessed.”
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