GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Arizona Rattlers should have a big home field advantage when they play the Philadelphia Soul in the Arena Bowl on Friday night.
Except they aren’t really at home.
The Rattlers are 48-4 at Talking Stick Resort Arena, their home in downtown Phoenix known as the “Snake Pit.”
But the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury have a game scheduled there Friday night. ESPN, which will televise the Arena Bowl, didn’t want to move to another date. The Mercury wouldn’t budge either.
So it was off to the suburbs and Gila River Arena, home of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes.
Ron Jaworski, ESPN NFL analyst and ex-NFL quarterback, is majority owner of the Soul. He said moving the game means absolutely nothing.
“The field’s the same,” he said. “They’ve got great fans.”
Jaworski is a vociferous supporter of the Arena game, a fast and furious, high-scoring affair.
“I find it somewhat remarkable that it hasn’t got more traction,” he said.
Teams have come and gone in the 29-year history of the league. Last season’s champions, the San Jose Sabercats, finished with a 17-1 record. But last November, arena league Commissioner Scott Butera announced the Sabercats were disbanding “for reasons other than league operations.”
Currently, there are eight teams divided into two divisions.
“The league is fine,” Jaworski said. “It’s stabilized over the last two years. The new commissioner has done a magnificent job of stabilizing the future of the league. He’s gotten rid of all the guys who really didn’t understand the business of football and how we grow the league.”
No franchise has had more success than Arizona. If the Rattlers win Friday night, they will set a league record of six Arena Bowl titles. It would be their fourth championship in five years. This is their 10th Arena Bowl appearance since joining the league in 1992.
Jaworski calls the Rattlers “the gold standard” in the league.
Friday night’s game will feature the league’s best quarterbacks. The Rattlers’ Nick Davila was named league MVP on Thursday, becoming the first player in league history to win the award three times. He also is a two-time Arena Bowl MVP. Philadelphia quarterback Dan Raudabaugh was league MVP last year.
Arizona’s general manager and head coach Kevin Guy was named coach of the year Thursday.
The Soul beat the Rattlers for the first time – in their seventh try – in Philadelphia this season. The Rattlers haven’t lost since, beating the Soul in Arizona a month later.
Dick Vermeil recently joined the Soul ownership group.
Jaworski said he and his old coach sit together at games “and marvel at the quarterbacks.”
“He said, ‘Now I know how Kurt Warner got so darned good at getting the ball out of his hand and processing information quickly and throwing from different platforms,’” Jaworski said. “‘You’ve got to think fast in this game.’”
Warner is the biggest name to emerge from the Arena league. Unable to find a job in the NFL, he played for the now-defunct Iowa Barnstormers from 1995 to 1997. He was a two-time all-league quarterback and led his team to two Arena Bowl appearances.
The Rattlers intercepted Warner twice while beating the Barnstormers for their first Arena Bowl title in 1997.
Warner left for the NFL, where he led teams to three Super Bowls, winning one, and earning two NFL MVPs.
He is in the Arena league Hall of Fame.
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