Philly Soul a Hit in AFL Playoffs

By Michael-Louis Ingram
Updated: July 15, 2008

PHILADELPHIA – In one of the more improbable settings for a championship game, the Philadelphia Soul became Arena Football League National Conference champions with a convincing 70-35 victory over the Cleveland Gladiators at Wachovia Center.

Philadelphia took control from the opening moments of the game, as defensive back Eddie Moten stopped Raymond Philyaw and the Gladiator offense on downs during their first drive.

Soul receiver Larry Brackins, who at 6-feet-4 and 220 pounds looks better than anything the NFL Eagles have currently at wide receiver, caught a short pass from quaterback Matt D’Orazio, and the Soul never missed a beat.

The very vocal home was in the pocketof the team as well. A change of start times for the MLB Phillies ‘game cut into the expected attendance, but not the enthusiasm.

Moten, whose defense would stop Cleveland five times over the course of the game, was genuinely surprised by the number of turnovers. “I know when you can get two or three stops in this kind of game, that’s a difference maker,” said Moten. “I really can’t remember how long it’s been since we were able to do that.

“But we were prepared to do whatever it took to win this. We’ve been on point all year long with what our focus was and this (stops) just goes to show that even in a league where you can run up some serious points, defense still wins championships.”

Philadelphia took a 35-21 lead going into the third quarter. After both sides exchanged touchdowns, Philly’s return man Mike Brown pumped up the crowd with 57 yards worth of “House” music for the major score.

Brown, who was named Ironman of the conference final, leaped over a Cleveland defender at his 20, and was off into the wild turf yonder from there. “You don’t think about jumping over somebody,” recalls Brown.

“I just knew I was going with no fear and go full out.”

Co-owner and team president Ron Jaworski, along with head coach Bret Munsey accepted the conference trophy from AFL commissioner David Baker, who spoke of the long time between sips of champagne in Philadelphia. “It’s been 25 years since a champion has called Philadelphia its home. But that could well change on July 27th in New Orleans at Arena Bowl XXII.”

Jaworski, who led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl appearance (a loss in SBXV to the Raiders) returns to the scene of his defeat in a different leadership capacity.

Jaworski, whose co-owner compadre Jon Bon Jovi was performing a free concert in New York City’s Central Park, did not shirk from the significance of the location of this year’s Arena Bowl. “If you’re asking whether I’m expecting a different outcome this time in New Orleans, the answer is you’re right,” laughed Jaworski.

“The team was poised and executed at a high level throughout the season, and before it began Jon and I talked to the team and about our commitment to winning it all.

“So I’m more pleased than surprised because we expected it.”

When asked about the execution of his quarterback, Jaworski said, “I’ll have to go back and look at the film to see where Matt screwed up,” laughing. But there’s still one more to go and we have to go to New Orleans and get it.”

The Soul, on the strength of eight touchdown passes from quarterback Matt D’Orazio, scored on 10 of their 11 possessions in the game.

Now, the focus turns to the San Jose SaberCats, a perennial AFL power and current league champion. The ‘Cats clawed their way to the Western Conference title in an 81-55 win over the streaking Grand Rapids Rampage.

Head coach Darren Arbet will be making his fourth title appearance in seven years, and the possibility of being the first back-to-back champions in over a decade.

Should the Soul, who celebrated their fifth anniversary as an organization, emerge victorious in their first Arena Bowl appearance, it will be a hallmark for a team taking its baby steps in Arena ball.

“We don’t care who it is,” declared ‘Jaws,’ “Let’s get it on.”

Come Sunday July 27th, it could be a return to TSOP in the City of Brother Love; with a new champ renamed The Soul of Philadelphia.