May 17, 2008

After the Laughter, the Wave of Dread

OH, THE PAIN. What words could better sum up the heartbreaking, last-second loss of the Manchester Wolves (now 1-6) to the evil and depraved Tulsa Talons (now 8-0)? We were so close. So very, very close. But in the end, bad luck and the unique peculiarities of the arena game proved our undoing. Even at the end, when Tulsa kicked in the 25 yard field goal that nailed the coffin shut, we so nearly had it. As our defensive line surged forward and our players stretched out their arms, it looked as if one of our players got his fingertips on the ball -- but the ball wobbled its way through the thin uprights and our hopes were dashed. The final score: Tulsa 59, Manchester 56.

Oh, the pain.

However, I have to admit I'm more concerned with how the Wolves' past two losses will affect the team rather than my own emotional reaction to the loss. I hope they realize just how much they've improved over the past few weeks. I hope they realize that when you lose to the two best teams in the league by a combined score of nine points, you're doing a lot of things right. I hope they realize that this season still has nine games to go, including five home games, and that the playoffs still remain a very real possibility.

Despite our loss tonight, I have to say this was one of the best arena football games I've seen in a long time. Huge wins, of course, have a lot going for them, but there's also something to be said for great football -- and tonight was great football. The final score notwithstanding, this was a game with plenty of impressive defense, and the Wolves really hung in there when lesser teams would have folded like a cheap suit.

The end of the first half, and the beginning of the second half, is a great example of this. Consider: with seconds to go in the first half, Tulsa -- which would receive the ball to start the second half -- was down 28-27. With little time on the clock and their attempts to get in the endzone foiled, the Talons decided to go for a field goal. The snap went, Manchester rushed forward, and blocked the kick! The ball went flying, and everyone made a mad dash for it; it was recovered by Tulsa's quarterback. Just as he was about to end up flat on his back, he threw the ball to one of Tulsa's waiting Big Men, who ran it in for a short touchdown. My reaction was as follows:

ME: Wide right! Wide right! ... YES! YES! YES! YES! .... NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Now Tulsa was going to start out the half with the ball and I knew this meant trouble. But what happened in the opening moments of the second half? Their kickoff man -- an extremely fast and adept player -- was zooming down the field when he was hit from behind and fumbled the ball. Tulsa recovered it, but on the very next play Tulsa fumbled the ball again, and this time we recovered. Shortly thereafter, we had tied the game at 34 all, although we missed the extra point try. On the next series of possessions, we managed to stop Tulsa, and soon afterwards, it was 37-34. Oh joy and rapture. We would hold a lead -- albeit a tiny lead -- through much of the second half.

But tiny leads in this game aren't safe. The wide open nature of the game, and the difficulty of defending against certain plays such as the quick slant and quick out passes, means a team really needs a margin of three or four scores before one can start banking the game in the win column. Against a team like Tulsa, that would have been a miracle. After a bit of back and forth, the game ended up tied again, at 49-49. With less than a minute to go, Tulsa went ahead 56-49, and we scored the equalizer shortly thereafter. Then, the 25 seconds until doomsday.

I just hope the Wolves realize the night is always darkest before the dawn -- and the sun's light is creeping above the horizon.

Oh, one more thing before I go. This is a polite message to the co-owners of the Tulsa Talons, Messrs Henry Primeaux III and Paul Ross -- yes, you.

What the devil is wrong with your team? I'm not talking about their play -- they're clearly an excellent squad. I'm talking about their flagrantly boorish behavior on the field of battle. As someone who has watched football all his life, I can honestly say tonight's unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Tulsa coaching squad was a first for me. Never in my more than two decades of watching high school, college, NFL, AFL or af2 football have I seen coaches act so badly that the referees actually penalized them for it.

Simply put, gentlemen, this was not cool and with it. Give your coaches some Xanax or something.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at May 17, 2008 12:48 AM | TrackBack
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