... AND THINGS STARTED SO WELL, TOO. Ugh.
The result of Saturday night's game between the Manchester Wolves and Quad City Steamwheelers was bad enough, but we'll get back to that in a bit. First, though, I want to extend my best wishes to my favorite player on the Wolves squad, wide receiver Emery Sammons.
Remember at the end of last year's NFL regular season, when the Cleveland Browns mowed over glorious Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger? Remember how it took like 15 minutes for the medical staff to get Big Ben all set up and then carted off the field? And everyone was really worried but still somewhat hopeful when Big Ben gave the thumbs-up sign as he was taken away?
Well, it was pretty much the same deal tonight at the Verizon Wireless Arena. Late in the first half, Mr Sammons was going for a pass reception about midfield when he had a bad collision with a Quad City* defender and -- most unfortunately -- the side wall. Mr Sammons, whose head collided with the wall, was then down for the count.
You know things are bad when the paramedics come out, and both teams' benches empty and every player goes to kneel around their injured comrade, and you can see the ambulance is ready and waiting to go to the hospital.
But we did learn a spot of good news soon afterwards. According to no less than Wolves beat reporter Ian Clark -- who writes about football for a living -- the fuss was taken as a cautionary measure:
Sammons left the game on a stretcher late in the second (quarter) after taking a hard hit along the boards. Sammons gave the crowd a thumbs-up as he was carted off, drawing a large cheer (and sigh of relief) from the crowd.
"When he left, he was talking to me. It's not his neck or anything. It was precautionary," (Wolves Coach Danton) Barto said. "He was worried about calling his mom to let her know he was all right."
Still, according to the team, Sammons was undergoing CAT scans for a head injury last night, which I hope only means they're checking to see if he had a concussion, and not something more serious. Still, I am hopeful Mr Sammons will be all right and hope he will make a quick recovery.
I have it on good authority Mr Sammons is a nice guy, and having watched him play for the Wolves I know he is quite talented. Should the Arena Football League return next year, I have to think the guy's in line for a promotion -- and if not in "Arena One," then perhaps one of the second-tier gridiron leagues that may or may not launch soon.
Now, as for the game itself ... well, let's cue Jim Mora.
Along those lines, let me start by saying Manchester's 50-48 loss to an iffy Steamwheelers** squad should not be blamed on the defense. I mean, at least one of our players had a career night. Defensive lineman Bryan Robinson had, by my count, three sacks -- one of which resulted in a forced fumble and consequent Manchester touchdown. And generally speaking, the defense played pretty well, even though Quad City scored quite a bit and beat them on a few big plays.
So it may not have been an exceptional defensive performance overall, but it should have been more than enough for the Wolves' offense to step up and get the job done. It wasn't. Defense wins championships, even in arenaball, but in arenaball you need your offense to keep firing.
Where does one start with this? Near the end of the third quarter, Manchester was leading 42-28. Near the end of the fourth quarter, Manchester was down 48-42 and the team was fighting for its life. It was an absolutely stunning collapse and the offense is to blame for it. I mean, if I can borrow from Coach Mora, the Wolves gave this game away. It sucked. There is no polite way to put it.
Let's just look at the fourth quarter. Manchester was up 42-35 and had the ball: one more score and the team would have enough breathing room to make victory relatively certain. What happened? Quarterback James Pinkney -- who is usually pretty darn good -- threw up a ridiculous pass into the field of play, which was easily picked off. This soon led to a Quad City touchdown. Then, when a miracle of miracles happens -- Manchester blocks the point-after attempt, and keeps the lead -- the offense goes and blows it again.
On Manchester's very next possession, Quad City managed to tackle Pinkney in Manchester's endzone, resulting in a safety. (Manchester also committed a holding penalty in the endzone on the play, making the safety certain). Suddenly, Quad City was up 43-42 and even worse, had the ball again. Gee, that's just great.
That led to another touchdown, and Manchester had about a minute to push it down the field for an equalizer. But even after scoring one, the Wolves needed a two-point conversion to send it into overtime. They went for a running play. It got stuffed.
With the loss, Manchester now falls to 3-3 while Quad City goes to 4-2. More importantly, though, it also means Manchester finds themselves in a tough spot when it comes to playoff positioning.
Due to bad planning, Manchester is in the same division as the evil Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers, who are one of the best teams in the league, and also evil. Not only are they 6-1, they have already beaten us twice on their home turf -- where, being evil, they almost never lose -- and have plenty of games in which they'll run roughshod over hapless opponents.
This situation basically means the Wolves have to play in top form for the entire rest of the season if they want any chance of winning the American Conference's East Division. Already, the Wolves are placed sixth in the conference and the team has got to start gaining ground if it wants any hope of playing at home in the playoffs. Winning the division almost seems like a pipe dream at this point, because evil Wilkes-Barre/Scranton already has a 3 1/2 game lead with 11 games to go. The only things going for us at this point are these:
1) WBS does have to play three teams as good as they are down the line, and
2) their luck has to run out some time.
Of course, along with that, Manchester does have two chances to exact revenge against evil Wilkes-Barre/Scranton later in the season, and it may be they can take advantage of those. The Wolves can also do well if they blow the doors off Albany and Youngstown*** in the seven remaining games they have against those teams. Sweeping both squads, which is not outside the realm of possibility, would give Manchester at least 10 wins.
I am hopeful, of course, the Wolves can turn things around. It is worth noting that in the past two weeks, they have lost their games by a total of five points. It is also worth noting the team is kicking itself and is not at all happy about losing these games. I am confident they'll be good and angry when they play Albany next week, and I expect Coach Barto will make them good and angry after practice.
Other than that, though, going to the game itself was fun as always, and I look forward to returning in two weeks when we play Youngstown. Yeah. Manchester's going to have a tune-up waiting for them!
* Yes, I know the region is known as the Quad Cities. The name of the team is "Quad City." Why? How the hell should I know? They're from Iowa, for God's sake.
** Yes, I know it sounds like a funny name, but it is "Steamwheelers" and not "Steamrollers." A steamwheeler is essentially a steam-fired paddleboat. Don't ask me why they named the team after a paddleboat. They're from Iowa, for God's sake.
*** Yes, I know the Thunder are actually named after the "Mahoning Valley" and not the city of Youngstown, Ohio, where they play. But you know what? They're from Youngstown, and they should have the guts to stand up and say they're from Youngstown. I'm serious. A Youngstown team deserves to be named after Youngstown; anything else and it sounds like the team is embarrassed to say where they're from. Since I think that's crap, I call them Youngstown.