Sunday, June 8

Gladiator pride

I went to my second Cleveland Gladiators Arena Football League game, and as with the first, the Gladiators came away with a victory and I left a happy fan.

Their opponent was the Chicago Rush, who sported a 10-3 mark and an absurd six-game lead in their four-team division. That's ridiculous. The Gladiators entered the contest with a 7-6 mark, fighting for one of the six playoff spots in the National Conference. As of the time of my attendance, I knew roughly how Cleveland was doing but didn't realize that Chicago was favored.

Speaking of the playoffs, man is it easy to qualify. Of the 17 teams, 12 make the postseason. Although Cleveland is on the bubble in the superior National Conference, the Utah Blaze currently hold a spot in the American Conference with a record of 4-10. Think about that. I bet Pittsburgh Pirate fans would like some of that action.

As for the game, Cleveland absolutely stuck it to the Rush, dominating from start to finish in a 65-44 victory. They looked far better in all phases than the visiting Rush, especially with quarterback Raymond Philyaw executing their offense with precise efficiency to the tune of 8 TD's and 1 FG in their first 9 possessions. The defense came up with three stops, which is the equivalent of allowing -20 points in the NFL. Even better was converting those stops into points - the Gladiators notched an interception return for a TD and took back a missed field goal attempt off of the netting for another score while rolling up a four-touchdown lead in the 4th quarter.

Part of the reason for the success was how inaptly Chicago was named - they had almost no pass rush on Philyaw all game while the Cleveland defense forced a couple of stops by putting heat on Chicago's lefty passer. Tremendous playing from the Gladiators all around - once again, I find myself able to enjoy Arena League football both ironically and genuinely. I also enjoy the money left in my wallet after a Gladiator game - $17 for a reasonable seat in the Q. A few other notes:

- The between-possession on-field promotional games were mostly as dumb as ever, but big, big ups to the DJ. Tasked with playing an iTunes-length song snippet inbetween literally every down (sometimes more than one), this guy came up with a dazzling array of choices. Seriously, dude, can I have my iPod back? Not even just hits, but like deep tracks on Evil Empire and Check Your Head, stuff I'm sure only I appreciated. Metallica and Led Zep? Sure, anyone can play "Enter Sandman" and "Rock and Roll," but how about this guy busting out "Harvester of Sorrow" and "Lemon Song"? Outstanding. He mixed it up as well, sneaking in Onyx's "Slam," Deee-Lite's "Groove Is in the Heart," and Stereo MCs' "Connected" (which I just bought on iTunes). I'm going to write the Gladiators a letter once I finish this article telling them what a gem they have.

- You know the shell games they have on sports Jumbotrons, where they have three icons, show you one that has a football under it or something, shuffle them around, and have fans guess which has the football under it? That's gotten way easier over the years - it really used to be a challenge, but now it's designed for everyone to win and feel good about their skills. It's funny because everyone gets it every time now and they're all so excited.

- Bought myself a boss black and red Gladiators t-shirt - what a great color scheme. I only wore a white under-T to the game with the intent of picking up said swag, and now I've got it. I'll buy a t-shirt from any Cleveland sports team, unless maybe if we had a soccer team. Do we have a soccer team? Who cares?

- One of the game's best moment was when "Tequila" was playing before a Gladiator kickoff and one of the Gladiators, a rather large fellow, was doing the Pee-Wee Herman dance. If you want to endear yourself to this sports fan, referencing Pee-Wee is a hell of a way to start. What a lovable team.

- Otis Amey is a beast. Easily my favorite Gladiator.

- Gladiator RB Marlion Jackson became the 10th RB in AFL history to top 300 yards in a (16-game) season. 300. Meanwhile, Cleveland averages 330 yards per game through the air. One might say the league has an emphasis on passing the football.

- One more note on the DJ - after a questionable call by the officials, he cued up "Terrible Lie" by NIN. Well done, my friend.

- I went for a walk at halftime to get some water, and when I came back, someone had stolen my game program, which I had left under my seat. know those are free, right?

- The most truly sublime non-football highlight was Hard Rock Cafe's "Sing for your Supper," where two middle-aged people were played a bit of a song's verse and asked to belt out the chorus. This woman got "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," had clearly never heard it, and was booed heartily. They had to cut away and play the football game at that point, but later returned to the singing game. They gave her another chance, but used the same song which (surprise!) she still had not heard. Once again, boos cascaded down. Then the guy comes up, and Bon Jovi's "Bad Medicine" starts playing. He gets this excited, almost giddy look in his eyes, and takes over on the mic: "Your love, is like BAD ENERGY! Bad Energy is what I need!" He won handily. Bad energy - that doesn't even make sense!

Go Gladiators!

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