Welcome to ISF‘s continuing coverage of the AFL playoffs – tonight, the previously-maligned-turned-J’s-favorite Philadelphia Soul at the Georgia Force. After both head coaches declared victory would come with 60 minutes of intensity and Jaws walked on the field in jeans and a polo that ranks one step above flip flops and swim trunks, Georgia starts out the game by returning the opening kickoff for a TD. As a qualified individual that watched both the NCAA BCS championship game and last year’s Super Bowl, I predict this will not go well for Georgia.
…And I spoke too soon. On Philly’s second snap of the game, Graziani launches a bomb (as he’s sacked) to Larry Brackins in the end zone, who not only fails to catch the TD pass, but lets Georgia come up with an INT. If JBJ is in the house, the double bird can’t be more than a few minutes away.
After the commercial break, commentators Ray Bently and Dave Pasch (is this the new first string for ESPN2? I feel like it’s been ages since I’ve heard the siren call of Trey Wingo) use a bunch of stats (note: TC will call me a sissy if I discuss actual statistics) that Georgia is very, very good (the comedy rule of three says I should use a parenthetical to end this sentence).
Georgia’s second play of the game, Derek Lee (not of Wrigley fame) catches a long bomb from The Scrappy Chris Greisen. Georgia leads 14-0. Either Dave or Ray says that Philly needs to “circle the wagons” to get back into the fight, after which Graziani completes a pass to the state of Mississippi. Sissy Statistic Alert: Philly has the second-most regular season turnovers of any team in the playoffs, but I suspect this is in part due to the brassy Interim QB Juston “SLING IT” Wood.
Dang – I forget how big Wes Ours is. He’s like the boulder in beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark with legs. Ours’ catch sets up a TD pass to James for Philly, who trails only 14-7 after the PAT – Graziani is really calm in his post-TD interview, saying it’s still early in the game. In the amount of time it took me to write the previous sentence, Georgia scores yet again via a quick shuffle pass to Bergeron, but they clang the extra point, extending their lead 20-7. The alarm alerting me my laundry is ready to go into the dryer goes off, and I suspect that by the time I get back from the basement Georgia could be so far ahead that I’ll see a combination of cheerleaders, Mildly Freakish Mascot Blu, and small children taking the field against Philly.
Getting back just as the first quarter ends, I’m shocked to see the score is the same – turns out I don’t know as much about the AFL as I thought. Since I’ve been in a media blackout since Saturday, I flip over to ESPN to see the final tally of yesterday’s games. …WHAT. THE. HELL. I must be in the Twilight Zone or a Frank Capra movie. COLUMBUS beat DALLAS? Okay. I officially know nothing about this league, after you take away THERE IS NO PUNTING (has yet to be uttered this game) and THE GOAL POST IS VERY NARROW (mentioned twice). Not that I was planning on it, but I won’t quit my day job.
UPDATE: THE GOAL POSTS ARE VERY NARROW is mentioned a third time as Philly converts a FG, bringing the tally 20-10. Also, it turns out the footage I saw of Jaws on the field with his guys was because there was fist fight on the field prior to the game – it looks like Philly DB Eddie Moten (?) was just decked by some Georgia players taking the field. Regardless of whether or not it was Moten (UPDATE: it was, and he was talking a little trash), he draws some Georgia blood by picking up a fumble deep in Georgia territory shortly after the replay of the fight. I’m beginning to think these live blogs go much better when TC and I tag-team it up – as much fun as it is regurgitating what’s happening play by play, I’d rather discuss Graziani’s absurdly loud hard count, which he just used to perfection to bring some lineman offsides – too bad it was his own. Philly settles for a field goal, 20-13, and I giggle as I imagine Tony in the new ISF running gag, Careers Poorly Suited for Graziani’s Hard Count: this episode – Midwife (“IT’S TIME FOR YOUR FORMULA! WHY ARE YOU CRYING?”)
Georgia Coach (of the Year) Doug Plank, for whom the Bears’ 46 Defense was named after by Buddy Ryan, briefly gives an in-game interview, saying that defense in the AFL isn’t given enough credit. Ray and Dave agree, then completely ignore the comments after Doug goes back to coaching.
Bergeron gets his third TD of the game off a nasty tipped pass, putting Georgia up 27-13. Considering it was Philly that tipped it into Bergeron’s arms, I think Plank’s stock footage of laying down hits for the Bears is most likely going to be the best defense I see for the rest of the game.
Graziani gets NAILED as he throws. He’s not getting up. I think Philly’s 2007 season may have just ended.
Leon Murray goes in for Graziani, and Wes Ours goes down so hard my beer just spilled. Tony’s looking like he might go back in, and I think of Minnesota Twins favorite Brad Radke, who pitched through the end of last season with an arm held in place by chewing gum and chutzpah. It’s 4th and short for Philly – THERE IS NO PUNTING. Tony’s pass is incomplete. The Georgia fans have something better than lame thundersticks – buckets with handles glued to the side and drumsticks. Surprisingly, STOMP is not a sponsor of the Force.
From 4th and short near the goal, Georgia’s offensive coordinator calls on Greisen (who looks kind of like Hayley Joel Osment in a football helmet?) to run a yo yo, like he’s calling a trick play on par with the one in Rookie of the Year when they fake out a base runner with the rosin bag. Greisen makes his way out to the huddle, then suddenly runs back to the sideline and asks if he should run an option. Greisen gets the go-ahead, and runs in the easy TD. As the Force widens the gap to 33-13, it looks like this one may already be over.
At the 1-minute warning, I’m putting in my Way Too Early Arena Bowl XXI Prediction: Georgia and San Jose. I’d like to point out that so far in the playoffs, I’ve called a full 3 of 6, so I wouldn’t put too much stock in anything I have to say, unless it’s about Brett Dietz being very interesting.
As Graziani gets hit for the sixth time, he throws a pick, but it’s ruled as a late hit and offsets a blatant face-mask by Larry Brackins. With 31 seconds left in the half, we’ll see maybe only four more scores. Didn’t intend the Lincoln-esqe alliteration there – my bad. Graziani makes up for a third down pass to the Philly bench by completing a pass down to the 10.
Tony connects with Jerry Jones for a TD with 9.4 seconds left on the board, the extra point is blocked – barring a TD bomb from Georgia, Philly will go into the half trailing by two TDs, which they could make up. In our time, we’ve seen crazier things happen in this league. Such as a team based in Texas totally blow at the game of football.
The Sunday Night Injury Bowl continues as WR Troy Bergeron, who’s been solid for Georgia all season long, has a grown man fall on his knee. This reminds me why I did nerdy stuff in high school, and continue to do such activities to this day, like play slow-pitch softball, which led to a knee injury two weeks ago when a less-than-nimble second baseman fell on my knee as I slid into the bag. So, clearly, my life decisions have done nothing but benefit my physical health. Philly gets to the half just barely preserving a two-TD defecit, following 33-19.
HALFTIME STRATEGY DISCUSSION IN MY OWN HEAD:
/HALFTIME STRATEGY DISCUSSION IN MY OWN HEAD
Within the first 4 minutes of play in the third, Graziani gets Philly within the Georgia 10, then throws a pick, and Greisen lobs a TD pass to Chris Jackson, but Georgia bounces the PAT off the upright. It’s 39-19, and Philly’s going to have a very hard time getting back in the game if their O-line can’t keep Graziani on his feet. Surprise – as I typed the previous sentence, Tony’s knocked to the turf again, this time one of the DT’s lands on Graziani’s leg. This is the ninth time Graziani has been knocked down – for some reason I can’t help but think of David Carr’s career with the Texans.
In the amount of time it takes me to take a leak, Philly scores – 39-26. I have no idea how they pulled this off, but I suspect it involved Graziani being on his feet for more than three consecutive seconds after the snap.
Philly almost picks off Greisen on two consecutive plays? Am I seeing a little defense? In arena ball? A hard count pulls Soul DL #98 Bryan Save off the line, and Jackson pulls in a Force TD two plays later, so I guess the answer is no. The 2 point conversion fails (yay, a little defense!), Georgia leads 45-26 as the third begins to wind down.
Listening to Graziani’s mic on the Wired Up montage of his hits throughout the game (also, we got to see three angles of his arm getting mangled earlier in the season), I am amazed that not once does he scream out an expletive. I usually curse at something as minor as the presence of clouds in the sky or cream cheese in my sushi, so I’m naturally impressed at Tony’s ability to keep his cool when his shoulder is forcibly taken out of its socket. At the end of the third, Philly is in Georgia territory, still behind 45-26.
Larry Brackins starts out the fourth quarter by pulling down a TD and Philly closes the gap to 12, 45-33. Philly almost recovers a fumble on the kickoff return, but the returner as ruled as down, so Philly doesn’t have the ball at the Georgia 10. Jackson scores a TD on the next play, Georgia misses the PAT, but the Force lead by 18, 51-33. The hope I had for Philly to get back in the game goes as quickly as it came, like the slap bracelet fad in 1996.
Force DL Mike Sutton is on my good side after he helps Graziani up after he gets knocked on his ass yet again. Two plays later on 4th and 10, he gets hit again and can’t make the completion. Sutton takes him down after he got rid of the ball, so Sutton is back to neutral in my book. Georgia takes over on Philly’s 10, and on the second play Jackson gets his 3rd TD of the half – the extra point is (surprise!) good, Georgia’s lead increases to 25 with the scoreboard reading 58-33 in their favor. With a scant 8:45 left in the game, that could very well have been the nail in the coffin of Philly’s season.
…I spoke too soon – the ensuing kickoff takes a huge bounce and Georgia recovers at their own 5. That was the nail in the coffin, as I’m pretty sure Georgia will be able to go up by another TD on this possession. They get it on the second down. The PAT clangs in, and Georgia has almost doubled up on Philly, 65-33. I’m a little disappointed for Philly, but I can’t say I’m surprised.
Chris Greisen’s Wired Up montage shows us that he likes to pound things and say “Yeah!” – it’s almost like watching that one frat guy at a party that is having a blast, or he’s Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer:
Something I’ve always found a little odd about football is that when there is little to no doubt about who’s going to win, the losing team manages to get a good drive in – Larry Brackins pulls down a TD, and after the failed 2 point conversion, the Soul have chipped away at their deficit, 65-39. All they need is to recover four onside kicks in 2:21, and they’ll walk away with the W.
With only two minutes left in the game, I feel like I can take a quick bathroom break without missing too much. Except maybe of the end of the game – time me!
And, that’s it. Graziani gets a kiss from who I presume is his mother on the sidelines – a touching moment (completely serious here) as Graziani carried the Soul throughout this season, and showed some real brass staying in this game after getting knocked on his can constantly today. Kudos to Georgia, who dominated this game from start to finish. Kudos to JBJ, who wasn’t caught on camera being obscene for a full 60 minutes. Tune in tomorrow night when TC takes the reins as the rickety Rush host Sonny Cumbie and the Avengers, the outcome of which will determine what TC decides to do with the rest of his life.