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Arena Football News & Notes

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A shakeup has taken place on the coaching staff of the defending league champions in the wake of a bad start…and one of the AFL’s most dangerous deep threats was back in action this weekend. (Photo credit: SportsLogos.net)

*Quick Turnaround

The Pittsburgh Power earned their historic first victory in decisive fashion in Week 2, routing Iowa 58-28 at Consol Energy Center, but it didn’t take long for the Barnstormers to improve upon that effort and break into the “W” column themselves.  They edged the Spokane Shock 43-42 in Des Moines Friday night in the NFL Network’s featured game for their first win of the 2011 campaign.  This is significant because it drops the ArenaBowl champions to 0-3 for the first time in franchise history.  The Shock, which had only lost 10 times entering the sixth year of its existence, have already equaled last year’s loss total.

*You’re Fired

The bad start by the Shock is not being taken lightly either.  Head coach Rob Keefe refused to talk to the media after their Week 2 setback against Cleveland, then reportedly stayed in a closed-door meeting with his staff at team facilities until 2 a..m.  Prior to the Week 3 loss to Iowa a change was made, as Keefe fired offensive coordinator Fred Biletnikoff Jr. and assumed the position himself.  Bilentikoff is the son of Fred Sr., the famous Oakland Raiders receiver and Erie, Pa. native.

Another firing took place in the AFL Monday afternoon.  The New Orleans VooDoo of the American Conference’s South Division let go of offensive coordinator Ben Bennett following that team’s 0-3 start, punctuated by a 64-33 loss at division rival Jacksonville in Week 3.  The VooDoo are the only other 0-3 team in the AFL, and though they rank in the top five in passing and rushing yards, their 107 points are the league’s lowest three-game total.

*Let’s Play Two

The Power’s visit to Milwaukee won’t be the only AFL game on the docket Monday evening.  Before those two kick off the final matchup of Week 3, the Arizona Rattlers will visit the Tulsa Talons in a National Conference contest that can be seen on the AFL’s official website. There are ties that bind the four aforementioned teams.  Locked-out Cleveland Browns receiver Rod Windsor made an immediate impact after getting picked up by the Rattlers, hauling in two TD’s and 101 yards on just four receptions in his team’s Week 2 home victory over the Milwaukee Mustangs.  Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s next opponent is, in fact, the Talons, who come to Consol this Saturday.

*Cleveland Finally Beats Pittsburgh (Sort Of)

The team that lost to the Spokane Shock in ArenaBowl XXIII, the American Conference champion Tampa Bay Storm, is struggling as well.  The Cleveland Gladiators, now in their third season since moving from Las Vegas, beat the Storm for the first time since relocation with 66-26 blowout at the St. Pete Times Forum Sunday night, dropping Tampa to 1-2.  The Storm are the only original AFL franchise still in existence; you might remember them as the ironically-named Pittsburgh Gladiators.  (Through three weeks the 2-0 Gladiators are one of five undefeated teams in the AFL.)

*Rush-ing to the Top

One of the other five undefeated squads through Week 3 is the National Conference Central Division front-runner, the Chicago Rush, led by new coach Bob McMillen, a member of their only league championship squad in 2006.  In fact, the Rush are presently the only 3-0 team in the league after a most impressive 54-41 victory over the top-ranked San Jose SaberCats Friday at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill.  Chicago’s 165 points are the second-most in the AFL, and you can tell they’re taking on the personality of McMillen, a former fullback/linebacker.  Their 113 rushing yards–no pun intended–are also the second most in the league.

*One Step Back

As previously mentioned, the 2-1 San Jose SaberCats entered Week 3 as the top team in the latest AFL coaches’ poll, which will probably change after their loss in Chicago.  The Power remain in the Top 10, though they moved down to the 10th and final spot, despite picking up their historic first win.

*”Aren’t You the Guy…?”

If you were at Consol Energy Center last Saturday, perhaps one name in your program from the visiting Iowa Barnstormers sounded familiar: Piotr Czech.  The Barnstormers kicker made his AFL debut in that contest after being cut from the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers in 2008 and 2009, respectively.  Czech spent 2010 with the New York Sentinels of the United Football League.

*A Unique Anniversary

Sunday marked the anniversary of a landmark day in Arena Football League history–and professional sports history, for that matter.  On March 27, 1990, the United States government officially patented the league, which meant that no competing indoor football league could use rules and/or equipment covered in the patent, particularly the goalposts/rebound nets and the rules concerning them.  No other professional sports league is patented.

*Welcome Back

One of the most memorable AFL wide receivers in recent history–a broadcaster once called him the “T.O.” of arena football–returned to action for the first time in 2011 this weekend.  Sixth-year man Bobby Sippio, now in his second season with Orlando, starred in the Predators’ 68-53 Week 3 win over the visiting Utah Blaze on Saturday, catching seven balls for 104 yards and two TD’s.  Sippio was suspended for Orlando’s first game after getting into an altercation with a fan during a game at arch-rival Tampa Bay last season.  His 14.6 career yards-per-catch average is currently sixth all-time, and he now needs just 52 yards to become the 29th player in AFL history with 6,000 all-time.

*Good Crowd

A recent footnote by Jerry DiPaola in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review pointed out how the Power have been well supported in their first two home games, despite the fact an NCAA Tournament game involving Pitt took place during one of them.  The inaugural game against Philadelphia is the most heavily attended AFL game in 2011 thus far (13,904), and the Week 2 win over Iowa ranks No. 7 (9,190).  San Jose is the only other team that had two home games in the current top seven.

By Matt Popchock

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