M.V.B. (Most Valuable Backup)
Anthony Morelli has had an interesting journey, from trying out for the Pittsburgh Power to being cut during training camp, to being re-signed as a backup quarterback, to being thrust into the starting job after a rash of injuries…and being awarded for his mop-up duty. Morelli has been named the AFL’s National Guard MVP of the Week for Week 7. He went 23-of-35 for 232 yards and six touchdowns against no interceptions while also running seven times for 45 yards and another score, a goal-line plunge in the fourth quarter of the Power’s 56-49 win at the New Orleans VooDoo last Thursday.
The other nominees were Arizona Rattlers quarterback Nick Davila, who threw for 361 yards and six touchdowns in an overtime win over their West Division rivals, the Utah Blaze, and Tulsa Talons quarterback Matt Bassuener, who threw for 299 yards and five scores, and ran for two more on 51 yards in a last-second victory over their Central Division rivals, the Iowa Barnstormers.
If It’s Any Consolation…
While Morelli won Week 7 league MVP honors, another participant in that game received one of the AFL’s weekly awards. New Orleans wide receiver/kick returner P.J. Berry won the JLS Ironman of the Week award for Week 7. He finished the VooDoo’s loss to the Power with six kick returns for 151 yards, including one end-to-end touchdown, while also catching nine passes for 91 yards and two more TD’s.
Happy Birthday, AFL!
Although the Arena Football League did not stage its first official game until 1987, this Saturday marks the 25th birthday of the sport itself. On Apr. 26, 1986, the final Saturday of that month, Jim Foster, who served as the first AFL commissioner, staged a “test game” at the Rockford MetroCentre in Rockford, Illinois between the Chicago Politicians and Rockford Metros that was attended by over 1,500 fans. The test game had a budget of just $4,000, and only the first half of the experimental contest was played. It was deemed a success, and a second test game would later be held in Chicago and featured in highlight packages on ESPN before the league was born.
The first test game, in fact, was several years in the making. Foster initially created the game of arena football in February of 1981, inspired by the Major Indoor Soccer League All-Star Game he was attending at Madison Square Garden. He made a rough sketch of the field and basic game play rules on the back of a manila envelope.
Now That’s a Rivalry!
The Orlando Predators (4-2) will visit the Jacksonville Sharks (5-1) Saturday night in the NFL Network’s featured Week 8 contest (the game will be nationally televised Sunday at 3 P.M. on tape delay due to NFL Draft coverage). But this is no ordinary road game for the Predators. It’s a chance to pull into a first-place tie with their hated American Conference South Division rivals, it’s a rematch of a 2010 playoff game that Orlando won in the last minute at Jacksonville Veterans’ Memorial Arena, and it’s a chance for the hosts to put an end to some serious smack talk.
The Predators have actually purchased billboards in the Jacksonville area that read, “Jacksonville S**ks. See You Rednecks on April 30. Love, The Predators,” a move that naturally angered Jacksonville management and inspired them to deem this game “Blood Red Night” (kinda puts shame to those “White Outs” at CONSOL Energy Center, doesn’t it?).
On a more important note, Sharks fans in attendance might witness history in Week 8. Jacksonville QB Aaron Garcia, the AFL’s all-time passing leader, is just three touchdown passes shy of 1,000 in his career–something no quarterback in the history of American professional football has ever accomplished.
Fortunately there are no derogatory billboards involving Saturday night’s inter-conference clash between New Orleans and the Chicago Rush, but there will be more AFL history on display at the Allstate Arena. The Rush will formally retire the No. 44 jersey former fullback/linebacker and current head coach Bob McMillen in a halftime ceremony during Saturday’s game against the VooDoo.
McMillen played five of his 13 Arena Football League seasons with the Rush before calling it a career in 2007. He is best known for being an instrumental player on a surprising Chicago squad that upset Orlando in ArenaBowl XX in 2006 for the franchise’s first and only league title. McMillen hols franchise records for single game, season, and career rushing attempts, rushing yards, and rush TD’s. He is the second-leading rusher in AFL history (1,508 yds) and the fifth-leading scorer all-time among fullbacks (85 TD). McMillen was selected by the league as one of its “20 Greatest Players in AFL History.”
This is what the logo for last year’s ArenaBowl looked like:
What will the logo for ArenaBowl XXIV look like? That is completely up to you. I mean, literally…you. The league is asking fans to come up with the official logo for this year’s championship game. The winning design will be unveiled during an NFL Network telecast Friday, May 13, as chosen by the AFL’s communications department, and the winning designer will receive a VIP package that includes game tickets. The league is accepting entries at firstname.lastname@example.org until Sunday, May 8.
NFL Alumni Update
It looks like the NFL lockout is back on for the time being, and a couple days before the announcement was made, another NFL refugee looking for work on the gridiron has signed on with the AFL. Defensive back and former Philadelphia Eagles draftee Rashad Barksdale signed on with the Kansas City Command, and was in uniform for the Command during its 72-63 loss to the Central Division rival Dallas Vigilantes Friday night. Ironically, Barksdale, who has tried out with several NFL teams, enjoyed a six-game stint with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2007.
Elsewhere in the Division…
Despite more offensive struggles, the Cleveland Gladiators hung on for a 34-30 inter-conference victory at home over the Tulsa Talons Friday. The win keeps the 4-2 Gladiators one game ahead of the Power (3-3) for first place in the American Conference’s East Division entering Saturday.
Meanwhile, the 1-5 Milwaukee Mustangs will host another struggling American Conference team, the Tampa Bay Storm, Saturday evening at 8:00 Eastern, and at the same time, the 1-5 Philadelphia Soul will try to snap their five-game skid at the Iowa Barnstormers.
May the Force Be with You
The Georgia Force, who will host the Pittsburgh Power Saturday night at 7:30, moved up from No. 8 to No. 7 in the Week 7 AFL Coaches’ Poll. The undefeated Arizona Rattlers remain the top team for the fifth straight week with 17 of 18 first-place votes.
By Matt Popchock