By Matt Popchock
The premiere episode of “The Power Source,” our brand new weekly Pittsburgh Power podcast, previews the first game of the team’s second season in the Arena Football League, against the Orlando Predators.
We know the Predators will welcome the Power to “The Jungle” for an 8:30 kickoff tonight at the Amway Center. We know it will be the first AFL Hall of Fame Game since 2000, as ongoing festivities celebrate the newest group of inductees into the Arena Football Hall of Fame, including the league’s widely acknowledged flag-bearer, Kurt Warner.
What we don’t know is what versions of each team fans will see on national television. The AFL Players’ Union has leaned strongly in favor of a last-minute players’ strike due to, from the point of view of union chief Ivan Soto, unfair wages and other labor conditions, including an uncertain healthcare situation.
Before the league shut down briefly in 2009 amidst a sharp economic downturn, players would sometimes command six-figure salaries. Now most players make only $400 per game, but they are also provided free room and board by their teams, which also typically assist the players with finding more lucrative day jobs.
Negotiations have been contentious, but both sides are reportedly moving forward; rumor has it player salaries might ultimately be bumped up by at least 25 percent, as a temporary four-week labor deal may come to fruition. But there remains a possibility active AFL players will strike shortly before the start of tonight’s season opener, which is the lid-lifter for the league’s commemorative 25th season.
Power officials have not commented on this issue in the slightest. It appears they will be prepared to play, and commissioner Jerry Kurz has promised the game will go on, even if replacement players have to be used on short notice. Based on what we’re hearing from normally dependable league sources, both teams are prepared for that possibility, especially the Predators.
In this week’s podcast, I share my thoughts on the AFL labor dispute, but more importantly, I share my thoughts on tonight’s game. You’ll hear from Power head coach Chris Siegfried on the newest members of the organization, including wide receiver/kick returner and 2011 AFL Ironman of the Year P.J. Berry, who will play despite being limited in practice with plantar fasciitis on his right foot.
You’ll also hear from Berry himself, who set an AFL single-season record with 3,708 all-purpose yards last year, and you’ll hear from fellow receiver and 2011 returnee Mike Washington, the former Aliquippa product who led the Power in their inaugural season with 1,367 yards receiving and 30 touchdown grabs.
Check out the latest episode of “The Power Source”:
And here’s a quick look at tonight’s game:
WHERE IT IS: Amway Center; Orlando, FL
WHEN IT IS: 8:30 P.M.*
WHERE TO WATCH: NFL Network (Paul Burmeister with play-by-play, Charles Davis with color commentary, Anthony Herron reporting); online simulcast on Ustream (CLICK HERE to view the Power’s official channel)
*This week the league is delaying the opening kickoff due to Hall of Fame activities, and due to the broadcast of a half-hour AFL preview show scheduled for 8:00 P.M. on NFL Network.
WHEN WE LAST LEFT THESE TEAMS: The Power finished 2011 with a record of 9-9, which was good for second place in the East Division of the American Conference, but ultimately, one game shy of a playoff berth. The Predators finished 2011 with a record of 11-7, which was good for third place in the South Division, and the fourth and final American Conference playoff spot. Orlando lost its lone postseason game, 63-48, to the division champion and eventual ArenaBowl champion Jacksonville Sharks.
MOST RECENT MEETING: On July 1, 2011 the Power visited the Amway Center for a Week 17 contest against the Predators, which, ironically, was also seen on NFL Network. The Power led 40-20 in the second quarter, only to see Orlando scored 28 consecutive points, including back-to-back net recovery TD’s on third quarter kickoffs, believed to be a league record. The Predators prevailed, 62-54, in what proved to be a damaging blow to the Power’s playoff chances.
KNOW YOUR ENEMY: Barring the results of the AFLPU’s ongoing negotiations, Colin Drafts will be under center for new head coach Bret Munsey, who won an ArenaBowl title with Philadelphia as that team’s bench boss in 2008. Drafts completed 23 of 34 attempts for 264 yards and five TD’s against the Power in their last meeting, throwing just one pick, and also scrambled for 26 yards and one score on four rushes. As a backup he ended 2011 with 12 TD’s and two INT’s to go with a passer rating of 100.4.
This is Orlando’s 21st year as a member of the league, and their receiving corps consists of some of the most talented players to ever play in it. Leading that group is T.T. Tolliver–a longtime friend of Berry’s–who racked up 1,525 yards and 32 TD’s for the Predators last season, and accounted for 78 yards, two TD’s against Pittsburgh.
The Predators are well-peopled on defense as well. Fullback/jack linebacker Marlon Moye-Moore returns after getting a Second Team All-Arena nod and a selection to the AFL All-Ironman team in 2011. Joining that defensive front is former Power lineman Terrance Carter.
ELSEWHERE IN THE DIVISION:The Philadelphia Soul and the Milwaukee Mustangs each enjoy a bye (every AFL team gets two, in concurrence with their “enhanced” schedules) this week, while the East Division champion Cleveland Gladiators open their season on the road against the Georgia Force Monday at 7:30. The Force defeated Cleveland in the playoffs last summer.
HIDDEN STAT: The Power held the Predators to 48 offensive points last year, one of 11 instances they held an opponent under 50. The Power went 8-3 when that happened. The league scoring average in 2011 was 53.4 points per game.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)