*We Are the Champions, My Friend

Last year the Spokane Shock, a former member of the now-defunct ArenaFootball2 Developmental League, won the AFL’s West Division title in their first year as a member of the reorganized league. They went on to win the National Conference crown before capturing ArenaBowl XXIII.  Unfortunately, the Shock’s title defense did not get off to a good start in Week 1, as the host San Jose SaberCats rolled to a 76-48 win over Spokane in the SaberCats’ first game since rejoining the AFL.  The Shock will try to bounce back Saturday night at home against the Cleveland Gladiators.  The team that bowed to Spokane in the ArenaBowl, the reigning American Conference champion Tampa Bay Storm (formerly known as the Pittsburgh Gladiators), fared better in Week 1 with a 46-40 road victory over the New Orleans Voodoo. However, they were stunned, 72-36, by the host Utah Blaze Thursday night.  Utah won a league-low two games in 2010.

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*Hey, Can We Play?

A source close to Chris Siegfried told me after last Friday’s game that, with the NFL’s labor situation being what it is, the Pittsburgh Power’s head coach would be amenable to letting locked-out NFL players play for him in the meantime.  In fact, this is already starting to happen elsewhere in the Arena League.  Two NFL players have signed with AFL teams and neither of them are strangers to the indoor game.  Dallas Cowboys receiver Troy Bergeron has signed with the AFL’s Cleveland Gladiators, and Cleveland Browns receiver Rod Windsor has signed with the Arizona Rattlers.  Bergeron once played three non-consecutive seasons with the AFL’s Georgia Force–2005, 2007, and 2008 and won Rookie of the Year honors in ’05.  Windsor was named the AFL’s Offensive Player of the Year for 2010 after registering 47 touchdowns and 2,372 receiving yards on 193 catches with Arizona.  Both players are still under contract with their respective NFL teams.

*They’ve Got the Power

A lot of websites do “power rankings” for various sports, and the Arena Football League is no different.  The league runs a weekly coaches’ poll to rank the top ten, and as you might guess, the ArenaBowl champion Spokane Shock topped the preseason rankings, receiving 12 of a possible 18 first-place votes. Now, San Jose has supplanted the Shock after its Week 1 rout.  The Pittsburgh Power’s Week 1 opponent, the Philadelphia Soul, were also voted into the top ten and remain there after their overtime victory at Consol Energy Center.  The Power made the preseason top ten, and despite that loss, they made the cut in the latest AFL coaches’ poll, which can be seen here.

*The Pupil Becomes the Teacher

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When the Philadelphia Soul met the Power at Consol Energy Center, it marked a homecoming for new head coach Mike Hohensee, who first broke into the AFL in its inaugural 1987 season as the starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Gladiators.  “Coach Ho” is one of nine ex-AFL players who now call themselves head coaches, and one of six head coaches debuting with a new team in 2011.  Former Dallas Desperados quarterback Clint Dolezel, one of the top passers in league history, got his first win as coach of that team, now called the Dallas Vigilantes, in a divisional contest at home against the Kansas City Command.

Former Chicago Rush fullback Bob McMillen won an ArenaBowl title with that team in 2006, and now, as the Rush’s rookie head coach, has that team off to a 2-0 start after hammering Philadelphia Friday night.  Meanwhile, Derek Stingley, once a defensive specialist with several old AFL teams, is still looking for his first win as a head coach after his New Orleans Voodoo dropped a second straight divisional home game on Friday, this time to the Orlando Predators.  By the way, Power head coach Chris Siegfried never played in the AFL, but was the first former AF2 player to coach in that league.

*To the Victor Go the Spoils

Philadelphia receiver Donovan Morgan caught all five of Justin Allgood’s touchdown passes and ran for another score in the Soul’s Week 1 overtime win at Pittsburgh. For his heroics, Morgan, who finished the game with 189 yards on 14 catches, earned the AFL’s Russell Athletic Offensive Player of the Week honor.  In addition, defensive back Mike Brown’s pick-six that won the game was named the Spalding Highlight of the Week by the league. Last night, Morgan again led Philly receivers with 115 yards on nine catches, but was held off the scoreboard as the Soul were blown out at Chicago 62-28. It was their worst-ever road loss and most lopsided defeat since ’06.

Pittsburgh Power fullback/linebacker Joshua Rue, a Duquesne graduate, was nominated for the JLS Ironman of the Week Award (for outstanding two-way play). It’s an award that eventually went to Tampa Bay receiver Huey Whittaker, after running for two touchdowns in defeat.  The league’s Riddell Defensive Player of the Week Award went to another Tampa Bay player. Linebacker Cliff Dukes recorded a team-record four out of six team sacks in the Storm’s win over New Orleans.

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By Matt Popchock