Predators Get Rushed in Vegas
Game not as close as 69-61 score indicates!
Story and Photos by Kevin Pakos for Sports and Entertainment News. He is also the Host/Producer of ASPN Radio and Amazing Performances Radio and the publisher of the Rattler Report.
Before anyone knew what was happening Chicago was up 10-0 over the vaunted Predators. It was the first time this year that Orlando went scoreless in the first quarter. After the game Predators coach Gruden was asked if his team was a little too relaxed going into the game. He said no, and by his tone it was clear he did not like the question. But the beat writers for the Predators are the ones that made note of the relaxed mood of the players before the game began. The last time these two teams met was in the regular season in Orlando. What a contrast! In that game the Predators blasted the Rush 55-27 and held Chicago to only one touchdown in the second half. On this day, the Predators would lead only thrice and the largest margin was four points. OK, each lead was four points, making them four for three (pun intended). These leads were all in the first half. In the second half Orlando spent the day in a Rush to play catch up.
The Predators did not get their focus or their scoring offense back until after Chicago's Shaw lost the ball on a kickoff return in the second quarter following Orlando's first score. This gave the Predators some momentum and got them back on track, for a while. But the half ended with a Rush field goal of 51 yards by Frantz and the Orlando team storming into the locker room. This field goal and score to end the half was extremely bitter because it came after Orlando missed what should have been and easy three pointer and a confidence building score for the Predators to take into the break. Instead a very relaxed Rush team went to the half with a 34-28 lead instead of being tied 31 all.
The second half can best be described as all Chicago. In fact, the Predators never led in the second half. It began with a Rush TD after a Rush kickoff that bounced off the net and into the waiting arms of the Rush player Shaw. He caught it at the seven and was tackled at the five yard line. This was soon followed by a D'Orazio run for a touchdown to put the Rush up 41-38. Then to add insult to injury Chicago's Robinson took a Predators pass 44 yards for a touchdown and a 48-28 lead. Orlando did get a one play 45 yard TD from Hamilton to Dudley after the kickoff to make it 48-34 Chicago. Then both teams missed field goals to end the third quarter. Chicago had a series of plays on that missed field goal drive that could easily turned the tide and put the Predators in control. On several plays Chicago tried to run the ball in with no success and clearly Orlando was in control for that series. But they came out on offense and fizzled after the stop.
The fourth quarter started for the Rush the way the third quarter did. With a score as Sippio went 31 yards with a D'Orazio pass to make it 55-34 in their favor. Orlando followed with a Hamilton to Fryzel eleven yard touchdown pass and catch. Then the Predators blocked a 49 yard Chicago field goal attempt and as quick as a blink Orlando's Hamilton runs it in from five yards out to make it 55-47 Chicago. The Predators did the right thing and had a successful onside kick, but it was ruled null by an offside penalty and Chicago got the ball back and after a few plays D'Orazio hit Molden for a two yard TD and it is 62-47 Chicago.
After the kickoff Hamilton leads the Predators on a scoring drive capped by his 10 yard TD pass to Dudley and now it is 62-54 Chicago. This time the Rush recovers the onside kick and D'Orazio hits Alfonzo on a 15 yard TD to make it 69-54 Chicago. Hamilton again does it all right and hits Davidson on a 29 TD pass to close it to 69-61 Chicago. The Predators onside kick it again and D'Orazio simply takes several snaps and throws incomplete into the stands to end the game and give the Rush the Championship. The last two minutes saw both teams score two touchdowns each as onside kicks went awry for Orlando and a rare, intentional "bounce" pass off the net from D'Orazio to Alfonso fell perfect for Chicago.
It is ironic that in a game that boasted 130 points, that this was not the most that the Predators surrendered this season. No, they got toasted and gave up 87 to Dallas in week eight in the 87-62 loss. The indoor game was intended to be an offensive scoring fest that makes defensive play a game of chance. To that end it has been highly successful. Coach Gruden alluded to the unique nature of the game in a statement that, under normal circumstances would sound neurotic. When asked about the quick Rush score off the bounce to open the second half he responded in a very stern tone. "That's what I hate about this game!" Moments later however he was commenting on the pass by Chicago's QB D'Orazio into the corner of the net that bounced to Rush WR Alfonzo for a score to make it 69-54 Chicago with 27 seconds left, and he noted "It is things like this that make this game so great!". His tone was gentler but his passion for winning is clear.
To the fan, the excitement of such quick, unexpected turnarounds is what keeps you coming back for more. Where else can a football fan watching their team losing by two to three touchdowns with less than a minute remaining and say. With complete confidence, "don't worry, we can still win it!" Yep, Arena Football has done for football what Vince McMahon and the WWE did for wrestling. It gives us a reason to believe in the unexplainable but very real world of sports and entertainment, or as we have come to know the AFL as, "Sportainment" Man I love this game.
Post Game Honors
The MVP awards for the game all went to Chicago players. Offensive MVP was Matt D'Orazio QB. The ADT Defensive MVP went to DB Dennison Robinson and the US Army Ironman Award went to LB/FB Bob McMillen.
McMillen had the best quote of the day when asked what he was thinking in the last few minutes when Orlando went on a scoring spree, his answer: "I was thinking to myself, don't blow it!" This game has special meaning for Bob since he is a native of Chicago. Born in Oak-Park he played ball at Immaculate Conception HS in Elmhurst and at College of DuPage and Illinois Benedictine ad D3 School. It was his dream to win a championship for his hometown. For Bob it is the third AFL title team he has played on. He won one with the 1997 Rattlers and with the 2002 San Jose Sabercats, against the Rattlers.
The Chicago Tribune said that he was the most successful pro football player in all of Chicago. This season he was placed by the AFL among the leagues top 20 all time best players. In Chicago the Rush dedicated a day for him when he took over the AFL rushing yardage lead. On top of these he holds franchise records for game, season and career rushing yards and TD's.
The team had as one of its original owners Walter Payton. Now a team partner is Mike Ditka. Not bad company for a guy that was headed for construction work before his wife talked him into given the AFL a try. And try, try, try, try he did. His fourth and final try, at his own expense for travel, room and board landed with the Arizona Rattlers. It is amazing that a career that began on a long shot gamble may have ended on its finest day in the city of chance, Las Vegas.
After a game in which QB Matt D'Orazio threw five TD passes and ran for three TD's Rush HC Mike Hohensee had this to say: "I think we found out we have a good football team, we found out we have a pretty good QB and I am impressed with the team's character." This was said after the Rush opened in Colorado and lost as the Crush scored the clinching TD with one second left in the game.
Post Game Quotes:
When asked how it felt to be the Champions, coach Hohensee had this to say: "It feels great; it feels like I thought it would." "It means somebody believed in me and gave me a chance," he said. "I've got a saying on my weight room wall in ink: Being the best still means something. That's how we lived our lives this year."
After Arena Bowl 20 Chicago QB D'Orazio had thrown for six TD's and ran for two more in the second highest scoring Arena Bowl game. Predator’s coach Gruden had this to say about D'Orazio: "If you watch Matt D'Orazio, he's just an unbelievable magician out there. He makes throws you never teach quarterbacks to make while being hit. "My hat is off to D'Orazio and coach Hohensee; he called great plays to keep us off balance."
Chicago Rush coach Mike Hohensee is 45 and has been in the AFL for its entire 20 year life. He threw the first AFL touchdown pass as the QB for the Pittsburgh Gladiators. He played in the '87 Arena Bowl as the Gladiators lost to the Denver Dynamite 45-16. He has been a head coach for 13 years.
Orlando Predators coach Jay Gruden was taking part in his 7th Arena Bowl, it was his first loss. He won two as a coach and four as a player.
The Predators have reached the playoffs a record tying 15 times.
The Utah Blaze mark the spot when the Chicago Rush got hot and went on a winning streak that ended in Las Vegas. Some think Utah should get some credit for the boost. After the Rush melted the Blaze 84-48 Utah Coach Danny White had this to say: "We got them going in the right direction." The Rush set a franchise record for single game scoring. The Rush followed the win over Utah with a 70-47 rout of Grand Rapids to end the regular season, and then reeled off three straight playoff wins on the road over Nashville, Colorado and San Jose.
Understatement of the Year:
"That Utah game was huge, in terms of gaining confidence," said Chicago coach Mike Hohensee.