by Bee Jay Glosson
With just a week left until the new season starts, lets take a look back at how the Washington Valor finished an improbable run to finish off last year and win the ArenaBowl championship.
The Valor finished the regular season with a 2-10 record and most believed that they had no right to even make the playoffs. With the league having only four teams and everyone of them making the playoffs, it left the door wide open for someone to play spoiler.
The AFL adopted a home and home format for the playoffs giving every team a chance to host a home playoff game with the higher seed choosing whether to play at home the first or second game in the series.
With the season wrapping up and the number one seed Albany Empire choosing to play on the road first against the Washington Valor the stage was set.
During the regular season the Valor never won against the Empire, in fact never even got closer than 11 points in any matchup and losing by as much as 27 and 24 in two of the matchups. As we all know the playoffs are a different type of football, and the Valor under interim coach Benji McDowell were trending in the right direction.
The Empire visited the Valor in game 1 of the playoffs where the game went back and forth for 4 quarters ending the regulation in a tie. Going into overtime, a situation was unfolding in which the Valor fanbase was watching their team step up and give the number one seed Empire their best and proving that they deserved to be on the same field. The Washington Valor scored late in overtime to take a 7 point lead, but as is in all AFL games it only takes one play to change a game or an outcome. With time expiring in overtime the Empire raced down the field to score a touchdown and then went for the 2 point conversion to win the game 57-56.
With the new aggregate scoring in place for the league, it set the stage for a 1 point differential for game 2 the following week in Albany. The Empire having an offense consisting of league MVP QB Tommy Grady and Rookie wide receiver of the year Malachi Jones, a home playoff game for a chance at a spot in the Arenabowl would prove to be a matchup no one believed the Valor could win.
With the game in the balance late, the Valor found a way to not only grab the lead but hold off the Empire in a 7 point win on Albany’s home field.
Setting up ArenaBowl XXXI with the Baltimore Brigade hosting the Washington Valor at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore. The Valor were facing a former AFL MVP in Randy Hippeard with a dynamic Baltimore offense that took out 2 time defending champs Philadelphia Soul in their match up the previous round of the playoffs.
Both the Brigade and the Valor are owned by Ted Leonsis, paving the way for his second championship in 2 months after his NHL team, the Washington Capitals, won the stanley cup.
The game would not dissapoint as more than 8,000 fans gathered to watch these two teams compete for the championship, just a year removed from their expansion season.
Tied after the first quarter, the Valor and quarterback Arvell Nelson went to work building a 15 point lead at the half. The Brigade wouldn’t lay down though, keeping the game within reach until late. The ArenaBowl MVP Arvell Nelson and the underdog Valor proved to be too much in the end with the Valor winning the championship 69-55.
Just like that, a team that no one gave a chance to, believed in or even thought deserved to be there, found a way to win the most improbable championship in ArenaBowl history.
Now, that you’re all caught up, who’s ready for some football? I know I am. The Valor open the season on the road in the same place they ended last season, Royal Farms Arena, facing their beltway rivals, the Baltimore Brigade on April 26th.
The league has expanded to 6 teams this year adding the Atlantic City Blackjacks and the Columbus Destroyers. It’s an exciting time to be a fan of the fastest, most action packed league on the planet.
Can the Valor repeat as champs? Can an expansion team find a way to make a run for a championship? Only one way to find out. I’ll be watching and I can only hope you will be too.
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