Thursday, May 31, 2012

Remember When? The Pittsburgh Gladiators

A lot of fans around here who root for the Pittsburgh Power may not realize that this is actually the second time Pittsburgh has played in the AFL.  Our city was directly involved in the inaugural season of the Arena Football league all the way back in 1987.

The Pittsburgh Gladiators were one of the original four franchises of the AFL, along with the Washington Commandos, Denver Dynamite, and the Chicago Bruisers.

The Gladiators were coached by Joe Haering, a local football standout who was elected to the Western Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall Of Fame in 2010.   Haering currently serves as the linebackers coach at SMU.

Haering was a tough as nails, old school coach who would get on you even when you were winning.  In a 1989 game in Sacramento, as part of the "Travelling Circus" promotion to show the game to new fans,  Chicago Bruiser quarterback Ben Bennett was ejected from the game for starting a brawl, but AFL commissioner Jim Foster overruled the decision.  Haering proceeded to punch out the commissioner and earn himself a suspension.

The Pittsburgh Gladiators practicing at Robinson Township Community Park

Pittsburgh began that 1987 season 4-0, before losing their final two regular season games.  They still finished as one of the top two teams and earned the right to play the Denver Dynamite in Arena Bowl I.  The game was held in Pittsburgh's Civic Arena but the Gladiators lost 45-16 to become a footnote in Arena Bowl history.

The Gladiators featured league MVP Russell Hairston, who played wide receiver and linebacker.  Hairston finished the season with 67 receptions for 1126 yards and 18 TD's.  He also had four interceptions for 50 yards and a TD.  In addition to league MVP, he was named first team all arena.
Pittsburgh Gladiator Uniforms

Offensive/defensive lineman Craig Walls was also a first team all arena player by virtue of his league leading 13 sacks in that 1987 season and WR/DB Mike Stoops was named second team all-arena.  Current Iowa Barnstormers head coach Mike Hohensee was the starting quarterback for the Gladiators.

1988 saw the team finish with a 6-6 regular season record and once again qualify for the playoffs.  This time the team lost in the first round to eventual champion, the Detroit Drive, by the score of 34-25.

Quarterback Mike Hohensee led the league in completion percentage (58.6%) and QB rating (104) and threw 32 touchdowns versus only 3 interceptions.    Lineman Craig Walls was once again named first team all-arena after recording a league leading 12 sacks.  He would later go on to become one of the members of the AFL Hall of Fame in 1998.  Julius Dawkins, out of the University of Pittsburgh, led the team in receiving with 61 receptions for 927 yards and 21 TD's.  

1989 saw the AFL play a shorter schedule.  The Gladiators finished the regular season 3-1 and beat the Denver Dynamite 39-37 in the first round of the playoffs to advance to face the Detroit Drive in Arena Bowl III.  Pittsburgh once again fell short in their quest for a championship, falling 39-26.  

Standouts in that '89 season included a few first team all-arena players in quarterback Willie Totten and wide receiver Alvin Williams.  

1990 would be the franchise's final season in Pittsburgh.  The team did not have as much success on the field that year, finishing 3-5, but still made the playoffs, making them 4 for 4 in that category during their time in the Steel City.  They would lose 61-30 to the eventual champion Detroit Drive. WR/DB Thomas Monroe was named Ironman of the Year and first team all-arena.  WR/DB Julius Dawkins and OL/DL Keith Browner would earn second team all-arena nods.

The franchise relocated to Tampa Bay for the 1991 season and would go on to win four of the next six Arena Bowls and five titles overall.  They remain active today.

Gone, but not completely forgotten.

Special thanks to former Gladiators equipment manager Chuck Botta and for stats and stories.  

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Power sign wide receiver A.J. Jackson

The Power have a new wide receiver in the mix for playing time.  A.J. Jackson, from California (Pa) University has been assigned to the team and could contribute quickly to the team.

Jackson set school records in 2009 with 101 receptions for 1424 yards and 18 TD's.  He totaled 2130 yards and 28 TD's in his two season with the Vulcans.

His size (6'4" 236 pounds) makes him very tough to cover, and he has enough speed to make defenders pay if they make a mistake in coverage.  Jackson is also skilled at making yards after the catch.

He was named to the 2009 AP Little All-America (Division II, III & NAIA) second team.

Take a glance at his highlight video below.  He makes some incredible catches and shows great footwork along the sidelines.   He should be a fun player to watch if he is given a chance to play.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

"Superfans" of the Pittsburgh Power

One of the coolest parts of the arena football game is how close the fans can sit to the action.  You can sit so close to the field you feel like you are part of the action.

Some Pittsburgh Power fans have taken on personas to become larger than life "Superfans" who only add to the excitement and thrills of a Pittsburgh Power game.

If you've been to a Power game at Consol Energy Center, you're bound to have seen one or more of these people cheering or dancing in support of the Black and Gold.  

I wanted to take a few moments to thank them for their efforts in making the Consol Energy Center a true party atmosphere.

The Pittsburgh Power Green Man

The Pittsburgh Power Green Man was probably the first "Superfan" I noticed last year, mostly because it's hard not to stand out wearing a bright green bodysuit.  This faceless wonder moves around the arena and loves dancing up a storm in between breaks in the action.   

You might be confused because there do seem to be more than one of these guys at the arena.  It's like they say, Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  

According to his Facebook page, He loves taunting, flailing and pterodactyl noises, making the other team feel shame, and making any players on that team wish they had never been born.

The Pittsburgh Power American Man

Another supersuit wearing fan of the Power is The Pittsburgh Power American Man.  

He seems to be cut from the same mold as the Green Man, although his suit has more of a patriotic flair to it.    In addition to the red and white striped suit, he dons an American flag cape, boxer shorts, and usually has a bright flamboyant pair of shoes on to finish the outfit.  

Green Man and American Man often seem to hang out around each other.  Perhaps they are friends outside of the Power games as well.

Pittsburgh Steelman

The Pittsburgh Steelman fills the role of superhero at the Power games.  His shiny, metallic costume can be seen from anywhere in the arena.  The costume itself is based on the actual uniforms used in Pittsburgh's steel making past.

He was named "Pittsburgh's Official Superhero" at the City of Pittsburgh Comic Book Convention.

He captures the essence of this glorious Steel town, and is a proud fan of the game.  

He also looks out for others at the game.  For example, he caught two footballs at the game, which you are allowed to keep by rule, but gave the footballs to kids sitting near him instead.  

The Pittsburgh Power Brothers

A longtime staple at Power games are The Pittsburgh Power Brothers.  This pair has had front row seats in the end zone for many of the Power's games in 2011 and 2012.  

It does seem like one of the brothers looks vastly different from last year.  A new member perhaps, but the fact remains these guys are true diehards.  

They made it to the finals of the costume contest for "Superhero" night.

Pittsburgh Pony

One Power fan dons a horse mask and personalized jersey to become The Pittsburgh Pony.  PA announcer Bubba Snider often calls him "Horsehead" instead, leading the Pony to point to the name on the back of his jersey clearly marked "Pittsburgh Pony."

He can usually be seen in the end zone ready to receive a football on kickoffs.  He is also a staple of the dance for your dinner contests.  

He occasionally wears a Mike Wallace jersey, playing off the "One Trick Pony" theme.

Pittsburgh Power Ref Guy

Anytime the referee challenge is called at the Consol Energy Center, you can expect to hear a lone voice in the crowd began to chant "Ref Ref Ref!"

This is when the Pittsburgh Power Ref Guy shines.  He'll keep the chant going strong during the review of the play.  The passion and dedication this fan brings to the game would make his idol Ed Hochuli proud.  

The addition of an actual ref costume only adds to the character.  

Who is your favorite?

So which of these "Superfans" is your favorite?  Who best represents the Pittsburgh Power?  Cast your vote in the poll to the upper right.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Pittsburgh Power head coach Chris Siegfried fired.

The Pittsburgh Power announced today that head coach Chris Siegfried was relieved of his duties.  The team currently has a record of 2-8 after falling at home on Saturday to the previously winless Kansas City Command.

Anyone familiar with the Power had to see this coming.  The team is dead last in turnover margin in the league and constantly found ways to lose games.  Constant turnover at the key quarterback position prevented the team from finding any continuity, and Siegfried was also responsible for the offensive playcalling for a team that has struggled for two seasons to score with any consistency.

Siegfried told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that Pittsburgh was his dream job and expressed disappointment that he was unable to get things turned around.  

Former Power head coach Chris Siegfried.
Photo Credit: John Buffone
The Power will go with defensive coordinator Derek Stingley as their interim head coach.  Stingley took on more of the coaching duties during Saturday's loss to the Command due to Siegfried's bout with food poisoning.  Stingley was the head coach of the New Orleans VooDoo last season, compiling a 2-12 record.  He has over 20 years of AFL experience as a player and coach.  Former Steeler quarterback Mike Tomczak will join the team as offensive coordinator.  

The team never seemed to recover from the opening night labor dispute that saw the team fire their players at a pregame meal and roll with a mix of players crossing the picket line and replacement players in a 40-28 win over Orlando.  Kyle Rowley and Taylor Rowan never rejoined the team and the lack of a consistent quarterback and kicker have clearly cost the team a few victories this year.  

Pittsburgh is currently on their bye week, so Stingley's first game as head coach of the Power will be against the Arizona Rattlers on June 2nd in Arizona.  

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Power Hit Rock Bottom, Hand Kansas City First Win Of The Season.

Things have gone from bad to worse for the Power.  Turnovers once again were the story in a 43-37 loss to the Kansas City Command Saturday night.  It was the first win for the Command this year.

I've never seen a team this poor at holding onto the ball.  Already entering the game with the worst turnover margin in the league, the Power gave the ball away three more times. Fumbles by Oderick Turner and Bryan Randall killed early momentum for the Power, and Derek Cassidy threw an interception later in the game which sealed the Power's fate.

P.J. Berry stood out for the Power in all three phases of the game.  He had 10 catches for 94 yards and 2 TD's, plus an interception and another solid showing in the return game.  Oderick Turner had 8 catches for 94 yards plus the fumble, and Mike "Joystick" Washington had 6 catches for 74 yards and 2 TD's.

Starting quarterback Bryan Randall, fresh off a franchise record performance against the San Antonio Talons, went 9 for 13 for 86 yards and 2 TD's.  He was benched after a critical lost fumble and replaced by Cassidy.  Cassidy was floating passes all game long, some being dropped by Command defenders.  He easily could have thrown four interceptions in this game.  

Coach Siegfried had no answers after the game, and seeing how this season has played out, he may not have to answer questions much longer.  This is a team that started out the 2011 season 6-2 and sat in first place in the Eastern division before sputtering to a 9-9 finish down the stretch due to, what else, turnovers.  That trend has continued through every game of the 2012 season.  Siegfried even seemed resigned to this possible fate by apologizing to ownership in the postgame press conference for not being able to deliver a winner.

Siegfried brought up the point that some members of the team, who he refused to name, seemed content to just be here.  He hinted there would be more roster moves after the bye week, but it's probably too little too late.  Siegfried seems like a nice enough guy, but this team appears to have quit on him.  

It's probably no coincidence that both teams involved in the opening night strike fiasco have a combined record of 3-16.  Where would they be right now if Kyle Rowley was still in a power uniform.  Just last night, Rowley was leading the Spokane Shock to a big win over the Philadelphia Soul.    He's the kind of experienced quarterback that could have given the Power a few more wins this year.  Sadly we'll never know.

Where does Pittsburgh go from here?  Sitting at 2-8 with a loss to the worst team in the league, plus the only two wins of the season coming against the equally woeful Orlando Predators, what positives can we focus on.   Fans are turning on the team quickly on the Power's Facebook page.  It's an ugly situation all around.

Maybe it's time to make a move at the head coaching position and see if that lights a spark under the team.  What could it hurt?  Again this doesn't seem to be a fluke seeing how the team had the same issues last year.

A likely interim replacement would be defensive coordinator Derek Stingley, who was the head coach of the New Orleans VooDoo last year and is one of the best AFL players in the history of the game.   Stingley was more involved in this game due to Siegfried suffering from food poisoning.   Spend the rest of the season figuring out who wants to be here and who doesn't and try to build for the future as best as you can.

It's not like things can get any worse....

Friday, May 18, 2012

Kansas City Command @ Pittsburgh Power Preview

Let's roll through the facts for a moment.  The Pittsburgh Power (2-7) have placed themselves in an almost impossible situation because of their inability to hang onto the football.  Pittsburgh is dead last in the AFL in turnover margin at -15 and continually find ways to lose games.  

Last week saw quarterback Bryan Randall fumble twice, running back Tyre Young once, and three missed PAT attempts from kicker Seth Burkholder, who was given his walking papers after the game.  It all adds up in the standings and the Power have no margin for error if they still dream about making the AFL playoffs.  It would take a miraculous comeback, but this is the team that rallied from 31 down against Orlando earlier this year to win a game.

The journey towards that miracle starts this Saturday as the winless Kansas City Command invade the Consol Energy Center to take on the Power.  

Kansas City has the lowest scoring offense in the league (36.1 PPG) and will start AFL rookie Matt Gutierrez at quarterback.  He has struggled mightily this year, completing only 56.1% of his passes.   Pittsburgh might not respect his arm, but they do have to worry about him running the ball.  If the Power's defensive line can contain Gutierrez, the Power D should be in great shape.

The Command have had major injury issues but they do have a strong playmaker in Armand Robinson at the wide receiver position.  In just two games this year, Robinson has amassed 21 receptions for 239 yards and 5 TD's.  

Pittsburgh spent most of the year searching for an answer at the quarterback position, and may have found one in Randall.  Randall leads the league in completion percentage (69%), and has throw for over 300 yards in back to back games.  Last week he set a Power franchise record for yards with 387.  If Randall can curtail his fumbling issues, he could be an elite quarterback in the AFL.

His favorite target last week was P.J. "Superman" Berry who caught a franchise record 19 receptions for 188 yards and 2 TD's.  He finished one shy of the league reception record for a game set by Dwayne Dixon in 1987.

Another popular target for Randall is Oderick Turner.  In just two games this year for Pittsburgh, Turner has hauled in 19 catches for 215 yards and 4 TD's and looks like a potential force for the Power offense.

Keys to the game:
  • How well does Matt Gutierrez match up against an aggressive Power secondary.  Chris LeFlore is third in the AFL in the interception category with six and has to be licking his chops for a few picks against the Command.
  • Can Sione Ohuafi step in for injured Power center Beau Elliott who suffered a season-ending injury against San Antonio.  Ohuafi might be rusty after not playing for almost a year.  This could especially be problematic on quarterback/center exchanges.  
  • Can Pittsburgh finally find a solid kicker who won't leave points on the field?  After an 0 for 3 performance from Seth Burkholder, the Power have brought in Geoff Boyer to try and stabilize the position.  Boyer was 19/24 on FG's and 49/54 on PAT's for the Albany Panthers of the SIFL this year.  

Playoff chase aside, this is a game that Pittsburgh cannot afford to lose.  Fans are getting frustrated in the Steel City and a loss to a winless Command team would be devastating.   I just don't think it'll happen though.  Pittsburgh is too talented to blow this one.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Power fumbling away season, lose 68-52 to San Antonio.

Those searching for reasons why the Pittsburgh Power (2-7) are struggling this year need look no further than their turnover margin.

Pittsburgh came into this game against the San Antonio Talons (6-3) tied with the Talons with a -12 turnover margin.  After losing the battle in that category tonight, Pittsburgh is all but dead in the playoff hunt.  They would likely need to win all of their remaining games and still need help to secure a wild card spot.

This time around, it was two fumbles lost by quarterback Bryan Randall, as well as a third lost fumble by Tyre Young.  San Antonio also had three fumbles in the game, but lost none of them.

Fumbles weren't the only story of this game.  Power kicker Seth Burkholder went 0-for-3 on his extra point attempts before the team chose to go for two points after all of their remaining touchdowns.  Two onsides attempts failed to go ten yards, and were returned by the Talons for touchdowns.

The Power offensive line struggled mightily to contain the Talons ferocious pass rush, yielding 7 sacks against Randall.

If you take away all of these negatives, we can finally look at some of the positives in the game.

Randall set a Power franchise record with 387 yards passing, and he threw for 7 touchdowns and zero interceptions.  Aside from his fumbles, he outplayed AFL legend Aaron Garcia, who threw for 268 yards and 6 TD's.

Also setting a Power record with 19 receptions, P.J. Berry finished the day with 188 yards and 2 TD's, plus 148 return yards.  He was one catch away from tying the AFL record of 20 catches.  Oderick Turner continued his strong play from last week with 10 catches for 96 yards and 2 TD's.  Mike "Joystick" Washington had 5 catches for 82 yards and 3 TD's.

Pittsburgh will look to end this losing streak next week at home against the winless Kansas City Command.  

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Pittsburgh Power @ San Antonio Talons Preview

The Pittsburgh Power (2-6) have dug themselves a deep hole in their quest for an AFL championship and a winning streak is imperative if they still hold out hopes of achieving that dream.

Their first attempt at a reversal of fortune takes them to San Antonio tonight as they take on the San Antonio Talons (5-3)

Pittsburgh is still searching for answers after a 55-52 loss to the Georgia Force last week, a game in which kicker Raymond "Trey" Kramer missed three extra points, and had a fourth blocked.  Kramer was reassigned this week and the Power have their 4th kicker of the year, Seth Burkholder.  Burkholder played for the Canton Cougars last year of the UIFL.

In addition to inconsistency at kicker, Pittsburgh has struggled at the quarterback position, although Bryan Randall will be making his third straight start for the Power and may be proving himself as the long term answer for the team.

On the other side of the ball, the San Antonio Talons boast one of the greatest AFL players of all time under center in starting quarterback Aaron Garcia.  Garcia had perhaps the finest statistical season of his career, completing 71.5% of his passes last year for 4933 yards, 116 TD's and 17 Interceptions.  He also lead the Jacksonville Sharks to their first title, while also earning the first ring of his distinguished 18 year career as well as the title of Russell Athletic Offensive Player of the Year.

Garcia's numbers are down this year, but he still ranks amongst the best in the game.  He's completed 65.5% of his passes  for 2268 yards (6th), 52 TD's, (3rd) and 11 interceptions.  The return of WR Jomo Wilson a few games ago has boosted his numbers greatly.

Wilson has played in just three games this year, but he's caught 28 receptions, 397 yards, and 9 TD's to have a huge impact on all three contests.   Wilson and Garcia played together last year in Jacksonville and have great chemistry with each other.

Former Power wideout Jason Willis currently leads the team with 47 receptions, 516 yards and 11 TD's, but he's a boom-or-bust type of player.  He'll either have a huge game or be invisible.  The Talons will be without top receiving option Robert Quiroga, who is on injured reserve.

Pittsburgh saw the return of Oderick Turner to the lineup last week against Georgia.  The former Pitt product had 7 catches for 107 yards and 2 TD's.  He showed great athleticism and strength and could be a strong player for Pittsburgh down the stretch.

Randy Hymes has also been strong for Pittsburgh this year.  His 8 catches for 119 yards and 2 TD's lead the Power in receiving last week.  His biggest problem this year has been deflecting some passes directly to opposing defenders for interceptions.  If his hands are solid in this game, it'll be a huge boost for Pittsburgh.

Although the Talons rank dead last in rushing offense, they have a strong runner in Tank Cook who had 99 carries for 294 yards and 30 TD's last year with the San Jose SaberCats.  He feasted on the Power defense in their matchup against Pittsburgh last year, and we could see his first major breakout of the year against a power defense that ranks last against the run in the AFL.

Defensively, the Power secondary has been playing well.  Newcomer Davion Mitchell brought a lot of intensity to the defense last week.  He lead the team in tackles and had a pass blocked.  Chris LeFlore remains amongst the best in the AFL with 6 interceptions, although his streak of games with a pick was snapped last week.  Ricky Gary will be active for his first game of action this week.

Pittsburgh has to get their special teams untracked.  They had zero answers for C.J. Johnson last week in kickoff coverage, and they aren't doing P.J. Berry in their blocking schemes.  This was a major area of interest for coach Chris Siegfried.

Both teams are tied for 16th in the AFL with a minus-12 turnover margin, so they'll both make their share of mistakes.   Looking at the matchups, I like the Power's edge in the receiving corps, I give San Antonio a major edge at quarterback, plus they have the homefield advantage.

The team that turns it over the least will win this game.  Sadly, I don't think that will be the team wearing black and gold.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Georgia Force @ Pittsburgh Power Preview

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?   Don't worry we won't find out the answer to that question this week when the Georgia Force (3-4) travels to Pittsburgh to take on the Power (2-5) in an American Conference matchup.

Georgia has hardly been unstoppable on offense lately, scoring 51 points COMBINED in their last two games. Not surprisingly they lost both games.  The Power do more closely resemble an immovable object, at least in AFL terms, as they rank 1st in total yardage defense.  They also come into this matchup ranked second in the league in red zone defense.

Georgia's starting quarterback R.J. Archer missed last weeks game due to injury, and his status is still up in the air for this matchup.  If Archer cannot go the start will go to Kevin Eakin, who was was only able to throw for 223 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in last week's 60-27 loss to the Arizona Rattlers.

Also sitting this game out will be Force rookie wide receiver Brandon McRae.  The Force will have to rely heavily on their top receiver Larry Shipp, Jr.  He ranks amongst the league leaders with 65 receptions (5th), 790 yards (5th), and 15 TD's (9th).  The 3rd year player is also used for trick plays from occasion so the Power need to keep an eye on him

Georgia also brings a member of the 2010 and 2011 All-Ironman team with them in the form of kick returner/wide receiver C.J. Johnson.  While his 37 catches for 332 yards and 5 TD's might not jump out at you in this league, his 34 returns for 706 yards and a score do.  Pittsburgh needs to tighten up the kickoff coverage with him on the field.

Defensively for the Force, they boast the league's top man in the interception department.  Tracy Belton already has eight interceptions before the halfway mark of the 2012 season and is leading the Force with 44 tackles and 6 passes blocked.   Fellow defensive back Marrio Norman has four interceptions so far this year and both form a strong pass defense tandem.

Pittsburgh will once again roll with quarterback Bryan Randall at the helm.  Randall started off last week very strong but had a few critical interceptions.  His play could improve but there's a lot of potential from the former IFL MVP.  He'll look to build upon his chemistry with reigning AFL Playmaker of the Week Mike "The Joystick" Washington.  Washington caught 13 passes for 170 yards and three touchdowns in the loss to Cleveland last week.

Power defensive back Chris LeFlore has registered an interception in three straight games now and has already broken Josh Lay's record for most interceptions in a season by a Power defensive back.  He'll look to extend that record against Georgia.

A wild card in this game could be newly signed Power kicker Raymond "Trey" Kramer.  Kramer is playing his first season of American football.  I'm not just talking professionally, this year is his first attempt at the game period.  The Marion Blue Racers of the UIFL gave the diamond in the rough a chance and he rewarded them by kicking a league record 55 yard field goal and was named the Special teams player of the week 3 times.  Through 6 games with the Blue Racers he converted 26 of 32 extra points and 6 of 13 field goals.

Overall this game is going to feature two offenses that have struggled mightily overall this year.  Pittsburgh is still searching for the long term answer at quarterback and hopes that Randall is the man.  Without McRae in the Georgia offense, I think the Power have a few more weapons on their side which should be an advantage.  Pittsburgh also has the homefield advantage in this one which cannot be discounted.

Defensively, the Force are better at causing turnovers, which could favor them slightly.  If Pittsburgh can limit the self-inflicted wounds they should win easily.  I don't think they will avoid the turnover battle completely so this one should remain interesting.