Friday, July 27, 2007

TSE ArenaBowl Preview - San Jose vs. Columbus

It all comes down to this.

ArenaBowl XXI will begin in just about 48 hours from posting and will pair two teams with one another that, given the AFL playoff landscape four weeks ago, shouldn't have had anything to do with one another. The first team, the mighty San Jose SaberCats, advanced to the league's championship with little in the way of opposition. The 63-49 beating of Chicago in the conference finals two weeks ago was just another of their impressive 12-game winning streak heading into Sunday's contest. They are led by Mark Grieb, the veteran ball thrower who has thrown for over 4000 yards and is one TD shy of 100 for the season. Wowzers. One would think that San Jose's dominance over the last two thirds of their AFL season would all but wrap up an AFL title for the SaberCats. But there are three opponents in the National Conference who would beg to differ.

Tampa Bay. Dallas. Georgia.

All three teams were decided favorites in their AFL playoff games. And each succumbed to a confident, underrated and downright awe inspiring underdog from the capital city of Ohio. For three straight weeks, the Columbus Destroyers did what no one thought possible; beating the overdogs and advancing to ArenaBowl XXI. They've looked better and better in their three wins this postseason, much more so than during their five-game losing streak which was snapped in the season's final week, securing Columbus their spot in the playoffs and sparking this remarkable run.

The major story of this game is between two very different veteran QBs. Grieb has been leading the 'Cats for nine years. Elements of his receiving corps has been intact for longer than Columbus has been in the league. Grieb's been around in this league, winning championships in 2002 and 2004. The nucleus of the SaberCats hasn't changed much since he began throwing passes for San Jose and it's that stability and experience in mind that San Jose will put it's hopes in the 33 year old QB.

And then there's Nagy. He has led the Destroyers through these playoffs with ease and grace, doing much more than anyone asked or ever expected of him. He has WR Damien Groce to thank for some of his success but most can be attributed to Nagy's growth as a QB. He was sandbagged in Georgia for ineptness late in games and that cost him the starters job there. With Columbus, he's hit his stride and looks poised, both on and off the field to lead his team.

So who wins? San Jose is (again) the better team on paper. Defensively and offensively, they outmatch the Destroyers. San Jose is still riding an impressive 12-game winning streak and has played each game tougher than the next. This is a talented team that looks more than good enough to bring San Jose a third title in six years.

But I'm keeping my faith in the Destroyers. Like the Cardinals in the World Series last year, even great teams can fall victim to good teams in their stride. Columbus is in just that. And if there's one team that can break Ohio out of it's recent sports funk (OSU football, OSU basketball, Cleveland Cavs basketball, Cincinnati Bengals arrest records) it's the Destroyers.

Final Score: Destroyers win 56-49.

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