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The top five ArenaBowls

by Fran Stuchbury
June 6, 2005 - Arena Football League (1987-2008) (AFL I)

This Sunday, the Colorado Crush will battle the Georgia Force in the Arena Football League championship game, ArenaBowl XIX. OurSports Central contributor Fran Stuchbury has been following the AFL since its first game in 1987, and he has attended four ArenaBowls, (ArenaBowl XII, XIII, XVII & XVIII). He will be in Las Vegas for ArenaBowl XIX Sunday.

Listed below is Fran's list of the top five ArenaBowls.

ArenaBowl#5 ArenaBowl XIV

August 20, 2000

Orlando Predators 41, Nashville Kats 38

This game came down to a last second game winning FG by David Cool. The Orlando Predators had a very strong defense led by Defensive Player of the Year Kenny McEntyre who led the AFL in interceptions that season with 11.

Predators QB Connell Maynor earned MVP honors by passing for 202 yards, four TD's and no INT's. Maynor's mobility always made him a threat to run with the ball.

What I remember most about that Nashville team was their resiliency. They were the number six seed in the playoffs and went on the road and defeated the Iowa Barnstormers, 63-56, and San Jose SaberCats, 51-42, to get to ArenaBowl.

When they lost QB Andy Kelly to an injury they were able to stay in the game with a nice performance by backup James Brown who threw a 45-yard touchdown strike to Darryl Hammond to tie the game at 38-38.

OL/DL James Baron surprisingly earned Ironman honors, (the losing team player rarely gets that honor) but he definitely earned it by catching a pass for 28 yards for a touchdown, and on defense he had two quarterback sacks.

What made this game memorable was it came down to the last play. A game winning kick by David Cool gave the fans in Orlando a reason to celebrate.

ArenaBowl#4 ArenaBowl X

August 26, 1996

Tampa Bay Storm 42, Iowa Barnstormers 38

This game was Iowa Barnstormers QB Kurt Warner's first ArenaBowl appearance, and he passed for 316 yards, four touchdowns but three costly interceptions. Warner would go on to bigger and better things in the NFL, leading the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl title and would win NFL and SuperBowl MVP nods in the same season.

Storm QB Jay Gruden passed 264 yards and 5 TD's, 1 INT but the key to game was the Storm's defense stopping Iowa on fourth down on the three-yard line.

Tampa Bay won back-to-back ArenaBowls. The team had a record 25,087 attendance in ArenaBowl IX with their 48-35 win over the Predators. When the Storm moved from St. Petersburg to Tampa Bay, it hurt its fan base.

What made this ArenaBowl so memorable was it took place in small-market Des Moines, Iowa. Jim Foster, the man who invented Arena Football got a team in his home town. The fans in Iowa were very passionate and they loved their team.

It's a shame economics forced Foster to sell the franchise to Charles Wang who moved the team to New York where it became the Dragons.

The same fate happened to the Albany Firebirds but at least they now have an af2 team, the Conquest.

ArenaBowl#3 ArenaBowl XVIII

June 27, 2004

San Jose SaberCats 69, Arizona Rattlers 62

SaberCats QB Mark Grieb passed for eight touchdowns, five of them to James Roe. It was the second ArenaBowl championship in three years for San Jose.

I attended this game in Arizona and it was an exciting contest to watch. Teams were scoring back and forth. What I really liked about this game was it was the first ArenaBowl with no turnovers.

SaberCats OS James Hundon showed a lot of heart. After breaking his nose, he came back into the game and caught a 33-yard touchdown pass from Grieb in the fourth quarter.

"I really couldn't breathe, as you could tell," Hundon said later. "But everything was fine, once it got reset. The doctors had me sit there for a minute, and I believe Arizona had just scored. That was tough, so I came down and said, 'That's it. Look, I feel good. Let me get over here to the sideline and finish contributing to my team.'"

QB Sherdrick Bonner led the Rattlers, passing for 367 yards and seven touchdowns. OS Siaha Burly caught 11 receptions for 166 yards and four TD's.

Many people felt this would be the last good team the Rattlers would field for awhile, especially with the departure of coach Danny White. Arizona in 2005 finished 7-9 but showed some promised going 6-2 its last eight games.

As for San Jose they will not repeat as champions because of a rash of injuries.

ArenaBowl#2 ArenaBowl V

August 17, 1991

Tampa Bay Storm 48, Detroit Drive 42

This is a game where the torch was handed from one dominant franchise to another. The Drive had won the previous three ArenaBowls convincingly, and the Tampa Bay Storm were the new kids on the block.

This was their first year in Tampa Bay, after the began as the Pittsburgh Gladiators.

Storm QB Jay Gruden threw a 35-yard scoring strike to Stevie Thomas with only 35 seconds left to clinch the victory.

This was Jay Gruden's Rookie year in the AFL. In the ArenaBowl he passed for 298 yards five TD's, and three interceptions. WR Stevie Thomas had an outstanding game for the Storm with five receptions 117 yards and four scores to earn MVP honors.

The Drive was loaded with award winners that included MVP George LaFrance and Lineman of the Year John Corker. Controversial QB Art Schlister, who was banned from the NFL due to his gambling problems, led the Drive.

Schlister was named MVP of ArenaBowl IV. In ArenaBowl V he passed for 265 yards, four TD's and two INT's.

Schlister went on to play one more year in the AFL for the Cincinnati Rockers, but his gambling problems led to him being put behind bars.

The Drive would go on to play in the next two ArenaBowls, winning ArenaBowl VI 56-38 over the Orlando Predators, then losing ArenaBowl XII 51-31 to the Tampa Bay Storm.

The following season they moved to Massachusetts where they played a season before they folded.

Jay Gruden went on to win several more ArenaBowls as a player then as a coach with the Orlando Predators.

What makes this ArenaBowl so memorable was the beginning of a dominating team, the Tampa Bay Storm which won its first of five ArenaBowl titles. Also those zubaz uniforms the Storm wore would catch anyone's attention.

ArenaBowl#1. ArenaBowl XIII

September 2, 1994

Arizona Rattlers 36 Orlando Predators 31

The Rattlers, who finished the regular season 8-4, beat the heavily favored Orlando Predators who were 11-1. MVP Sherdrick Bonner led the way for Arizona passing for 267 yards, four scores and one interception. Hunkie Cooper had eight receptions for 87 yards and Calvin Shexnayder added four catches for 45 yards and a pair of TD's, including the game winning 24-yard reception with 31 seconds left.

The Rattlers defense stepped it up on Orlando's final drive, causing Predators QB Ben Bennett to throw six incompletions.

At that time Orlando was the most dominant team on paper, which made the upset even bigger for the Rattlers. The PReds featured many award winners, including Coach of the Year Perry Moss and Ironman Barry Wagner, along with first team QB Ben Bennett, FB/LB Paul McGowan, WR/DB Barry Wagner, OL/DL Webbie Burnett, DS Durwood Roquemore, and K Jorge Cimadevilla.

Bennett had a decent game passing for 266 yards, three TD's and one INT. That was Bennett's fourth ArenaBowl appearance and loss, two with Orlando and one each with the Chicago Bruisers and Dallas Texans. You can compare him to NFL QB Jim Kelly - great players who failed to win the big game, but Bennett did go on to win a championship in af2 as a coach with the Florida Firecats.

This was the first of two ArenaBowl championships with the Rattlers, who became a regular in getting to the ArenaBowl. This was when Sherdrick Bonner and Hunkie Cooper became big name players in the AFL.

This game came down to the last possession and the underdog won. It was the most memorable ArenaBowl I've seen, and we can only hope that ArenaBowl XIX will make this list next year.

If you have any questions or comments about this article feel free to drop me an email at and I will be more than happy to get back to you.

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