So this is what it’s like to win a football championship in Philadelphia!
Not since the 1960 NFL Championship game—when the Eagles’ Chuck Bednarik tackled the Packers’ Jim Taylor nine yards short of the goal line as time ran out to hand what turned out to be Vince Lombardi’s team its only post-season loss—had it happened. And while winning an Arena Bowl in a league where only five teams compete is hardly the same measuring stick, the celebration at least was certainly major league.
Confetti filled the air following the Philadelphia Soul’s 44-40 win over the Tampa Bay Storm in Arena Bowl XXX Saturday night, where it seemed like just about all of the announced 13,648 on hand came onto the Wells Fargo Center to join the party. The PA system blared Queen’s “We are the Champions” and Kool & the Gang’s “Celebrate” while players hugged and passed around the big silver trophy as precious to them as diamonds.
Later, after adjourning to the locker room, they sprayed champagne and danced and even drank from that trophy just like hockey players do when they win the Stanley Cup.
For majority part owner Ron Jaworski, who once quarterbacked the Eagles to the 1981 NFC title and a trip to the Super Bowl, this was a special moment. “This was about winning the championship in Philadelphia,” said Jaws, who sat alongside his old coach and part owner, Dick Vermeil, as the Soul made it back-to-back Arena Bowl champs by overcoming an early 20-7 deficit. “We wanted that confetti to come down here and these guys made it happen.
“We did it last year and we felt good positive vibes from the city. We’re not saying we’re one of four majors in this city. We kind of hide in obscurity. But people in this town love sports and when you win a championship people really appreciate that.”
Especially considering how rarely it happens. Only the 1974 Flyers playing across the street at what used to be the Spectrum, along with the 1980 and 2008 Phillies at the Vet and Citizen’s Bank Park respectively had done it before their eyes since those ’60 Eagles. Meanwhile the 1976 and 2010 Flyers, 1980 and 2001 Sixers and 1983 Phils all lost championships at home.
“We’ve got a great fan base,” said quarterback Dan Raudabaugh, who started slowly, then came on strong to finish 20-for-34 for 232 yards and four touchdowns, despite playing with what Jaworski said was a torn ACL. “I’m glad we were able to do it for them.
“I think we were a little too excited in the beginning. You like to come out and get in a rhythm. But we were able to overcome some adversity and played great in the second half.
“Winning back-to-back is great. Hopefully we can do it again next year.”
Doing it once, though, was just fine for bruising fullback Mykel Benson, who rumbled for two touchdowns, including the 1 yard plunge that put the Soul ahead to stay, 28-27, late in the third. “I was on the other end last year other and it didn’t feel good,” said Benson, then with the now defunct Arizona Wranglers, who fell to the Soul, 56-42 “I’m glad I’m on this end and that we got to do it at home.
“It’s a big difference.”
Among those in the house was Brian Dawkins, who tossed the ceremonial pre-game coin. Of course, he was also there the last time a team from Tampa came to Philadelphia and foiled the Eagles’ championship dreams.
For a long while Saturday it appeared as if the Storm was going to follow the legacy of those 2003 Jon Gruden-led Buccaneers, before the Soul finally stopping dropping touchdown passes and made just enough plays on defense to get the party started.
Leaving Jaws and everyone else to wonder if this is what it’s like when the Soul wins the Arena Bowl, what an Eagles Super Bowl celebration would be like? “I can’t even imagine,” laughed Jaworski, wearing a “Back-2-Back Arena Bowl Champions” T-shirt while the champagne sprayed all around him. “The wait has been since 1960 to win a championship.
“We came close winning the NFC a couple of times, but never hoisted one.
“So this town would go absolutely berserk.”
Who knows when it will be, but maybe someday Carson Wentz & Co. will get to find out.