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Article:Arena Football History 101: Dynasties

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I have been following the Arena Football League for a couple years now (I can't go very long without watching football, so this kept me occupied for a couple months), but in case you didn't get the memo: The AFL has decided to cancel their 2009 season thanks to finiancial problems.  So, now what do all four of the Arena League fans do?

Well, why don't we start things off with a little history lesson.

The Arena Football League, or AFL, debuted in 1987 featuring just four teams.  The four teams--Chicago Bruisers, Denver Dynamite, Pittsburgh Gladiators and the Washington Commandos--played a six-game season which ended with the first Arena Bowl where Denver defeated Pittsburgh--in Pittsburgh.

The first Arena dynasty was the Detroit Drive, who came into the League in 1988 (the league's second season).  Detroit, whose home Arena happened to be where the NHL's Detroit Red Wings played (Joe Louis Arena), went to the Arena Bowl in each of their six existing seasons, 1988-1993.  Detroit, led by former NFL QB Art Schlichter during the 1990 and '91 seasons, managed to win four Arena Bowls in '88, '89, '90 and '92.  Their two Arena Bowl losses came against the same team--the Tampa Bay Storm, another one of the AFL's greatest teams.  In their six seaons, Detroit accumulated a record of 46-10.  Detroit's owner, Mike llitch, sold the Drive after buying the Detroit Tigers in '93.  The Drive, soon afterwards, became the Massachusetts Maruders for the 1994 season and then folded after 8-4 and losing in the second round of the playoffs to the Orlando Predators.

I'm not sure we can say a team has gone on and done what Detroit was able to do, but the Tampa Bay Storm are awfully close.  The Storm, virtually the only team to be a part of the League for all 22 seasons, have the most Arena Bowl Championships in League history (5).  Tampa Bay has gone to six total Arena Bowls (lost to Orlando in '98, 62-31).

Yes, Tampa Bay is the greatest team in AFL history, by default.  But I haven't put them up to the same level as Detroit because they didn't reach six straight championships (though they did win four of six, like Detroit).  Tampa's latest championship dates back to 2003 when two HOF coaches (Tim Marcum of Tampa Bay and Danny White of the Arizona Rattlers) went face-to-face.  Marcum ended up walking away with his seventh career Arena Bowl trophy after his Storm defeated White's Rattlers, 43-29, just three months after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers captured their first-ever Vince Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XXXVII.  Tampa Bay has been involved in the three most attended Arena Bowls in history (20,357 ABV; 25,087 in ABIX; 20,496 in ABXVII).

Other historic, record-setting teams include the Iowa Barnstorms (1995-2000), Arizona Rattlers (1992-present), San Jose SaberCats (1995-present) and the Orlando Predators (1991-present).  Three of the four listed also happen to be some of the oldest AFL teams still around.  Iowa was once led by now-famous NFL QB and one-time Super Bowl Champion QB Kurt Warner, who also happens to find himself in the middle of Hall of Fame talks.  Iowa appeared in two Arena Bowls from '95-'00, but lost both.

As for Arizona, San Jose and Orlando: The three teams have a combined 42 playoff appearances (22 Wild Card berths and 20 Division titles) and seven Arena Bowl Championships between them.  The Orlando Predators are famously coached by former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden's little brother, Jay, who was their HC from '98-'01 and from '04-present.  Jay also quarterbacked the Tampa Bay Storm from 1991-96 and the Predatos from 2002-03.  Gruden won four Arena Bowls in his Storm days, which includes a game-winning TD pass with seconds to play in Arena Bowl V.  His last-second bomb is ranked #5 in Arena Football's 20 greatest highlights, ranked by Arenafootball.com.  I guess you can say this man has made quite a big impact on this league, and he is still putting his lasting impression on this 22-year old League.

Next on my radar screen: The AFL's greatest QB's..


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