Since he signed here in 2005, Tony Graziani has been the face of the Soul. Now he has to be the season's savior.
His left arm willing, Graziani will be heavily counted on to put an end to a losing streak that grew to six with last night's 69-49 loss to visiting New York. It was the ugliest of the six.
"We didn't play any of the three phases of football very well: offense, defense, special teams," Soul coach Bret Munsey said. "I'm angry. We have to find ways [regardless of injuries] to win games. We haven't been able to do that. Tonight, for the first time, we didn't play any phase well. That was disappointing."
Graziani has not played the last four games because of a separated shoulder. He's now eligible to come off the injured list and is hopeful to be back in the lineup next Monday when New Orleans visits the Wachovia Center.
"If you're going to ask me now," Graziani said before last night's game, "yes. I'm fully confident I'll be ready."
And, boy, the Soul needs him.
The Soul not only lost its third straight home game, but it lost another quarterback when Juston Wood went down early in the third quarter with a knee injury. Wood had started three of the four games in place of Graziani. Clint Stoerner, since cut, started the other. When Wood went down, Leon Murray stepped in. Who would have come in if Murray went down?
"That's a good question," Munsey said. "I'll tell you what, we would have had to call timeout."
Wood completed 17-of-30 passes for four touchdowns, but suffered through a dreadful first-quarter stretch of seven consecutive misfires. The last was an interception brought back for a touchdown by New York defensive specialist Billy Parker.
Munsey said Wood had a Grade III tear of the ACL and would miss the rest of the season. Murray, his replacement, was 6-for-18 with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
While the Soul quarterbacks scuffled, New York's Aaron Garcia showed why he is considered among the league's elite.
Garcia passed for 264 yards and eight touchdowns. He was particularly precise in the first half with five touchdown passes as the Soul got behind, 48-35. The 48 points was the most the team allowed in a half this season. Remember, New York came into the game 2-7, including an April 1 loss to the Soul on Long Island without Garcia.
"We're going to go back to the basics of what we did in training camp," said Munsey, his blood pressure likely rising. "Come back with a new outlook against New Orleans. That was ridiculous, it was embarrassing. I'm not going to put my name on it."
Help, hopefully, is on the way. Soul president Ron Jaworski said Graziani will throw today for the first time since the April 16 injury.
"We expect him to play next week," Jaworski said. "He'll start throwing [today]. Getting Tony back is very important. He's one of the premier quarterbacks in this league. The Arena Football League is a quarterback-driven league."
Graziani has missed eight games in his Soul career. Philadelphia is 1-7 without him.
"The fans say, 'Man, you're killing us. We need you back in there,' " Graziani said. "But it's killing me not to be in there especially with us losing." *