Think of a rambunctious child trapped in a phone booth with a bag full of chocolate bars.
That's what the last 5 weeks have been like for Soul defensive back Mike Brown, who will make his return from a hamstring injury for tomorrow's pivotal game at Dallas.
"It sucks being out," Brown said simply. "And then when your team is losing, you feel guilty when you're sitting."
Brown was referring to the Soul's 1-3 slide since beating Dallas on April 28. It was thought the victory would propel the Soul to wrap up homefield advantage with relative ease. Instead, it brought one doozy of a hangover that featured plenty of missteps and a number of injuries.
The most humbling defeat was the latest - a last-second home loss to lowly Kansas City on May 22 that has erased all the margin for error in the hunt for homefield advantage. Now the Soul must win in Dallas, where it is 1-3 all-time, to maintain the inside track for the conference's No. 1 seed. Dallas would clinch homefield by winning by 30 points or more.
"It's Dallas, so it's already a big game," said Brown, who also is one of the league's top kick returners. "But then you have a game that's pretty much going to decide the [conference], I just feel blessed to come back and help my teammates beat . . . Dallas."
As colorful as Brown can be off the field, Soul coach Bret Munsey said the defense will benefit from Brown's energy on it. One person who can attest to that energy is Soul offensive coordinator Connell Maynor.
Maynor, who retired as a player in 2006, was in uniform simply as a warm body at Wednesday's practice when he inadvertently was decked by Brown after catching a pass over the middle.
"He had $250 worth of pads on and he told me he had insurance," Brown said with a laugh. "He wasn't really worried about it."
Lineman Bryan Save (triceps) is another key defensive player who will be back. Save has missed the last three games, but said he could have played sooner.
"I was begging to get into the lineup against Kansas City," said Save, a key pass rusher and space-eater along the defensive line. "I was upset at the coaches because they didn't let me play. But thinking back, now that I feel 100 percent, it was the best thing for me. I didn't realize that until now."
The Soul is coming off a bye that allowed it not only to stew over the Kansas City loss, but also to get a little healthier.
"It was a long 20-week stretch there," said Munsey, harkening back to preseason training camp. "We've got to come back. The key is, when you take that week off, is getting back into football tempo and executing and playing well. I don't know what the records are of teams coming off byes this year. I'd be curious to look at that."
Since you asked, coach, it isn't good. AFL teams are 3-10 this year in games after their bye, including 0-3 when that game is against Dallas.
"I wish we would have had a game and then played them," quarterback Tony Graziani said. "But it's kind of like Dallas had the last time we played them. They came off a bye, too."
And the Soul laid some serious wood on the Desperados in the 57-28 win. The difference has been how each team has responded since that April 28 game. Dallas is 4-1. The Soul is 1-3.
"We have to have them ready to roll," Munsey said. "It's a big one. It's as big as it gets for us."
Longtime NFL and college defensive line coach