NEW ORLEANS - For a moment there at the end, it looked as if the curse of William Penn would snatch another championship away from Philadelphia.
The Soul had taken a 17-point lead with 39 seconds remaining. But a touchdown here and an onside kick there and suddenly, the crowd that gathered at field level for the pending trophy ceremony got very, very quiet.
"It was heart-wrenching," Soul owner Jon Bon Jovi said moments after the clock struck zero and his team finally had a 59-56 win over San Jose in ArenaBowl XXII. "I left that [owners'] box confident, but then I got down here where I'm too short and couldn't see. Suddenly, it's a three-point game and I dropped the [championship] hat. I didn't want to touch it until we earned it."
The Soul earned it yesterday by putting defensive pressure on San Jose quarterback Mark Grieb and making just enough plays on offense. Soul quarterback Matt D'Orazio had seven touchdown passes and was named the game's MVP.
D'Orazio, who came to the Soul as a backup to Tony Graziani, capped a glorious season in which he also was named the league's regular-season MVP.
For winning the game MVP honors, D'Orazio was presented with a yellow convertible Mitsubishi Eclipse. He was asked to sit in it following the game for a photo opportunity. The humble D'Orazio looked as if he would rather have eaten a pound of nails.
"If Matt D'Orazio doesn't define the word character, what does? He's the one you want to play on any team, from Little League to the NFL," Bon Jovi said. "The guy's a leader on and off the field. It's not a put-on. He looked at that car and said, 'When do I have to give it back?' No, Matt, you get to keep the car."
Philadelphia also gets to keep the Jim Foster Trophy. At the presentation, outgoing commissioner David Baker noted that it was the city's first football championship since 1960 – apparently he overlooked the Philadelphia Stars winning the 1984 USFL championship. Details.
There are those who would say this doesn't break the city's 25-year championship drought. They are right, of course, unless the tone of the statement attempts to diminish the Soul's accomplishment. Then, they are just being cynical.
Team president Ron Jaworski was asked to reflect on what winning the AFL championship meant to him.
Jaworski had taken the Eagles to the Super Bowl in 1981, but came away empty-handed. He played 17 seasons in the NFL, but had never been to the top of the mountain.
"It really is special," Jaworski said. "I'd never won a world championship. I played in a lot of big football games, watched a lot of them as an analyst, but never won it. This is just unreal."
Wide receiver Chris Jackson had 11 catches for 146 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Soul's receivers.
"Matt, myself, [defensive back] Mike Brown, we had a great team," said Jackson, who was the league's top receiver during the regular season. "We had great individuals on this team and I didn't want it to be a year when you receive personal accolades and then come this far and fall short."
The victory also put a rather tidy exclamation point on a remarkable week for coach Bret Munsey. On Thursday, he arrived back in Philadelphia in time for the birth of his son, Graydon. Then he got back to New Orleans in time for Friday's practice.
"Characterwise, this is the best group that I've ever been around," Munsey said. "For us to finish it off with a championship is deserving. We were the best team in the league recordwise. I'm proud of them."
Die-hard Soul fans will say this breaks the drought. Realists will say otherwise. Jaworski, even in the madness of the celebration, was somewhere in between.