With 39 seconds remaining in yesterday's ArenaBowl, the Soul appeared headed to their first Arena Football League championship with plenty of points to spare.
But in a game in which touchdowns come one after another and the points usually keep piling up, it was not that easy for the Soul. Before they could finally claim a 59-56 victory over the San Jose SaberCats, the Soul had to sweat it out as the defending champions erased all but three points of a 17-point deficit.
"All I could think about was the Philadelphia curse," Soul coach Bret Munsey said afterward with a laugh. "I hope this clears the way for Mo Cheeks and Andy Reid, and those guys. Now we can win championships in Philadelphia. I hope that takes care of everything. "
Team owner Jon Bon Jovi was elated.
"We hoped for this day to come," he said. "We worked very hard. We have a great organization, and I'm very proud of them. Nothing shy of this afternoon's outcome was going to be acceptable. "
A sellout crowd of 17,244 was on hand at the New Orleans Arena, and a Soul spokesperson said nearly 2,000 of those fans were from the Philadelphia area.
The Soul (16-3), who have been in existence for five seasons, were making their first appearance in the title game. San Jose (13-6), which was after its fourth crown in seven years, had never lost a championship game.
The Soul were in control of the game when Phil Bogle caught a 2-yard touchdown pass to make the score 59-42 with 39 seconds left. But San Jose made the last half-minute thrilling, scoring 16 points in 11 seconds with the help of a onside kick they recovered and returned to the Soul 14.
Fortunately for the Soul, Rod Davis sealed the win by recovering a second onside kick.
On a day on which Soul quarterback Matt D'Orazio was named the game's most valuable player after passing for seven touchdowns - three to offensive player of the game Chris Jackson - it was his team's first-half defense that proved to be a big difference in the game.
The Soul led, 46-34, going into the fourth quarter, with two of those points coming on a third-period safety by linebacker Raheem Orr. The Soul had scored during the first quarter after coming up with an interception and also after ending a SaberCats drive on downs. They added one fumble recovery in each of the third and fourth quarters.
"We just went out there and gave it our all and played total team defense," said Soul defensive tackle Gabe Nyenhuis, who had a sack and forced a fumble. He was named defensive player of the game.
The Soul were up by 37-27 at the break, thanks largely to the defense coming up with the only defensive stops of the first two periods.
"We wanted to come out and play hard, but we made the game closer than what it should have been," Soul defensive back Eddie Moten said. "But what's done is done. We're champions. "
Party time. A parade is set for Thursday, a team spokesman said. Last week, city spokeswoman Melanie Johnson said that plans may include a late-afternoon motorcade west on Market Street to City Hall, culminating in festivities in Dilworth Plaza on the west side of City Hall.
Also, Bon Jovi said he would live up to his promise of performing a free concert in Philadelphia if his team won the ArenaBowl. The date and time are to be announced.