CLEVELAND – Dynasty will meet destiny tonight with the James F. Foster Trophy on the line when the Cleveland Gladiators (17-1) host the Arizona Rattlers (15-3) at 8:00 p.m. ET in ArenaBowl XXVII on ESPN.
The Rattlers’ dynasty will be making its fourth consecutive ArenaBowl appearance and ninth championship game overall as Arizona looks to become just the second team in AFL history – and first since 1990 – to win three League titles in a row. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Gladiators – Arena Football’s “team of destiny” – have enjoyed an improbable run to enter their first-ever ArenaBowl contest with a chance to bring Cleveland its first major pro sports championship in 50 years.
The Gladiators earned the moniker of “Kardiac Kids” as a result of their penchant for dramatic finishes in 2014. Cleveland’s road to the ArenaBowl has featured six victories on the final play of the game and nine wins by a touchdown or less. Late-game theatrics aside, the Gladiators’ miracle season has also been historic, as the team set a new AFL record for regular season victories with 17 on the year and completed the greatest turnaround in League history, improving from a 4-14 record with a very similar roster a year ago.
On the other side of the spectrum, Arizona has been the “gold standard” of the AFL for nearly half-a-decade. The four-time defending National Conference champs have become a modern day dynasty, playing an astounding 83 games since 2011 and looking to become the first AFL team to three-peat as ArenaBowl champions since the Detroit Drive won three straight titles from 1988-1990. Despite having a target firmly on their backs all year, the Rattlers set an AFL record with 14 consecutive regular season wins to begin the 2014 season.
Ten of the League’s 36 All-Arena selections in 2014 will play in the championship game, including Russell Athletic Offensive Player of the Year and AFL MVP Nick Davila, who holds the AFL record for most career ArenaBowl touchdown passes with 23. The “Latin Laser” is likely to make more history Saturday night, as he is 56 passing yards shy of Arena Football Hall of Famer Jay Gruden’s career ArenaBowl record of 975 and 14 completions shy of Arena Football Hall of Famer Sherdrick Bonner’s career ArenaBowl record of 81.
Davila’s counterpart, Second Team All-Arena quarterback Shane Austin, is entering his first career ArenaBowl after tossing 99 touchdown passes for the Gladiators in 2014. Austin – who began the season as the team’s backup quarterback – went 16-1 as a starter in Cleveland. This will be the second-year man’s first career game against Arizona.
The Rattlers lead the overall series with a 12-3 record against the Gladiators in the regular season and a 1-0 mark in the postseason. However, this will be the first meeting between the two franchises since May 28, 2011 when Arizona defeated Cleveland, 63-42, in the “Snake Pit”. The Rattlers have played in Cleveland just once, topping the Gladiators, 61-56, on April 3, 2010.
Kickoff for ArenaBowl XXVII from Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio is set for 8:00 p.m. ET tonight on ESPN.