|Sunday, August 18
SaberCats win first ArenaBowl convincingly
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- There's never been an Arena football team like the San Jose SaberCats, who once again flirted with perfection in a laugher of an ArenaBowl.
John Dutton passed for 236 yards and five touchdowns as the SaberCats won their first championship, holding the Arizona Rattlers scoreless in the first three quarters of a 52-14 victory Sunday.
James Hundon caught three TD passes as the SaberCats capped a 16-1 season with one of the more remarkable achievements in Arena football history: 50 shutout minutes of defense in a league whose teams routinely score more than 50 points per game.
"We didn't just want to win this game; we wanted to dominate,'' said Dutton, the game's MVP. "Are we the best ever? I don't know, but we played like it today.''
Barry Wagner rushed for a touchdown as the SaberCats emphatically avenged their only defeat of the season -- a 59-52 loss at Arizona last month -- and staked their claim as perhaps the best Arena team ever with the most lopsided victory in the bowl's history.
With San Jose's powerful offense rolling, the Rattlers trailed 24-0 at halftime and 38-0 after three quarters. Arizona barely avoided the second shutout loss in Arena football's 16-year history when Maurice Bryant broke free for a 30-yard TD pass from Sherdrick Bonner with 9:24 left.
"I was enjoying seeing that zero up there,'' San Jose coach Darren Arbet said. "All year, we hadn't put together a complete game. Today, I think we did it.''
Arbet, who has built San Jose into a powerhouse in just four seasons in charge, became the first black coach to win a pro football title with a record-breaking performance by his team, which scored at least 50 points in every game.
Dutton, who won his fourth game since stepping in for injured star Mark Grieb, was 20-for-26. After the game, Dutton and Grieb shared a hug as the sellout crowd cheered wildly and their teammates celebrated on the confetti-covered field.
"It got away from us in the beginning,'' Arizona coach Danny White said. "We kept waiting for a break, something to provide us a spark. I went into big-play mode in about the middle of the second quarter, because we couldn't get in the game.''
It was the first time in franchise history that Arizona had been held scoreless for an entire half. It was also the first shutout half in the ArenaBowl since the inaugural game 15 years ago, when Denver shut out Pittsburgh for three quarters.
"When it was the end of the third quarter and they were still shut out, we were saying on defense, 'C'mon, let's finish it!''' San Jose's Omarr Smith said. "We almost did it.''
Though Arizona scored two late touchdowns, the victory capped a near-perfect season for the SaberCats, who had a roster and a game plan that were clearly a cut above every team except Arizona.
The SaberCats' shot at the first undefeated season in Arena history ended in Phoenix last month, when the Rattlers beat San Jose and broke the collarbone of Grieb, the AFL's offensive player of the year.
But the SaberCats even got a bit of karmic payback for the loss of Grieb when Stacy Evans, the hulking Arizona lineman whose tackle injured Grieb, was knocked out of the championship game in the first quarter with a torn knee ligament.
One of American sports' most thriving minor leagues treated the game as a celebration, with mascots and cheerleaders from every club joining the festivities. Compaq Center was packed with 16,942 fans.
The Arena league, which unveiled a new logo during the weekend, will add the expansion Colorado Crush -- with team president John Elway _ for its 17th season next spring. The league also will expand its television presence with 71 games on NBC.
The victory gave San Jose a hat trick of second-tier pro sports championships. Last fall, the San Jose Earthquakes won their first Major League Soccer title, and the Bay Area (now San Jose) CyberRays won the first championship in WUSA women's soccer.