Soul's Jones using NFL past to help AFL present


Soul's Jones using NFL past to help AFL present

Anthony “Tiger” Jones made the ultimate sacrifice.

He chased his dream, and put his reality on hold.

The dream: Playing in the NFL.

Jones’ reality: Help the Soul win an AFL championship.

He had to choose. Jones couldn’t do both.

The decision was easy, so Jones made it. He gave up on the AFL season last year in pursuit of his NFL dream.

“Gave up is a strong word,” Jones said.

The word sacrifice was then replaced. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s better.”

Jones did have a point.

When the Eagles called him last year to join their preseason roster, Jones sacrificed the remainder of his AFL season.

Jones’ 133 receptions, 2,010 yards and 47 touchdowns -- a footnote. After the Eagles signed him in July 2012, helping a 15-3 Soul team, who advanced to ArenaBowl XXV, was a no-go.

You see, Jones had to relinquish the remainder of his 2012 season to avoid any injury; hence, all the star wide receiver could do was watch from afar. But it was all worth it.

Jones was able to wear an NFL uniform. He was given a chance to pursue his dream, so the decision to leave the AFL was a no-brainer.

“I mean, I don’t regret what I did,” said Jones, recalling his brief NFL stint. “Everybody here, organization-wise, was behind me 100 percent and wanted me to go and do my thing.”

Though the decision to leave was a simple one, it still was a difficult one.

“It was definitely a catch-22, though. We put in a lot of work last year to get where we got, and at the end of the season, you want to finish it out,” Jones said. “To not be there, obviously I felt a certain type of way about it, but an opportunity like that, with the Eagles, you can’t pass up.”

Jones’ stay in an NFL locker room didn’t last long. He recorded two receptions for 10 yards in the 24-23 preseason win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in August. Later that month, he was handed his walking papers.

Listen to Jones recall his NFL experience, you get the sense he wasn’t surprised by his release.

Listen long enough, and he basically confirmed it. His reason: “The cast that they had at receiver, none of those guys aren’t going anywhere. (Jeremy) Maclin is not going anywhere. (DeSean) Jackson is not going anywhere. (Jason) Avant is not going anywhere. So, when you only have five spots available and most of those spots already secure … it’s tough.”

But his stay wasn’t wasted. Jones saw first-hand what being on an NFL team is like, which he said isn’t all that different from his current AFL team. He felt what many attempt to feel but never get the chance to -- playing in an NFL game. His name stitched on the back, NFL logo on the front.

While with the Eagles, Jones saw a little of himself in Avant, who he credited for helping him make the transition.

“He’s not afraid to take a guy and try to show him,” Jones said. “Sometimes you get veteran guys and they just want to do what they do. A young guy or new guy comes in; they really don’t want to talk to him.

“But Avant will take you and talk to you. He’ll show you [how to run a route better]. He’ll just give you tips and pointers.”

Funny how it all works. Jones is playing that same leadership role, the mentor role, right now for the 2013 version of the Soul.

Soul rookie wide receiver Ryan McDaniel is the Tiger Jones on the Eagles, while Jones is playing the role of Avant -- he’s helping McDaniel make the jump. Giving him pointers and tips.

Whatever Jones is teaching, McDaniel is certainly learning and executing on the field. McDaniel is second on the Soul with 748 receiving yards (Jones is first with 1,656) and third on the team in receptions with 58.

“He’s been a real good friend,” a surprised McDaniel said.

Asked if he was shocked that Jones reached out to help, McDaniel admitted he was. “I didn’t think (Jones) would take me in like [he] did when I came into camp. … He’s been very helpful throughout the whole season. It’s not one time that he’s gave me an attitude because I’ve asked a question. He’s a real good guy.”

McDaniel’s last sentence sums up what the Soul thinks of Tiger Jones. Head coach Clint Dolezel and quarterback Dan Raudabaugh included.

Jones was smiling as he recalled his time with the Eagles, blocking out the fact that he was laying on the trainers table getting treatment.

Right now, Jones is giving it all he’s got. He wants a chance to redeem that sacrifice he made last season. Right now, he’s focused on helping the Soul get back to and win the ArenaBowl.

As for the NFL, “If it happens again, then it happens again,” Jones said.

But what if the recently turned 31-year-old gets another phone call, this time from Chip Kelly, inviting him to another Eagles training camp -- what then? Does Jones make another sacrifice and depart the Soul one more time? Does he stay?

He was asked those questions and responded, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

Soul celebrate Arenabowl championship in City Hall rally

Soul celebrate Arenabowl championship in City Hall rally

The 2016 World Champions banner ran across the stage, as the Soul received a hero’s welcome at City Hall on Wednesday. 

The Soul won their second ArenaBowl in franchise history on Friday, holding off a late rally by the Arizona Rattlers in a 56-42 win. Over 100 fans and onlookers cheered the organization on during a rally in the City Hall plaza despite strong humidity. Mayor Jim Kenney came to the stage amidst a cascade of light blue and white confetti and proclaimed the day “Philadelphia Soul Championship Day.”

“We are as a city extremely proud of this team that they were able to accomplish what they were able to accomplish this season,” Kenney said. “You guys really made us proud and provided us with much-needed bragging rights.”

Kenney singled out owner Ron Jaworski, the former Eagles quarterback who was instrumental in bringing Arena Football to Philadelphia along with Jon Bon Jovi and Craig Spencer in 2004. 

“One of the first messages I got after the game was congratulations from Jon Bon Jovi,” Jaworski said. “He still lives with his Soul.

“Craig, Jon and I said we’re going to do one thing, folks. We’re going to do one thing. We’re going to do one thing win … a total commitment to success and winning.”

Easily the most recognized figure on the stage, Jaworski began listing the Soul’s accomplishments to the crowd. 

“We are the winningest team in Philadelphia,” Jaworski loudly exclaimed. “We’ve brought two world championships to this city. I think that’s pretty darn good!” 

The players were introduced to start the rally, but noticeably missing was defensive lineman Jake Metz. The Shippensburg University product earned a tryout with the Eagles after the Soul’s championship and was signed in time to play in Thursday’s preseason finale against the Jets (see story). Metz made an appearance toward the end. He was brought on stage by coach Clint Dolezel, leading the Philly crowd to cheer the newest Eagle. 

Dolezel, a Texas native, said he has a soft spot for Philadelphia after his four years at the helm. 

“All you Soul fans, I know I’m from Dallas," Dolezel said to playful boos. "I understand, but there’s a little piece in here that’s got a little Philly in me now."

The Soul’s rally certainly brought out some characters. One man wore a blue full-body suit with Soul-colored facepaint and a blue wig. Others danced around wildly in championship bliss, soaking the momentous occasion for Philadelphia’s winningest franchise.

Many in the crowd were season ticket holders who made the time to welcome back their championship team. That included Mark and Cheryl Vitullo, who came from South Jersey for the parade, bringing their children with them. 

“We’re just so proud of them all,” Mark Vitullo said. “The coach did a great job. The owners too, it was just really nice. What I like about the game is they do a lot for the kids too.”

“The boys know the players,” Cheryl Vitullo said. “[The Soul players] know them. They come to see them before each game. They talk to one another. They high-five. The boys have given them four-leaf clovers for good luck, the whole thing. They have been with them the whole time."

The fans weren’t the only ones enjoying the moment. The Soul players were all smiles, signing autographs and taking in the moment. While it may not be a Super Bowl, the championship meant a lot to the players, especially offensive lineman and Temple alum Wayne Tribue.

“It’s great,” Tribue said. “This is my first real championship that I’ve ever won. I couldn’t have done it with a better group of guys, better coaches. I’m just thankful for it.”

Jake Metz, Soul credit strong 4th-quarter defensive effort for championship win

Jake Metz, Soul credit strong 4th-quarter defensive effort for championship win

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Despite the Soul leading by three touchdowns early in ArenaBowl XXIX, there was little cheering from the their bench.

Given the volatility that is Arena League football and the frequency with which teams can strike, the approach remained resolute and determined. Defensive tackle Jake Metz kept the mindset of a scoreless game and could not stop hearing words coming from Ron Jaworski, a highly vocal partner in the Soul’s ownership.

“He kept yelling that offense gets headlines but defense wins championships,” said Metz, who currently lives in Schwenksville, Montgomery County, and went to Shippensburg University. “That resounded with me, and brought the championship.”

Metz and his defensive teammates then went out and shut down a highly hazardous and explosive Arizona Rattlers offensive unit en route to a 56-42 win (see story). Led by quarterback Nick Davila, the only three-time MVP in Arena Football League history, the Rattlers could manage only seven points in a critical fourth quarter.

At the same time, Metz recovered a fumble by Davila with the Soul holding a slim six-point margin with just under six minutes to play. That turnover was the key point in the Soul’s eventual win, and cemented the role of the defense as a shut-down unit.

On the subsequent possession, Soul quarterback Dan Raudabaugh connected with Shaun Kauleinamoku on a 30-yard scoring strike. That created a 14-point comfort zone and the final margin of victory.

“These players deserve this championship,” Soul head coach Clint Dolezel said. “This is a first class organization and ownership gives the players a first-class experience. That way, we can attract great players, and with great players comes success.”

In capturing the league title Friday night, the victory was the second in franchise history. In 2008, the Soul and Phillies each won championships, and that was the last time a professional team captured a title in Philadelphia.

Metz remembers the Phillies' win over the Rays, and pointed out, “I went to those games as a kid.” That championship stuck with the 6-foot-6, 265 pounder, and helped to forge a championship mentality.

Early in the fourth quarter, Arizona caught the Soul at 42-42. From that point, Raudabaugh directed two scoring drives, and along with Metz’s important fumble recovery, carried the Soul to the title.

“It’s all about how you respond,” said Raudabaugh, who finished with 20 for 36 for 278 yards and six touchdowns. “Granted, they have a very explosive team, but we were never out it. They did come back, but we had an answer for them.”

The answer was a strong defense which Dolezel indicated was playing at their peak just prior to the title game.

Defensive back Tracy Belton, the AFL defensive player of the year and DB Dwayne Hollis, whose fumble recovery for a touchdown early in the game was another key defensive play, clearly showed how a defense can carry a team to a league title. That was the effort the Soul brought together in an environment as unpredictable as the Arena Football League.