Bernie Kosar and football. That’s more than enough to draw interest. For a while.
But in order for the Arena Football League’s Cleveland Gladiators — who will make their debut tonight after moving from Las Vegas in October — to keep the public’s attention and flourish in Northeast Ohio, they must win. The sooner the better.
So Kosar, who became part-owner, president and CEO following the move, overhauled the roster and escalated expectations. He’s been all over the radio promoting the Gladiators and has predicted immediate success from the day the Gladiators came to town.
“He’s absolutely going to win in Year 1,” Kosar, the former Browns quarterback, said at the introductory news conference.
As the “he,” Mike Wilpolt is the guy feeling the heat. He was named coach Sept. 9 because of his background as a defensive coordinator – he was also an interim head coach in 2004 with the Indiana Firebirds — and will be expected to win starting tonight at Quicken Loans Arena versus the New York Dragons.
“With Bernie being so involved, but not having a direct say in the outcome, he’s that much more excited, anxious, nervous,” Wilpolt said Sunday. “We built the team to go after the Arena Bowl championship.
“A great majority of our roster are Arena veterans, and that’s what it takes to win now. It was a great year for free agency.”
The key pickup was quarterback Raymond Philyaw. He’s in his eighth year in the AFL and is 11th all time with 381 touchdown passes. Philyaw (5-foot-10, 180 pounds) was fifth in the league last year with 85 touchdowns for the Kansas City Brigade. He’s thrown at least 60 TDs in a season with each of his three previous teams.
“You go as the quarterback goes,” Wilpolt said. “That’s why we went after a veteran who has proved he can win and take a team to the playoffs. His maturity level has jumped up and he’s a very good leader.
“You need to be very good there, and I think we are.”
Wilpolt said the quarterback is at least as important in the Arena game as he is in the NFL. The next most important position is the defensive line.
“We’re very good in both those areas,” he said.
A spokesman said nearly 15,000 tickets are sold for tonight. For those who’ve never seen an AFL game, they should expect a fast pace that leads to plenty of points. The six game opening games this weekend averaged 108 points.
“There’s nonstop action,” Wilpolt said. “It’s such a fast, quick game, there’s always something happening. People can’t run out of bounds to avoid contact. It’s an exciting game.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.