"Everything I do is with the intent of making the game better, and I believe that the league would definitely benefit if Philadelphia became the AFL's flagship franchise."
David Baker, beginning his eighth year as commissioner of the Arena League, addressed that topic Thursday during a conference call.
"Personally, Philadelphia was a market that I wanted us to be in, and not just because [Soul president] Ron Jaworski has been on me about getting a franchise there for the last six years. The two things we looked for in an expansion team was, one, a great ownership group and two, fans who are knowledgeable and passionate about their football.
"I believe we got that in Philadelphia. [Owners] Craig Spencer and Jon Bon Jovi have done an excellent job in pouring the foundation, the fans in Philly absolutely love football and, in Mike Trigg, the Soul has an outstanding coach."
Whether it was the area's love of the game, Bon Jovi's rock-star appeal, or the thousands of hours put in by the team's front office, the Soul will certainly start off on a high note.
The team had sold 10,657 season-ticket plans as of Friday afternoon.
Today's regular-season debut against another expansion team, the New Orleans VooDoo, will be played at the sold-out Wachovia Center, with 17,484 paying customers and a regional television audience for the 3 p.m. kickoff.
What they see may make football purists cringe.
The game might best be described as a cross between human pinball and NASCAR in cleats, with bodies banging off the padded hockey boards and kick returners trying to judge how the football will carom off the netting behind each end zone.
The rules - with eight players on each side, a 50-yard field and no punting - create scoring opportunities on nearly every play. When Trigg was coaching Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2003, his club set a record for points by a losing team when the Rampage fell, 82-81, to the Arizona Rattlers. Last season the league averaged a touchdown on nearly 60 percent of possessions, including a 40.24 percent clip by the winless Carolina Cobras.
That's not to say that defense is irrelevant. Just one stop, or even a half-stop (as possessions ending in made field goals are known), can alter the flow of a game.
Both teams will start quarterbacks who served as backups in the league last season.
Nick Browder, entering his fifth Arena League season, will quarterback the Soul. He will be throwing to Tyronne Jones and Ricky Ross against a suspect VooDoo secondary.
Another player to keep an eye on is Chris Ryan, a 6-foot, 315-pound fullback/linebacker, whom Bon Jovi has playfully dubbed "Soul Train." Expect the compact locomotive to get the ball primarily in short-yardage situations.
New Orleans, which is operated by Saints owner Tom Benson and coached by Mike Neu, has a potentially potent tandem with quarterback John Fitzgerald passing to Aaron Bailey.
Although the game holds no divisional significance, with the Soul vying for the Eastern Division crown and the VooDoo competing in the Southern Division, the inaugural bash means everything to Trigg.
"This is our Super Bowl," he said. "Everything we've done in [training] camp has been geared toward beating New Orleans."
As if he didn't already believe the Soul could provide a boost to the league's 18th season, Trigg was convinced of the franchise's appeal in a brief discussion he had recently with John Miller, senior vice president of sports at NBC.
"He wished me luck, and I know exactly what he meant," Trigg said, fully aware that NBC has an option to renew its deal with the league for another four years after this season.
"Philadelphia is an important cog in the AFL," Trigg said. "We can't ride along in anonymity; it's important for us to be competitive. This can be a tough town, and the fans can be tough critics. We have to attract eyeballs, both here and around the country."
Contact Pete Schnatz at 215-854-5817 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arena League Odds
By Chris David, managing editor, VegasInsider.com.
Here are the preseason odds to win ArenaBowl XVIII, to be held on June 27:
San Jose SaberCats, 7-2
Arizona Rattlers, 5-1
Tampa Bay Storm, 6-1
Orlando Predators, 6-1
Los Angeles Avengers, 7-1
Las Vegas Gladiators, 10-1
Dallas Desperados, 12-1
New York Dragons, 12-1
Chicago Rush, 12-1
Detroit Fury, 15-1
Georgia Force, 12-1
Indiana Firebirds, 30-1
Grand Rapids Rampage, 30-1
Carolina Cobras, 40-1
Colorado Crush, 40-1
Austin Wranglers, 50-1
Columbus Destroyers, 50-1
New Orleans VooDoo, 50-1
Analysis of Sunday's game.
* New Orleans at Soul
Line: Soul by 4.
* It's hard to get a good gauge on either franchise, but the Arena Football League is dominated by the play of the quarterback. I would have to side with VooDoo quarterback John Fitzgerald. Also, keep an eye on Aaron Bailey, who played with Fitzgerald in 2002 in Carolina. Expect a low-scoring game between the two new franchises.