A few weeks ago, I wrote about my first MLS game in Washington DC.
Well, it must be a month of firsts, because last night, I attended my first-ever AFL game. It was the AFL Divisional Championship at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, with the Philadelphia Soul versus the New York Dragons.
My first reaction upon walking into the arena was sadness, simply because every time that I have walked into the Wachovia Center the last seven years, there has been a fresh sheet of ice waiting for me at the lower level.
However, as I ran down to field level when the gates opened to watch practice, I was very excited to see the fresh turf laid out on the field. The players a foot away from me, throwing and catching passes, practicing blocking routes, running laps, stretching.
It is always breathtaking to me to see pro athletes close up in real life. Normally, they're just some people on TV. But now they're real.
And this time was no different.
I went up to my seat, which you can almost see in the main picture. Front row, a little to the left of where the picture ends. I was sitting right behind ESPN's camera in the end zone.
I have always loved watching the AFL on TV, and from my experience, a sport is much more fun in person than it is on TV. And again, this was no different.
The game began and the crowd of what seemed to be just over 10,000 was being normal Philly fans, screaming at the top of their lungs, hungry for a playoff win (something we often don't see).
Basically, the game was extremely exciting, but no one wants to hear about the entire game and what happened. You can read that on ESPN or Arenafootball.com
You want to hear about the amazing, last-second play that helped the Soul move on to their first-ever conference championship game.
With 7.6 seconds remaining, and the Soul needing just 28 yards to win the game, we knew that it indeed was possible. Just not likely. Especially with the defense that the Dragons had for the majority of the game.
We were all looking for a quick pass to the sidelines to gain about five yards and stop the clock.
But D'Orazio waited.
And when he waited after that snap, we knew that this throw was going to be the difference between storming out of the arena, yelling at everyone that looks at you, and storming onto the field.
The throw was right to the center of the field. Larry Brackins catches it with about 10 yards to get to the end zone. He started to run, and as he started, we all saw it. Every person in that building saw it.
A Dragons' defender.
Brackins wasn't going to make it to the end zone. He was going to be stopped a yard or two short.
But when he was hit in the corner of the field, he kept his legs moving, and every step he took was one more step towards keeping his team's season alive.
He was tackled at the goal line, and as he fell, he stretched his arm out to cross the plane.
And from the angle I was sitting, all I saw was a ball hanging in the air. No players, no hands.
Just a ball.
It lingered in the air for just a minute, and then flew on its own into the back of the end zone.
And there was silence.
No motion from the referee, no call.
There was silence, with everyone focused on the players on the ground and the ball that slowly comes to a stop in the back of the end zone.
Then it came. The ref's hands. They slowly came up to form that one signal that every football fan loves so much.
The Soul bench empties and attacks Brackins in the end zone. The fans pour onto the field, and start to celebrate this historic playoff win.
But the game was not over.
The red flag. That dreaded, red challenge-flag, thrown by the New York coach.
It really was not over.
For a split second, we all knew that there was a distinct possibility that we did not actually win the game.
Silence, once again.
The entire crowd and the players that were on the field gathered around the opposite corner where the ref was looking at the replay. It took only three minutes, but it felt like an eternity.
He turned his mike on and simply announced, "Soul Win."
This time, another few hundred people piled onto the field to congratulate the players. Being in the front row, everyone came down to me to hang over the railing and yell to our boys. I was hugging and high five-ing people I had never met before. It was like a sports mosh pit.
We partied for almost fifteen minutes before the field started to empty, and we slowly piled out.
As we exited, we realized that it was indeed a historic game.
The first conference championship berth for this young franchise, and most likely the greatest end that any of us will ever see at a sporting event.
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