Crush Turnaround: From Déjà Vu to a Whole New Team
In 2003, the Crush endured the worst expansion season for an Arena Football team since the Buffalo Destroyers’ 1-13 season of 1999. The Crush lost many close games, but won a pair as well, and were just seven points from matching the Carolina Cobras’ winless finish of last year. The team’s fans, who sold out the Pepsi Center for each game, booed louder with each passing defeat as their support went unrewarded in victories.
Only 25 percent of the team’s players bore witness to 2-14 finish in 2003. Only one of the coaches, special teams boss Lee Johnson, returned to the team. But a tinge of uneasiness and fretfulness remained in the atmosphere surrounding the team.
It was palpable in the Crush’s first home game, when quarterback John Dutton lost control of the football three times, repeating a pattern that helped doom the Crush in its early games last year. Each time the ball hit the ground against the Las Vegas Gladiators, the sellout crowd at the Pepsi Center groaned, fidgeted, and even booed.
“I fumbled the freaking snap again, and I`m thinking, `I don`t know what`s going to happen,’” Dutton said. “Here we go again. Déjà vu.”
It was largely unspoken, but clear: the team needed a win to open its season. It needed to bring its fans a home victory for the first time, and establish confidence, which the club lacked after losing its first three games in 2003 – all at home – by a combined 14 points, including an overtime defeat.
Two touchdowns in the final 12 seconds against the Las Vegas Gladiators took care of that, turning a 42-31 deficit into an improbable 43-42 triumph. The Crush won in spite of being far from its best by the team’s own admission.
“That`s what the good teams do,” Dutton said. “Look at the New England Patriots—injuries, they`re not doing real well, and they still pull out a win.”
Eight days later at Grand Rapids, the Crush were at their best. During a stretch that encompassed the second and third quarters, Colorado outscored the Rampage 28-0, turning a tight game into a rout in which the Crush were never seriously threatened.
Three receivers amassed over 50 yards: Kevin McKenzie, Willis Marshall and Damian Harrell, one of the quintet of holdovers who remains the team’s leading receiver and go-to man, as evidenced by his two touchdowns in the final 12 seconds against Las Vegas.
Such heroics were not required against the Rampage. Harrell kept the offense moving with seven receptions for 134 yards. Dutton kept a firm grip on the football, completing 20 of 24 passes for 264 yards. The offense lost control of the football three times against the Gladiators, but didn’t record one turnover against the Rampage.
Following the Week 1 win, the Crush promised it would get better, and not rest on the laurels of a thrilling home win. Against the Rampage, the team made good on its goals, setting up the franchise’s most important game relative to the standings: a Week 3 Central Division showdown with the also unbeaten Chicago Rush.
“I don`t think we`re going to backslide,” Harrell said. “You can tell it`s going to be a whole lot different this year, a whole lot different.”
So far, only one thing between the seasons is the same: the win total. The fact that the 2004 season is just two weeks old makes that comparison wonderful for the Crush.
Andrew Mason was at the Tampa Bay Storm`s first home game on June 1, 1991 and has followed the game ever since. While in college, he served as content editor and co-founder of The Storm Shelter, a Web site which covered the Tampa Bay Storm on the Internet from 1996-99. He also volunteered with the team`s media relations department in 1998 and currently contributes to ColoradoCrush.com. He's covered the NFL for various on-line outlets since 1999.