The Home of Arena Football Fans since 1998

Amazing, Alluring - And With An Asterisk

Jonah Rosenblum
Wednesday August 20, 2014


What would an ArenaBowl mean to Cleveland? 

"I keep saying LeBron James is the second biggest story in town after us," coach Steve Thonn joked.

Remember when Barry Bonds passed Hank Aaron? When a once sleek-suddenly brawny San Francisco Giant stole baseball’s home-run mark? He had that mark, still has that mark, but always with an asterisk.

Maybe an asterisk is the best way to understand how Cleveland would react to an ArenaBowl title. Look, it matters here – probably more than it would in most cities. When the Gladiators downed the Orlando Predators to advance to the ArenaBowl, their victory was featured on the front page of Cleveland’s leading periodical, The Plain Dealer.

Not just Page One of the sports section – Page One of the paper, period. The Plain Dealer headline summarized why it mattered: "A football championship in Cleveland?"

"It's huge," quarterback Shane Austin said. "I know they haven't won one for a while."

Of course, to many Clevelanders, it was as educational as it was celebratory. For many Clevelanders, this was their first introduction to the Gladiators. And therein lies the limit. Cleveland, you see, is not a bandwagon town. This is a town where life hangs on the Cleveland Browns, no matter how paltry the results. Read Cleveland.com, The Plain Dealer’s website, sometime. The most read stories nearly always read like this:

Browns Practice

Indians Game
Cavaliers Minor Free Agent Signing
Browns Quarterback Battle
Indians Trade Rumors

This is a sports town. A Browns, Cavaliers and Indians town. This town – to use a relationship term – is taken. The Gladiators may be hot - but it's just not the same. So, would a Gladiators championship matter? Sure, the Gladiators are certainly relevant – due in no small part to the efforts of Dan Gilbert.

Wide receiver Dominick Goodman’s visage hangs from Quicken Loans Arena – in plain view through the left field crevice of The Jake (yes, these fans here are adamant about it being The Jake, not Progressive Field).

When you build it, they will come.

And they’ve come. The Gladiators were third in the Arena Football League with more than 10,000 fans per game this season. 14,543 fans came to the American Conference title game. The top five single-game attendances in the League this season:

14,770
*14,543
13,120
*13,064
*12,684

*Denotes Cleveland home games

That means the second-highest, fourth-highest and fifth-highest attendances in the League all belong to Cleveland.

"The fans have been great all year long," defensive back Dominic Jones said. "That's why we wanted to continue winning. Toward the end of the season, people were like, 'Are they going to rest guys?' No, we wanted to have the playoffs here and the ArenaBowl come through Cleveland. That's what we believe, man,"

So, in short, it will matter.

Perhaps, most important, as a pretty thread in the growing narrative about Cleveland's revival. First, winning the Gay Games, then drafting Johnny Manziel, then earning the right to host the 2016 Republican National Convention and then bringing back LeBron James.

Downtown occupancy is above 95 percent. Construction is all over. Cleveland's young adult population is better educated than that of Chicago, Seattle and Austin. In some ways, the Gladiators' rise is powerful because it intersects so neatly with Cleveland's.

"Cleveland's beautiful too," Austin joked, when asked about previous stops, including college in Hawaii. "I've been a lot of different places, but right now, I wouldn't rather be anywhere but here. I'm having a blast here in Cleveland. The guys have been good to me. The city has been great."

Team on the rise. Town on the rise. And yet when I asked my girlfriend whether she’d join me for the ArenaBowl, she said no. Why? The Browns are playing right next door.

Asterisk, it is.


 
Jonah Rosenblum is a Northeast Ohio-based journalist who writes features for the Cleveland Jewish News and covers high school sports for Lacrosse Magazine and The Plain Dealer. A proud Cleveland resident, Rosenblum previously headed the media relations department of the Chicago Rush and interned for the Arena Football League. You can follow Jonah on Twitter @jonahlrosenblum.
The opinions expressed in the article above are only those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, opinions, or official stance of ArenaFan Online or its staff, or the Arena Football League, or any AFL or af2 teams.
Jonah Rosenblum Articles
It takes more than talent to win in Cleveland
6/20/2015
Patchwork Secondary, Cleveland Survive Up-And-Down Performance, 62-54
4/25/2015
Week 1 win proves 2015 about stacking, not defying odds for Gladiators
3/29/2015
2015 Season Preview: Cleveland Gladiators
3/10/2015
Not Gladiators Night, Lose ArenaBowl 72-32
8/23/2014
Everywhere Defensive Back Has Cleveland Where It Wants To Be
8/22/2014
Amazing, Alluring - And With An Asterisk
8/20/2014
Steady Gladiators Best Orlando, Advance to ArenaBowl
8/10/2014
Pettrey Field Goal Delays Midnight for AFL's Cinderella
8/3/2014
For Cleveland, Real Expectations Follow Real Success
8/2/2014
View all articles