Gladiators’ Schedule is Front-End Heavy at Home
The 2016 Arena Football League schedule was released in December and there are a few things about it that fans will find to be quite different from years past. The AFL will field just eight teams this year, down from 12 teams in 2015, after losing the Las Vegas Outlaws, New Orleans VooDoo, San Jose SaberCats and Spokane Shock during this off-season. It is the smallest number of AFL teams to take the field since the 1991 season, its fifth in existence. Today, the only teams still remaining from the ’91 season are the Tampa Bay Storm and the Orlando Predators.
Back in 1991, current Gladiators head coach Steve Thonn was a wide receiver/defensive back playing for the Albany Firebirds. The 2016 season will be Thonn’s 12th as a head coach in the AFL and his 7th in Cleveland.
I reached out to Coach Thonn via e-mail to get his thoughts on the upcoming season. I asked him what he thought of the schedule, which has been reduced to a 16-game schedule rather than the 18-game season the AFL has been playing since 2011.
“As a coach, I like the 16-game schedule,” said Thonn. “I understand why we have had 18 games, but it can be grueling at times and difficult to keep players fresh.”
One interesting aspect of the Gladiators schedule is the fact that their eight home games all occur within the first 10 weeks of the season. The final six weeks of the season, the team will be on the road.
“It is a very tough schedule, having to go on the road the last six weeks. Hopefully, we can take advantage of the home games early on,” Thonn said.
Another oddity to the upcoming season is that all eight teams will participate in the playoffs. This is something that has never happened before.
“For this season, I like that all the teams make the playoffs. One of the best times I had in coaching was with the Grand Rapids Rampage in 2008. We struggled in the first half of the season, then made quite a few changes and had an unbelievable run at the end of the season and in the playoffs,” Thonn recalled. “Lower seeds this year, if they get hot, could give the upper seeds a real battle.”
I covered the 2008 season in Grand Rapids and it was indeed a remarkable turnaround by the team at the end of the season. They won the last three games of the regular season (two on the road) and finished with a record of 6-10. They squeaked into the playoffs and proceeded to win two straight games on the road.
First, Grand Rapids travelled out west and defeated the Arizona Rattlers 48-41. The Rampage had an incredible defensive effort late in the game and stopped the Rattlers on four straight plays at the goal line to preserve the win. The next week, they took on the Chicago Rush in Chicago and pulled out a 58-41 win. Chicago had won the AreanaBowl in 2006.
A win the following week at the defending ArenaBowl Champion San Jose SaberCats would have landed the Rampage into their second ArenaBowl, but their season ended with an 81-55 loss.
So Coach Thonn is absolutely right when he says that any team has a chance to win come playoff time, and he should know.
The 29th AFL regular season begins on April 1 and ends on August 1. ArenaBowl XXIX will be played in late August.
2016 Cleveland Gladiators Schedule
Home - Fri, April 1 – vs. Philadelphia Soul – 7:00 PM EST
Home – Sat, April 9 – vs. Tampa Bay Storm – 7:00 PM EST
Home - Sat, April 16 – vs. Los Angeles KISS – 7:00 PM EST
Away – Sat, April 23 – at Philadelphia Soul – 6:00 PM EST
Home - Fri, April 29 – vs. Orlando Predators – 7:00 PM EST
Home – Fri, May 6 – vs. Jacksonville Sharks – 7:00 PM EST
Home - Fri, May 13 – vs. Portland Thunder – 7:00 PM EST
Away – Sat, May 21 – at Tampa Bay Storm – 7:30 PM EST
Home - Sat, May 28 – vs. Philadelphia Soul – 7:00 PM EST
Home – Fri, June 3 – vs. Arizona Rattlers – 7:00 PM EST
Away - Sat, June 11 – at Orlando Predators – 7:30 PM EST
Away – Sat, June 18 – at Portland Thunder – 10:00 PM EST
Away - Sat, June 25 – at Jacksonville Sharks – 7:00 PM EST
Away – Sat, July 9 – at Philadelphia Soul – 6:00 PM EST
Away - Sat, July 16 – at Los Angeles KISS – 10:00 PM EST
Away – Fri, July 22 – at Arizona Rattlers – 10:00 PM EST
Randy Snow covered the Grand Rapids Rampage of the Arena Football League for ArenaFan from 2003-2008. He also covered the Fort Wayne Fusion of arenafootball2 in 2007. From 2004-2008 and in 2010, he was a member of the Arena Football League Writer’s Association and, since 2011, has been a member of the Professional Football Researchers Association. Randy lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan but will travel just about anywhere for a football game or a great football story. He also runs the web site www.theworldoffootball.com.