It's time! The Tulsa Talons inaugural season in the revamped Arena Football League is in the books or more accurately in 2010, online.
This past weekend, quarterback Justin Allgood tossed 10 touchdown passes in a showdown with Oklahoma City. As impressive as the 10 TDs were, the fact that the Talons were locked into the second seed heading into the game spoke volumes about the group's temperament.
"Sometimes it is difficult to get the team up for a game like that because it was not going to effect our playoff position," said Head Coach Mitch Allner. "The guys did a great job and played a solid football game especially offensively. We were really clicking all night long on the offensive."
One of the team goals entering the season was double digits in the win column. The high caliber play across the league proved challenging. It came down to the end, but the 10th victory was earned. A 10-6 record against elite competition is admirable.
Many Tulsans do not fully understand the AFL upgrade. Even though af2 provided a nice little league, AFL is the real deal.
Week in and week out, the Talons were pushed to the limits. "If we didn't show up and have our best game, we weren't going to win the game. That was every single week all season long," Allner said.
After all, it is the way a competitive league should be, which is why MLB is dying a slow painful death but that is a topic for another day.
This Saturday night the Talons welcome the Tampa Bay Storm back to T-Town. The two teams hooked up in week one at the BOK Center. Tulsa won the first contest 69-58.
So much has changed since then. Not much can be taken away and applied to this week's match-up.
"They are a different football team than their first game," Allner said. "They had a lot of veteran guys who as the season has gone on have gotten better. They have improved conditioning more than anything else.
They are playing some really good football right now with an excellent head coach who understands the game very well."
The Talons roster has seen upheaval, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The starting secondary for round one of the playoffs would not recognize the week one unit.
However, the strength of the team is still on offense. And in the AFL, that's a good place to excel. The squad averages 62.1 points per contest, which is second in the league behind the Milwaukee Iron.
For all of Justin Allgood's accolades behind center, his receivers should earn the same praise. Donovan Morgan, Jeff Hughley and Carlese Franklin are the most prolific threesome in the league.
Hughley continues to put up ridiculous numbers in all-purpose yardage. He ranks second in the league in this category. Morgan's 52 touchdowns are five better than the next guy on the list.
Defense is the area of concern. They rank in the lower half of the league in points per game. It is a bit baffling considering the team sacks the QB at a high rate and forces interceptions as well.
Terrance Carter and Gabe Nyenhuis combine for 24 sacks on the season. Nyenhuis also leads the league in forced fumbles.
The win last weekend provided a nice confidence boost. "It's good momentum for us going into the playoffs," Allner said.
Tulsa joins Orlando, Jacksonville, Arizona, Spokane, Chicago, Milwaukee and Tampa Bay in the 2010 AFL playoffs.
Starting the run at home is a huge bonus. The absence of travel is a huge advantage for the home team. The travel day ends up a wasted day. Also, hotels can be fun, but after 16 weeks of football, a personal mattress is welcomed by achy bodies.
Also, expect a near-sellout, raucous crowd Saturday night. Tulsa sports fans can be finicky. However, once the playoffs start, we can smell championship and rise to the occasion.
Whether a title is eminent or an untimely exit, the AFL is here to stay. The Talons bring entertainment each and every week.
"There is so much more parity in this league than there ever was in af2," Allner said. "The players are better, the coaching staffs are better, and it's been a tougher year. At the same time, it's been much more enjoyable."
The enjoyment level translates from the organization to the fans. Everyone is digging the ride.
Visit bokcenter.com or call 294-1000 for playoff tickets.
Lagniappe means a little something extra. Enjoy.
One issue facing the Talons all season and undoubtedly next year as well is the education of the difference between the old af2 and the new AFL.
Here are a few ideas which the Talons could try next season.
Hold an open house at the BOK Center. Instead of a ticket sales push, just hold court and talk to the fans about the competition. Explain how big time it is for the league to broadcast a game each week on the NFL Network.
Another idea could have taken place prior to this season. It would have been risky but a name change could have worked. Sure, we are familiar with the Talons, but it also reminds everyone of the af2 Talons.
The easiest makeover and headline grabber would be a uniform switcharoo. Most organizations love this idea because it means fans have to purchase new merchandise.
For now, let's rock the BOK Center on Saturday and send the Storm back to Tampa Bay a bruised mess.
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