NEW ORLEANS - When the Soul signed Tony Graziani in 2005, they not only made him their highest-paid player, but also the face of the franchise.
SEPTA buses and highway billboards were splashed with Graziani's image. He was at the front of promotional rallies and television commercials.
But those days are over.
Graziani suited up for the Soul for the final time yesterday. He's a free agent, looking to move on.
"I would have loved to walk out of here with a [championship] trophy on a white horse and all that, but it didn't work out that way," said Graziani, 34. "But I'm proud of the fact that when I got here the organization was in shambles and when I left, it was in a good place."
When healthy, Graziani still is one of the arena game's best quarterbacks, but he has missed significant time the last 3 years. This season, for the first time during Graziani's tenure, the Soul had a capable backup. All Matt D'Orazio did while filling in was win the league's MVP award and yesterday the championship-game MVP.
"For us to have Matt D'Orazio and Tony Graziani, two great quarterbacks, was probably the difference in our season," coach Bret Munsey said.
When Munsey stayed with D'Orazio late in the season after Graziani was cleared to play after a concussion, Graziani was not happy.
He is the game's highest-paid player at $150,000 annually, but the Soul seem more inclined to bring back D'Orazio, who also is a free agent.
"I want to get in a good place with a good coach that knows what he's doing and try to win a championship," Graziani said prior to yesterday's championship win. "I only have a couple years left. I don't have time for the whole rebuilding thing."
The tentative plan is for a parade on Thursday along Market Street, from Independence Hall and proceeding to a rally at City Hall. It's unlikely that Soul owner Jon Bon Jovi's famous rock band will perform, but he did vow there would be a celebratory concert. Perhaps, he speculated, the night of the banner raising and ring ceremony next season.
The team is due to arrive in Philadelphia today at 3:30 p.m. *