Even the Soul players who lined up along Market Street for the 2008 championship parade might look at this season's roster and wonder: Who are these guys?
Just about everywhere, the faces are different. Just about.
Defensive back Mike Brown is one of two current Soul players who were members of the 2008 title team. It didn't take him long to hit the rewind button when he returned to Philadelphia for training camp.
"It was surreal. I came in on a Saturday and couldn't believe I was going to be putting on a Soul helmet on Monday," said Brown, a fan favorite and one of the leaders of the defense in 2008. "Walking around, a lot of emotions came back and a lot of great memories came along with it."
Wide receiver Larry Brackins is the other active player on the squad. Lineman Phil Bogel is an assistant coach; and that's the extent of the 2008 squad.
Brackins' most memorable play was scoring the winning touchdown in the closing seconds as the Soul avoided a first-round upset by New York. That would have become the team's legacy and not the triumphant ride down Market Street.
"I definitely missed playing in Philly," said Brackins, who toiled for 3-13 Dallas last season. "There's not a city in America like Philly is with their sports. I love that and I just love being around the people of Philly."
It will take a few weeks for some of the stars on the current roster to begin to emerge. Quarterback Justin Allgood is coming off a season in which he threw a league-high 109 touchdowns for Tulsa. His main weapon should be Donovan Morgan, who caught a league-best 52 of those scores. On the other side, DeJuan Alfonzo is regarded as one of the best linebackers in Arena Football League history, and the secondary, also a strength in 2008, is supposed to be even better.
Brown is a recognizable face, but a changed person. Like everyone else, the 2009 work stoppage hit him hard. Brown sat out 2010 and was supposed to play this season in San Jose, but terms couldn't be worked out and he took the chance to come back to the city of his greatest conquests, some even on the playing field.
"That year, 2008, was probably the funnest time of my life, but it was probably the most lost I've been personally and spiritually," said Brown, who is now married but was in the running for some website's bachelor of the year in 2008.
"We didn't know how good we really had it," he continued. "Life is like that sometimes. But you learn from it and protect yourself for the hard times."
Brown's base salary for the canceled 2009 season would have been $50,000. For this season, it will be $7,200. He supplements his income by working as a personal trainer and also has worked as a special-ed teacher in Maryland.
"A lot of guys got a wake-up call knowing that the league is different," he said. "Sometimes you have to sacrifice for the betterment [of the league]. The league took a lot of steps back, especially from the players' standpoint, with the money and all. But I have confidence that they're going to get it right."
Things are different in the Soul locker room, now. There is no Matt D'Orazio on this team, no Eddie Moten either. Tony Graziani is outta here, as is Sean Scott. When Brackins takes the field tonight in Pittsburgh, a number of his former pals will be in his thoughts, though. As Fred Shero put it so beautifully, win a championship and walk together forever.
"I'm looking forward to defending the '08 [title]," Brackins said. "A lot of guys ain't back and I really came back for them and for my teammates out here; to bring another championship back to Philly. There's nothing like the Philly fans and the sports in Philly. I just love it."
SOULT AT A GLANCE
Tonight: The Soul resumes after a 2-year hiatus by playing at Pittsburgh (8 o'clock, NFL Network).
The schedule: This is the first season AFL Teams will play 18 games. Philadelphia opens with four road games because of the uncertain availability of the Wells Fargo Center as the Flyers and Sixers head into the postseason. The Soul's home opener is Friday, April 15 against Tampa Bay.
League makeup: There are 18 teams divided into two conferences of nine. The Soul is in the American Conference's East Division along with Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Milwaukee. Pittsburgh is the closest franchise to Philadelphia and the league would love to see a rivalry develop between the two. An expansion team is being targeted for Brooklyn to begin play perhaps as soon as next season. There were 17 franchises when the Soul won the 2008 title.
Playoff format: Eight teams qualify, four from each conference. In each conference, the two division winners receive the top two seeds, the wild cards are seeded 3 and 4. In the first playoff weekend (July 30-31), 1 hosts 4, 2 hosts 3. The winners advance to the conference finals. The conference winners meet in the championship (Aug. 12 or 13) at the site of the higher remaining seed.
Rosters and pay: Teams may dress 21 and carry three extras. Each team is allowed to pay three players $1,000 per game. Everyone else is limited to $400 per. The league is now a single-entity model, meaning players are paid by the league and not individual teams.
Preseason poll: The Soul received one first-place vote and is ranked fourth in the preseason coaches' poll. Defending champ Spokane, San Jose and Tampa Bay are 1-2-3. Pittsburgh is ranked ninth.
About the Soul: Justin Allgood is the starting quarterback with wide receiver Donovan Morgan expected to be his top target. Allgood and Morgan were teammates in Tulsa last year. DeJuan Alfonzo is one of the league's top linebackers. Coach Mike Hohensee won the 2006 ArenaBowl title with Chicago and is third in league history with 129 wins.
Ticket info: Season tickets start as low as $59. Single-game seats range from $13 to $200 for the premium spots. Visit www.PhiladelphiaSoul.com or call 215-253-4900 (ext. 3) for details.
Home Games (CAPS) at Wells Fargo Center
Today: at Pittsburgh Power, 8 (NFLN)
Friday, March 18: at Chicago Rush, 8 (NFLN)
Week 3: Bye
Monday, April 4: at Milwaukee Iron, 8:30
Saturday, April 9: at Orlando Predators, 7:30
Friday, April 15: TAMPA BAY STORM, 8 (NFLN)
Saturday, April 23: at San Jose SaberCats, 10:30
Saturday, April 30: at Iowa Barnstormers, 8
Friday, May 6: JACKSONVILLE SHARKS, 7:05
Friday, May 13: GEORGIA FORCE, 7:05
Saturday, May 21: at Cleveland Gladiators, 7
Friday, May 27: NEW ORLEANS VOODOO, 7:05
Friday, June 3: MILWAUKEE IRON, 7:05
Friday, June 10: at Spokane Shock, 8 (NFLN)
Friday, June 17: TULSA TALONS, 7:05
Saturday, June 25: at ARIZONA RATTLERS, 7:05
Saturday, July 2: at Dallas Vigilantes, 8:30
Friday, July 8: CLEVELAND GLADIATORS, 8 (NFLN)
Week 19: Bye
Friday, July 22: at PITTSBURGH POWER, 7:05