It's not quite accurate to describe tonight's Soul game as a must-win; at least as far as the standings are concerned.
The Soul is 6-6 and even with a loss still has a decent shot at the AFL playoffs. No, the importance of the game extends beyond the padded walls of an Arena League field.
The six-game losing streak that followed a fantastic 4-0 start dropped the Soul off the figurative maps of many area sports fans. Throw in the injury to quarterback Tony Graziani, the team's most valuable and recognizable player, and the steam gained from the early run evaporated.
Now, Philadelphia has won its last two since Graziani returned from a shoulder injury. Soul fans aren't jumping back on a bandwagon. They are climbing on a roller coaster.
"It's important to keep momentum going," Soul coach Bret Munsey said. "It's Dallas, and I've learned that this is the game people in Philadelphia want to win. This game gives us a chance to see where we are."
Where they are is tied for third in the National Conference, which will send six of its top nine teams to the postseason. Dallas (11-1) has clinched the East Division title. Attendance waned during the losing streak, but the team is expecting a full house or close to it tonight.
"With us losing six games, we really backed ourselves into a corner," Munsey said. "But we're all focused and we're going to fight our way out of this."
Dallas beat the Soul earlier this season, 51-41, when Graziani was flattened on a clean hit by defensive lineman Rickie Simpkins and suffered a separated shoulder.
Munsey noted the difference in his team since the quarterback returned.
"There's a more positive atmosphere, on both sides of the ball," the coach said. "There's more of a swagger. He gives us a chance to win. We made too many mistakes [while Graziani was out], too many turnovers. You look at the last two games and we won the turnover battle and the games."
Graziani has thrown 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions since returning. In the four games he missed, Soul quarterbacks had 18 TD passes and nine picks. They also lost five of their seven fumbles.
A Roger Waters concert at the Wachovia Center moved tonight's game to the Spectrum. The switch means a decrease in corporate sponsorship opportunities on the overhead scoreboard, but a potential increase in homefield hostility. The Soul beat Dallas at the old building last year and is 2-1 there all-time.
"The Spectrum brings fans closer to the field and I think the field fits perfectly in the Spectrum," Munsey said. "I love playing at the Spectrum." *