Moments after the Soul's 65-60 win over the New York Dragons on April 1, co-owner Jon Bon Jovi already was looking ahead.
With the victory, the Soul had improved to 4-0, including three wins on the road. However, Bon Jovi knew their true test would come in the next two weeks, tonight at the Wachovia Center against the Georgia Force (4-1) and April 16 at Dallas (6-0). The Desperados and the Soul are the only undefeated teams in the Arena Football League.
"The next two are the ones that will be telling the story," Bon Jovi said. "Right now, we are formulating the story. Up until the win over New York, there wasn't a story formulated, in my opinion."
Although the Soul are happy to have gone through a quarter of the season unbeaten, they believe they have much more to prove.
Only one of their first four opponents, Colorado, entered the weekend with a winning record. So, even though the Soul have won four in a row for the first time in their four-year history, their mind-set is to forget the beginning and look to the future.
"I'm not ready to celebrate anything yet," Bon Jovi said.
If the Soul lose their next two, there will be some doubts, although not among the players, about whether they are serious contenders for the Arena Bowl - the Super Bowl of the AFL.
A split of the two games would reinforce the belief that they are contenders. A sweep in the next two weeks would put the bull's-eye on the team.
"You look at the next two weeks differently because they are such good teams," said quarterback Tony Graziani, who sat out practice Friday because of the flu but said he would be fine tonight. "We want to win them, and if we don't, we know it won't be the end of the road. But it is going to be a measuring stick of where we are as a program."
The Soul are focused on the future, which is better than looking back at last week's win, when the Soul squandered a 65-48 lead late in the fourth quarter against a New York team that Dallas torched, 60-7, in the first week of the season.
Afterward, coach Bret Munsey said he was disappointed in the players' practice habits leading up to the game, suggesting they weren't totally focused.
That hasn't been the case this last week.
"Coach got on us; it was a down week as far as practice went," said defensive back Eddie Moten, who scored on a 50-yard interception return and was named the AFL defensive player of the week for his effort against New York. "This week, we have worked hard. The practices have been longer and we will be prepared for Georgia."
Though coaches like to repeat the one-week-at-a-time mantra and insist that all games are important, Munsey concedes that the next two are different.
"Absolutely it's different, because as a coach and - I hope - as players, the tougher the competition, the better you prepare," Munsey said. "You always pick it up a notch in preparation for big games, and this is one of those weeks. You are spending more time as a player and coach - watching film, trying to figure it out as much as you can."
Graziani insisted that the Soul won't look past Georgia to their meeting with unbeaten Dallas.
"There is no way, because Georgia is just as talented as any team in the league," the quarterback said. "It's the perfect game to have before Dallas, because you can't look ahead."
When: Tonight at 7:30.
Where: Wachovia Center (capacity 17,597).
TV/radio: ESPN2; WPEN-AM (950).
Records: Force, 4-1. Soul, 4-0.
Coaches: For the Force, Doug Plank, third year (23-14 regular season, 3-2 postseason). For the Soul, Bret Munsey, second year (13-7 regular season, 1-1 postseason).
Last week: The Force lost, 62-61, at Columbus. The Soul won, 65-60, at New York.
Series history: The Soul lead, 1-0.
Last meeting: May 13, 2006. The Soul won, 57-41, at Georgia.
Key injuries: For the Force, none reported. For the Soul, WR-LB J.J. McKelvey (hamstring) is probable. WR Larry Brackins (hamstring) is questionable.
Points per game: For the Force, 63.0; for the Soul, 67.0.
Opponents' points per game: For the Force, 57.4; for the Soul, 44.3.
Top performers: For the Force, QB Chris Greisen has completed 122 of 164 passes for 1,508 yards and a league-high 37 touchdowns. He has thrown five interceptions. WR Chris Jackson, who was born in Bristol, Bucks County, leads the AFL in receptions (46) and receiving yards (667). He also has 14 TD receptions. DL Mike Sutton and DL Jermaine Smith have three sacks each. DT Ernest Allen, who played for the Soul last season, has appeared in 109 consecutive regular-season games.
For the Soul, DB Eddie Moten leads the AFL in interceptions (4) and pass breakups (15). He also has a team-high 25.5 tackles. QB Tony Graziani has completed 75 of 116 passes for 1,034 yards and 24 TDs. He has thrown three interceptions. Brackins has 19 receptions for 270 yards and five TDs and is second in the league with 6.5 special-teams tackles. WR Charles Pauley has 29 receptions for 511 yards and 11 TDs. WR-DB Mike Brown has 19 tackles and three interceptions.
Fast fact: The Force lead the AFL with nine sacks, while Graziani has been sacked only once this season.
- Marc Narducci