In arena football, the most important man on the field is almost always the
quarterback. But for this week’s matchup between the Arizona Rattlers and the
Philadelphia Soul in ArenaBowl XXV, that rule may not apply.
Sure, Philadelphia QB Dan Radabaugh and Arizona QB Nick Davila have thrown 228
touchdown passes between them. Yes, they are two of the better signal callers in
the league. But while all eyes will be on the current quarterbacks, the game’s most
important eyes will belong to a former quarterback.
That old gunslinger’s name is Clint Dolezel, the assistant head coach and offensive
coordinator for the Philadelphia Soul. As one of the greatest quarterbacks in AFL
history, his eyes have seen almost everything the game can offer. And while the AFL
has seen bigger, faster, stronger quarterbacks in its 25-year history, no quarterback
has shown a better mind for the game than Dolezel. His mind may be the difference
as the Soul try to claim all the AFL’s marbles in ArenaBowl XXV.
After starting out with the Milwaukee Mustangs in 1995, Dolezel’s brilliant playing
career exploded with the Texas Terror two years later. For the next 11 years, the
East Texas State product rained touchdowns on the league. He won ArenaBowl
XV with the Grand Rapids Rampage in 2001. He was the first QB in the history of
professional football to throw 900 touchdown passes. His 2007 season for the Dallas
Desperados saw him set a career-high in touchdown passes (107) and a career-low
in interceptions (nine).
But while Dolezel’s numbers are jaw-dropping, they don’t completely illustrate his
greatness. What truly separated him from every other quarterback in the league was
his ability to call his own plays. It’s a quarterback’s ultimate dream. And over the
final eight seasons of his career, Dolezel got to live that dream every week.
As a player, Dolezel watched hours of film to prepare the game plan for each
opponent. But as complex as the game can be, he still knew how to keep it
simple. "When I describe arena football to people who don't know our game, I say
it's like playing backyard football with your buddies,” Dolezel explained to me in
“'You're the bottle cap, you go to the front trash can, you take a right.' It's just like
that. Sometimes we don't have set plays. We go, 'this is what they're doing, this is
what we've gotta do to attack it. You go here, and you go there, and let's see what
happens. A lot of times it works out great for us."
Dolezel no longer takes snaps, but he still calls the plays. Only this time, he applies
his simple approach to the Philadelphia Soul offense. And it still works out great
for him. With Dan Radabaugh executing Dolezel’s game plans, Philadelphia led the
league with 68.2 points per game in 2012. Their effectiveness hasn’t been a shock
to anyone in the AFL; when Dolezel was the head coach of the Dallas Vigilantes in
2011, Radabaugh was his pupil.
While Dolezel was coaching the Vigilantes to a playoff appearance, Philadelphia
was searching for answers at quarterback, woefully underperforming its high
expectations, and floundering to a 6-12 record. So when the Vigilantes folded during
the offseason, the Soul snatched up both Dolezel and Radabaugh as quickly as they
could get them.
The result? A 15-3 record and another ArenaBowl appearance. The Philadelphia
Soul’s slogan this season has been the extremely confident “We Got This.” It’s hard
to blame them. After all, it’s easy to be confident when you’ve got Clint Dolezel
Even if Dolezel doesn’t help lead Philadelphia to its second AFL title, he could still
end up as one of the night’s biggest winners. The league will announce its Hall of
Fame Class of 2012 during Friday’s ArenaBowl XXV, and Dolezel is a finalist in his
first year of eligibility.
While that would be a great accomplishment to add to his already overflowing
résumé, it’s highly unlikely that the Hall of Fame will be on Dolezel’s mind once
the ball is kicked off. For all the great numbers he posted during his career, he won
only the one ArenaBowl. As his playing days were winding down, Dolezel admitted
feeling like his stats outweighed his lone championship. It nagged at him until he
retired. It probably still eats at him now.
So while the Soul tangle with Arizona, Dolezel will focus on what he normally does
during games. Standing a few yards behind the action. Calling the plays. Observing
the results. Noticing tendencies in the Arizona defense. Plotting Philadelphia’s next
move. And, odds are, orchestrating another victory for his team.
He won’t take a single snap for Philadelphia on Friday. But Clint Dolezel’s brilliance
and effectiveness as a playcaller and strategist could make him the key to
ArenaBowl XXV @ New Orleans
Arizona vs. Philadelphia (Friday, 10:30 pm ET, NFL Network)
Troy Clardy has been following the AFL for 13 seasons. He lives in Pittsburgh,
where he is a radio and television play-by-play announcer for the Pittsburgh Power.
He was a broadcaster for the San Jose SaberCats for eight seasons, and hosted
ESPN.com’s “Inside Arena Football” podcast for three seasons.