For a team that's used to winning championships, being #4 in their conference with a losing record, must be unfamiliar territory. The Duke City Gladiators find themselves fighting for a playoff spot with a VERY deceptive 6-8 record in the Western Conference of the Indoor Football League.
Their nickname, "Gladiators", bears an interesting parallel with the history of gladiators, themselves. According to multiple sources, gladiators were slave warriors who would often fight to the death in a large arena, while spectators watched. In many cases, they were rarely expected to win as their opponents were often given greater resources in the form of armor, weapons, and sometimes horses and chariots--and the favor of emperors and senators. On the rare occasion that the slave gladiators won, it was an utter surprise to the spectators attending the games. In the movie, Gladiator, Maximus, played by Russell Crowe, wins in a match which has the spectators dropping their jaws to the floor in disbelief. He yells out, "Are you not entertained?!" Yes, Maximus, Dello Davis, Jayson Serda, Byron Cooper, Sherman Carter, Greg Dent and many other Gladiators. We are VERY entertained! Some of the most intense matchups all season have included the Duke City Gladiators. Some of the most wild finishes one could ever conceive have come from the hands of these warriors.
However, with a 6-8 record, many believe they're not a viable playoff contender. A 58-55 loss in the Semis to Arizona a season ago seems like a distant memory. A controversial no-call in the end zone, followed by a missed field goal doomed the Gladiators to defeat, leaving Quarterback Nate Davis to question why he wasn't given the shot to score on the final play. He did, after all, break the TD passes record in the IFL last year.
Fast-forward to this year. Expectations were high that the Gladiators would give the Rattlers a run for their money in the Western Conference. The first game was highlighted as Duke City returned to Phoenix to face their newly-hated rival. After an intense first half, the Rattlers led 29-28 in what seemed to be anybody's game. Then..........a season-ending injury to quarterback Nate Davis. Then........a 60-33 defeat at the hands of the Frisco Fighters, followed by another loss to Arizona in Albuquerque. At 0-3, the Gladiators appeared to be looking for answers, and looking for a quarterback to stick with for the remaining of the season. Nate Davis was promoted to Offensive Coordinator. Suddenly, the Gladiators were in the hunt. Ramone Atkins rose to the occasion, and the defense started holding their own.
Some vocal internet hecklers don't believe the Gladiators will be a threat in the playoffs. Some cite the fact that the teams Duke City has won, don't have very good records. After all, they beat the 1-12 Bay Area Panthers twice and the San Diego Strike Force, who currently sit at 3-10. If you add the current records up, of all the teams Duke City has won, they combine for 26 wins to 53 losses. It appears, by this number, that the Gladiators aren't very good--mediocre at best. However, there's another part to the story that you might not have noticed.
Gladiator Losses - To Whom?
If we were to add up the records (yes including every time they've played the same team) of the teams that the Duke City Gladiators have lost to--and by how much, we might see a story similar to Roman history. Whether the Emperors and Senators of the IFL scheduling did this on purpose or not, is not for me to say. However, like the gladiators of ancient Rome, these Duke City Gladiators were given opponents that would likely seal the doom of the slave warriors this season. Let's observe who they've lost to:
First, the 11-3 Rattlers, thrice! Next, the 12-2 Fighters, thrice! Two of those times were by 1 point! One of those times was on a final play that is still being debated, where Quarterback TJ Edwards was awarded a touchdown as time expired. Some say his knee was down before the ball crossed the plane. Some say it wasn't. It could have been called either way and still debated. If the refs would have called him down, the Gladiators come away with a 46-41 win rather than a 47-46 loss. They're now 7-7. But alas, the call was made.
Let's look at another road loss by 1 point. Duke City scores a touchdown with 5 seconds remaining. They're leading 41-40. Then, the unbelievable happens. The extra point is blocked and returned by Tucson Sugar Skulls', White, for a 2-point return. Tucson wins 42-41 in one of the most bizarre finishes of all time. And let's not forget the Glads were up 41-28 at Northern Arizona this last week, with 5 1/2 minutes to play, and a pair of onside kick recoveries helped NAZ win it 49-41. Oh, they're 11-2 by the way. First place in the Western Conference--and it was at their house. So what's the point?
The point is: their record is deceptive. They're way better than it shows. They've had by far the most difficult schedule this season!
- 7 of their 8 losses come from teams with double digit wins. All their losses come from teams with winning records (Frisco and Arizona are the only others)!
- ALL of their losses come from teams that have already clinched playoff berths.
-Half of their losses were by one score.
-All their opponents records combine to 113-76. The Gladiators have 2 games remaining at San Diego and home versus NAZ.
-They're the only team in the league to have played the top 4 teams (currently). Those opponents have made up HALF of their schedule. After playing NAZ in the season finale, 9 of their 16 games will have been from the top 4 teams in the league.
-They beat the defending champs, Mass, and have hung tight with every opponent they've played except for Arizona.
So even if they end up 7-9 in the playoffs, they may have as good a chance as anyone to punch a ticket to the United Bowl. If anything can be said negative about the Gladiator's on-field play, it would be they need to finish games! In games that were decided by one score, they are currently 3-4. They may be 6-8, but they are three measly plays away from being 9-5. Watch out! Because they're not going to give up. Like the gladiators of old, they are well aware that they must fight to the death--and nothing motivates warriors like the fear of death!
By Ducon Williams