There was no way of knowing how many fans were going to show up at City Hall’s Dilworth Plaza the afternoon of July 31 for a rally to honor ArenaBowl XXII champions the Philadelphia Soul. It was 3 p.m. on a workday and this organization, fresh off a very successful fifth season, has yet to reach the ranks of the city’s big four of the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies and Sixers.
When several thousand Soul fans surrounded City Hall to support the city’s newest champion, even the players and team executives were shocked. Quarterback Matt D’Orazio, the ArenaBowl MVP, was nearly speechless as he addressed the crowd during the ceremony. Afterwards, as fans young and old lined up for autographs, the quarterback was still recovering from the overwhelming response.
"The support we got all year and the support we got today, I am really choked up and speechless," D’Orazio said after the event. "This is incredible. This blows away everybody’s expectations tenfold. This is just absolutely incredible, and I know speaking for all the players and all the people in the organization it really means a lot to us."
Philadelphia fans were in desperate need of a championship, as the Philadelphia 76ers defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1983 NBA Finals was the last time the City of Brotherly Love celebrated a top prize. True, the Philadelphia KiXX won Major Indoor Soccer League championships in 2002 and ’07 and the Philadelphia Wings have five National Lacrosse League titles, with the last coming in ’01, but those teams don’t get national television time. The Arena Football League has games shown several days a week on the ESPN networks.
As far as one former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback is concerned, the city’s championship drought is no longer.
"I think the drought is over based on the support the team has gotten from this community," Ron Jaworski, Philadelphia Soul president and a minority owner, said. "It’s unbelievable. We got ours, I say, Eagles go get yours, hey Phillies go get yours. Flyers, Sixers, we all pull together in this town for each other."
While traveling down their golden road, the players didn’t spend too much time thinking about the city’s other teams, as their focus was bringing home their trophy.
"I think going in to it we weren’t trying to compare [to other pro teams]," D’Orazio said. "I think the guys on our team were just happy with the people that had been supporting us and saying thank you to them because we had gotten phenomenal support all year. Then to come out here and be blown away by this presentation and reception is just unbelievable."
Thursday, Philadelphia displayed that appreciation by chanting "Thank You Soul! Thank You Soul!" The words echoed around City Hall and down Market Street.
Even co-majority owner Jon Bon Jovi, who performs in front of soldout crowds worldwide, was surprised Thursday afternoon.
"I would be lying if I told you six years ago that I would envision 100,000 people on Market Street and helicopters flying overhead," Bon Jovi said to loud cheers from the crowd. "The great thing about the Soul is parallel with the great City of Philadelphia, which is of course the birth place of our nation. This is the little train that could.
"This is the sports team that said we are going to be your sports team. We are going to be the team that you feel the part of the most."
As a tribute to the rocker/owner, Mayor Michael Nutter’s press secretary Doug Oliver used some creative wording in his congratulatory speech.
"For years we were living on a prayer, and for years people kept telling us to keep the faith," Oliver said to the crowd. "We all know that we wanted a championship dead or alive. So, on Sunday July 27, we went out with a blaze of glory."
With a new trophy case being delivered to the team’s practice facility in Voorhees, N.J., there will be plenty of room to store additional conference and league titles.
"I’ve asked the guy making it not to make [the Foster ArenaBowl Trophy] the centerpiece because we are going to have a new one next year," Munsey told the crowd. "We’re going to repeat, baby!"