In the wake of the Georgia Doom’s victory over the previously-unbeaten Richmond Roughriders on Saturday night, it’s fair to say two camps have formed. One wants to take credit for prophesying this upset weeks ago, and to their credit there were tells. Richmond dug themselves into a 24-point deficit in New Jersey on Week 6 before an improbable fourth-quarter comeback. A week later, they were one forced fumble away from a halftime tie with the vagabond New England Cavalry from the AAL’s fodder trough. Winning streaks claim their toll in mental fatigue, as intensity gives way to complacency and players believe they can work less doggedly to still achieve the same result. Nonetheless, the Roughriders shook that off in a 60-point win last week against the Cats, and came to Skull Island on Saturday ready to play.
On the other hand, there’s the camp that acknowledges being blindsided. I’m in this group. By and large, so are you. C’mon, admit it.
In my case, it was an under-estimation of the Doom. I confess to buying into the foregone conclusion of a Roughriders-Havoc championship game, which has loomed over the AAL since Week 1 with all the certainty of thunderheads gathering for the inevitable storm. I was underwhelmed with Georgia’s 3-2 record going into Saturday night, which included wins against the two weakest full-fledged teams in the league. Then there’s the play-by-play of DSBN Sports broadcaster Russell Deese, as if his lulling southern drawl that may have been perfected after a few too many shows from Stoner’s Pizza Joint was somehow a microcosm of a greater lethargy that defines this entire organization. On top of everything, the idea of a team in disarray after a coaching shakeup the weekend before crossed my mind. But therein lies this team’s greatest strength.
The Doom are chameleons. In a league averse to change, they’ve plunged in headfirst, and every move seemingly has worked out. Of the 26 players on their current roster, 13 were not on-hand when camp opened in the last days of February. Cornerback Dionte Dinkins, fullback Romeo Gilbert, and quarterback Luke Collis were each added before the first game. Collis was so new that the front office misspelled his name as “Collins” on his opening night jersey.
Change takes a little time to cure, and the catalyst for the Doom’s remake was the conversion of DB Christian Wise to his natural position of receiver after L.J. Castile left the team for personal reasons. That move first hit the starting lineup in Week 4 and was a double harvest. Wise now makes Georgia’s receiving trio as lethal as the Roughriders’, which is to say the best in the AAL, while the defensive vacancy opened the doors for the acquisition of former AFLers Rayshaun Kizer and Brian Walker, along with CIF veteran Thornton Kyle Chandler. Remember, these guys are in addition to Dinkins, arguably the league’s top corner, and safety Derek Patterson. For new head coach Gerald Dockery, whose baptism-by-fire debut has us all buzzing, it’s a case of getting the right pieces first, and then making them fit.
“Our secondary has been revamped with a few adjustments that cater to their strengths as DBs,” he told me earlier today. The shutdown quintet give him the interchangeable ability to play press or back off, to blitz the mike linebacker on demand, and to sit back in a zone. They can do virtually anything, and they do it as well or better than any defensive backfield in the league. That in itself is cause for a complete reassessment of the axis of power in the AAL.
It’s hyperbolic to call this a seminal game that means as much to the AAL as the New York Jets’ 1969 Super Bowl meant to the old AFL, but there are similarities. For one, the intervening days have brought a newfound respect to an ailing league that was on the verge of laughingstock. Even more, in a league where games are decided by a 34-point average margin of victory, it has added a cupful of intrigue that is a necessary ingredient if the AAL wants to put out a compelling product.
We can no longer speak with such unimpugnable certainty.
The Roughriders may indeed line up against a team from Georgia for the American Arena League title game on June 30, but nobody can any longer say whether they’ll be from Atlanta or Macon.