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Jay Gruden looks to win a seventh ArenaBowl ring.....
LAS VEGAS (AP) -- As an owner of six championship rings, Orlando Predators coach Jay Gruden has arguably been the face of the Arena Football League in its 20 years of existence.
Chicago Rush coach Mike Hohensee, in search of his first title, has been the one constant, being a part of the league since its beginning.
The two will be in the spotlight Sunday when the Predators face the Rush in the 20th ArenaBowl at the Thomas & Mack Center. A crowd of over 14,000 is expected for the nationally televised game.
The 39-year-old Gruden certainly isn't as well-known as his older brother, Jon, the Tampa Bay coach who guided the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl championship 3 1/2 years ago.
But he's become a household name among AFL followers, having won four ArenaBowls as a quarterback and two more as a coach.
"It's getting harder and harder every year," Gruden said Saturday as the Predators completed preparations for a record seventh ArenaBowl. "I told our guys, 'You've got to take care of this one. You don't know when you're going to get there again."'
The AFL had four teams in its first year. Now, it has 18.
"It's been great to be a part of something -- watch it grow," Gruden said.
Gruden played in his first ArenaBowl 15 years ago, leading the Tampa Bay Storm to a 48-42 victory over the Detroit Drive. He's won every ArenaBowl he's been a part of except one.
"That's the only way to do it, I think," he said with a laugh. "When we came in '99 and didn't do it, that was a miserable deal."
Gruden, a quarterback, played for Tampa Bay from 1991-96 and Orlando in 2002-03. He was the offensive coordinator for the Nashville Kats in 1997 and head coach of the Predators from 1998-2001 and again the last three seasons.
He also works for his brother as an assistant with the Bucs.
"A coffee-getter," he said with a laugh. "It's a totally different deal. I go from calling all the shots to calling no shots. I love both jobs."
The Rush is playing in their first ArenaBowl, although they've come close on three other occasions, having fallen one win short in 2002, 2004 and 2005.
After losing six of seven in one stretch, it appeared they wouldn't make the playoffs this year, much less advance to the title game.
But here they are, having won their final regular-season game to qualify and then won three straight playoff games on the road -- just like the Pittsburgh Steelers did last winter before winning the Super Bowl.
"I talked to them about the Steelers," said the 45-year-old Hohensee, who has coached the Rush in each of their six years of existence. "Our guys believed. They never stopped believing."
Hohensee is completing his 13th year as a head coach. He played in the AFL for two years and was an assistant coach for five. As a quarterback, he threw the league's first touchdown pass for the Pittsburgh Gladiators in 1987.
"The league is amazing. It's given so many people like me a second chance," he said. "It's not just a second chance. It's a viable opportunity to go out and do what you love to do. I've been in it every year. I may be a little biased, but I think it's the best spectator sport going.
"I'm not looking to go anywhere. I love what I'm doing. I'm looking to help turn these young men into professionals -- giving them the second chance I had."
Hohensee played in the first ArenaBowl, with the Gladiators losing to the Denver Dynamite 45-16. He hasn't been back since.
A member of the Rush's ownership group is Mike Ditka, best known as coach of the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints. The Bears won the Super Bowl following the 1985 season.
"It's the 20th ArenaBowl, we won the 20th Super Bowl," Ditka said. "I'm really excited. This team had to win out on the road, and they did it. I have a lot of respect for the way they play -- they get after it. They don't make a lot of money, but they bust their butts."
The top AFL players earn between $100,000 and $200,000.
"The competition has been growing since I came in," said 5-foot-10 Orlando quarterback Joe Hamilton, a former Heisman Trophy runner-up finishing his third year with the Predators.
"If somebody can't make it in the NFL, I think this is going to be the way to go rather than Canada," Hamilton said. "Thank God for the AFL. This league really opened its arms to me. I've improved every year."
David Baker, finishing his 10th year as AFL commissioner, believes the league will continue to grow.
"This league right now has been going three times as long as any other football league in the United States except for the NFL," he said. "It's growing up. It's got a real fan base.
"If you would have bought a team 10 years ago, it would have been worth about $375,000. Now, an expansion team would go for $20 million. We've had a good run for 20 years, but I think it's just the tip of the iceberg."
By JOHN NADEL, AP Sports Writer
June 10, 2006
Courtesy of Yahoo Sports
BOW DOWN TO THE BLACK AND GOLD!!!!!