Arena Football League

Ranking the ArenaBowls, #23: ArenaBowl III

The 1989 Arena Football League season saw a little bit of bad history. First, the league suspended operations prior to the season, only to revive with another showcase season a few short months later. With only five teams, the league reduced to a single round-robin schedule. When the season actually got underway, another strange sign came in the way of a 15-14 Denver Dynamite win over the Detroit Drive, a game that stands today as the lowest scoring in the league’s history. When the season ended, the Maryland Commandos became the first team to go winless, finishing the season 0-4.

Denver, Detroit, and the Pittsburgh Gladiators all finished the season 3-1, having created a circle of death, scoring was used as a tiebreaker. Detroit earned the #1 seed, Pittsburgh the #2, and Denver the #3. Pittsburgh won a nailbiting semifinal over Denver in a California showcase, 39-37. Detroit, meanwhile, beat 1-3 Chicago 43-10 to advance to ArenaBowl III.

In another first, the game’s opening score was a safety. OL/DL Reggie Mathis sacked Gladiators quarterback Willie Totten in the end zone, giving Detroit a 2-0 lead. The Drive couldn’t cash in on that drive but did score later on with a one-yard run by quarterback Tony Burris. Pittsburgh’s lone first-quarter points came via a 55-yard Rusty Fricke field goal, and FB/LB Lynn Bradford scored on a 17-yard run to end the frame.

The teams traded scores in the second quarter, with Novo Bojovic kicking a 50-yard field goal to start the quarter, and Fricke answered with a 30-yarder of his own. Bradford had his second scoring run of the night, and FB/LB Mike Powell scored with a matching two-yard run to make the score 26-12 Detroit going into halftime.

Pittsburgh answered on defense thanks to a 23-yard fumble return for a touchdown by WR/DB Cornelius Ross, and the final three scores of the game came via the only touchdown passes of the night. Burris found OS George LaFrance on a 32-yard touchdown pass and another one from 12 yards out to WR/DB Gary Mullen to extend the lead to 39-19. Willie Totten did have a last gasp, throwing a 19-yard touchdown pass to WR/DB Brian Gardner, but in a last piece of history, the final quarter ended scoreless, and the 39-26 lead became a Detroit win.

LaFrance won the first of his three ArenaBowl MVP awards, and the Detroit Drive became the first team to win consecutive ArenaBowls.

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