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as seen on phillyBurbs.com

Soul survivor
Are you ready for some indoor football?

Singer Jon Bon Jovi smiles for a live TV news shot promoting his new arena football team, holding a parka in his hand out of view so it won't get in the way of those All-American good looks that have been his trademark in Hollywood.

The view from the cheap seats. Heck, they're all cheap seats compared to an Eagles game.

Seconds after the camera is off, the coat's back on to fight the arctic chill Wednesday inside the nearly empty Spectrum. Bon Jovi moves on to a group of radio and print reporters waiting nearby, pausing only to pick up a piece of lint or fuzz littering the Philadelphia Soul's new artificial turf.

"I wonder if they can vacuum this?" he muses, pocketing the trash. It's one of the few questions he can't seem to answer off the top of his head as the reporters surround him, firing off queries in rapid succession. Ironic, considering he later said he had a hand in picking out the turf.

Many keep asking why this famous New Jersey rock-and-roller wants to own a football team. He smiles and said he's a lifelong Giants fan. "We have one common bond with Philadelphia," he jokes. "We both despise the Cowboys."

Turning serious, he said that with NFL players' salaries being "very high," this expansion franchise with no direct ties to the NFL is as close as he can afford to owning a team. Players in the arena league make $25,000 to $100,000 a season, as well as health and dental insurance, 401(K) and free housing.

Plus, former quarterbacks Ron Jaworski, the Soul's team president, and John Elway, a rival team owner, have told him that in the markets where arena football is successful, owning a team is potentially a great investment.

Northern New Jersey used to be one of those markets, but that team moved to Las Vegas.

He's no pretty figurehead. Jon Bon Jovi scrutinized the books of other Arena Football League franchises before investing "eight figures" into his expansion team, the Philadelphia Soul.

Bon Jovi hopes the Soul draws fans downtown from as far away as Central and South Jersey and Delaware.

"It's very similar to what you see at the Phantoms games or at the Trenton Thunder," he said. "There's going to be a lot of interaction, with the Soul squad cheering, shooting T-shirts into the stands and a lot of music. All the type of things you see in minor league baseball games."

But with the Greater Philadelphia region already saturated with two minor league hockey clubs and at least five minor league baseball clubs vying for those same fan dollars throughout the spring, how will the Soul survive?

Bon Jovi admits it's a crowded market, but plans to carve his own niche in Philly sports. His selling point? "Me begging, please come."


Although he paid "eight figures" for the team, Bon Jovi is actually an equal partner in the Soul with Philadelphia attorney and real estate investor Craig A. Spencer, of Gladwynne. Each owns 48 percent. Bon Jovi's bandmate, guitarist Richie Sambora owns 2 percent of the team as do the employees of the Philadelphia Soul.

The odd man out is Jaworski, whose well-known voice greets callers to the Soul's headquarters as part of the switchboard.

"He is a huge advocate of the league and the game," Bon Jovi said of Jaws. "He wanted to bring a franchise here. It didn't work out for him. We realized he would lend it football credibility second-to-none. He was very experienced in a lot of the intricacies of this game both on the office level and on the field. He can tell me if a player is worth his soul. Having him be the president of football operations was a great investment."


A Bucks County native will be providing the color radio commentary when the Soul kick off their season on Sunday.

Darrin Kenney, formerly of Southampton, played football his senior year for Archbishop Wood before becoming an All-American at Lycoming College. After graduating with bachelor's degree in journalism, he played 11 seasons as center/guard/tight end for AFL teams in Tampa, Albany, Arizona and San Jose.

He retired from the game two weeks ago, after scrimmaging against the Soul in San Jose, to take the colorman gig with the Philly team.

Although football has been his life, it almost wasn't.

"I was going to give it up my first year of Southampton Knights (football)," he said. "But my dad told me, 'You started this year, you have to finish it.' "

At age 34, Kenney said he feels he can still compete in the league, even the players get younger every year - a sign that the league has begun to draw talent from the Canadian Football League.

His fellow broadcaster, Ari Wolfe, agreed. "The guys bounce around. I worked in NFL Europe the last couple years and there's four or five guys that I had in those games on Philly's roster. …You don't have to take away from your love of the Eagles, to love the Soul."

Area football fans unaware of this variety of the sport are in for a treat, said Kenney, who now lives in Warrington.  "It's the coolest. It has the competiveness of sandlot football but with top-notch athletes."

One of the first challenges Kenney and fellow broadcaster Ari Wolfe face when they take to the airwaves of WNJC 1360 AM will be teaching listeners how the game is played. There are about 180 different rules between the indoor game and college/NFL football, Wolfe said.

For instance, the field is only 50 yards long. There are far fewer players from the 20-man roster on the field simultaneously. And the goal posts are only half as wide as the NFL. Kickers have to aim it through an 8-yard slit between two large screens.

"There's completely different strategy," Kenney said. "The one thing we get sold short on is our pass protection because it's one-on-one. I mean you can get some double-teams, but not much."

Ari agrees, "This is not a scheme game. There's only so much you can do. This is an execution and effort game. If your guys will execute and play hard, you're going to have a chance to win. It's just really physically demanding week in and week out."

That's because most of the players, save for the quarterback and two defensive backs, play both offense and defense.

Wolfe said. "You'll learn to fall in love with these players. They're all pretty humble. There's no big egos. There's no million dollar primadonnas and they're always glad to sign an autograph."


Temporarily wearing No. 4, Kusanti Abdul-Salaam, 28, of Pasadena, Calif., is hoping to make the Soul's cut to a 24-man roster this Friday.

As a UCLA defensive back, he went to the Rose Bowl and the Aloha Bowl before he graduated in 1997. But his dream trip to the NFL never worked out. At 5-foot-8, he was just too small and a little too slow in the 40-yard dash to peak the interest of their coaches.

Kusanti Abdul-Salaam hopes to make the cut this Friday when the Philadelphia Soul trim their roster down to 24 men.

He has since played football in Denmark for four seasons and is now in his sixth season in the two arena leagues.  The minor leagues have given the chance to be quarterback, a position he hasn't played since high school.

"I kind of regret not playing more offense in college, but it all worked because now I'm playing arena," Abdul-Salaam said. "It's the best of both worlds. To be a good arena player you have to be fundamentally sound on both sides of the ball, especially defense."

And size isn't always the determining factor. "It's a lot about speed, technique, experience and desire," he said. "I can work it to my advantage. Sometimes, the coaches are like, 'let's put a guy on him and crush him.' "

Although the Philadelphia Eagles tend to drop players once they get over the age of 30, Abdul-Salaam hopes to have at least five more seasons in the arena league as a free agent.

"Age is always a factor," he said. "But the coaches can tell at the start of each season the guys who are in good enough physical condition to play. This isn't the NFL. You don't get a chance to rest."

In the off-season, when he isn't cutting angles to follow receivers or to avoid the rush, Abdul-Salaam said he cuts hair in a barbershop, serves as a substitute teacher and pursues his masters' degree. "I just want to take care of my business right now. My biggest dream is just to be successful."


One guy who doesn't have to worry about getting cut from his team is New York Dragons quarterback Aaron Garcia, who quietly stretched his legs on the turf away from the media to prepeare for his scrimmage with the Soul.

Although he's 33, Garcia had more passing touchdowns - 61 - and more yards-per-game - 345.2 - than any other quarterback in the league.

It's a far cry from the teaching and coaching job he left behind at a Sacramento high school eight years ago.

Asked if he felt like he gave up something, to play what some might call semi-professional football, Garcia said, "I really enjoy this game and if you consider making over $100,000 semi-pro, then maybe it is."

Not to say he didn't have his chance at the Big Show.

After playing football for Washington State and Sacramento State, Garcia sat out a year hoping to get into an NFL training camp. When that didn't happen for him, he joined the fledgling arena league hoping to "get some exposure and some tape." It beat converting his paychecks and paying twice the taxes as an American playing in the CFL, he said.

He got noticed and even signed a contract with the 49ers two years ago, until a knee injury ended his shot at the big time.

"I thought the window was closed for me at 30," he said, but added he still has a three-year contract with the Dragons. "I've been a part of something that is really growing. I helped start a union. I just hope the young players realize how luck they have it."


James Fuller never thought he'd be back in Philadelphia.

But the former New Orleans Saint and Eagle, who played with many of the veterans on today's team until a knee injury in 1997 ended his five-year pro career, is now the defensive coordinator for the Soul.

Philadelphia Soul defensive coordinator James Fuller played in the secondary for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1996-97 until a knee injury ended his career

"Emmitt Thomas (senior defensive assistant/secondary for the Atlanta Falcons) always told me back when I was playing for the Eagles, that you're gonna have to coach some day or go get a nine-to-five," Fuller said. "This is a lot more fun than a nine-to-five."

He also said he enjoyed sitting his players down the first time, and telling them some dos-and-don'ts if they want to make it in this city.  

"I think we've done a good job of building up the team" with free agents and from a dispersal draft, Fuller said. "Hopefully, we'll win this game for you and make it exciting.  Then, it's going to be time to make some decisions."


The actual scrimmage between the Soul and the Dragons was kind of a confusing affair. As is the rule in the arena league, no score was kept. At times, it seemed the refs were too busy chasing the cheerleaders out of the end zone and forgot to change the down marker.

Adding to the confusion, the Soul's kicker got hurt on the opening play so the Dragons kicker wound up kicking for both sides. Still, it seemed to me as if the Soul beat the Dragons. We'll see what happens in the regular season.


The Soul start their season Sunday at the Wachovia Center against the New Orleans Voodoo. The game will be televised on NBC at 3 p.m.

  • To see Bon Jovi and John Elway's "Rumble in the House" NBC ad on WindowsMedia player, click here.
  • To read more about the Philadelphia Soul and the Arena Football League, click here.
  • To see the schedule of televised Soul games, click here.
  • To read the views of arena football fans, click here

Dave Ralis' Pave The Grass column appears on Mondays. You can send him an e-mail at  or call him at 215-269-5051. To read his previous columns, click here.

Feb. 2, 2004