ALBANY — Albany Empire quarterback Tommy Grady has won back-to-back Arena Football League MVP awards, but he wants something else much more.
“I don’t have a ring. I want one badly,” he said at Saturday’s AFL awards ceremony at Times Union Center.
Grady can get his wish if his Empire defeats the Philadelphia Soul in the ArenaBowl 32 Sunday at 8 p.m. at the TU Center. The game will be nationally televised by ESPN2.
The regular-season champion Empire posted a 10-2 record, while the Soul finished at 7-5. Both teams dominated their two-game semifinal playoff series. At times, the Empire has looked unbeatable, but Grady said that momentum can be fleeting.
“Any time you play a great team like Philadelphia, you have to start over when it comes to momentum,” Grady said. “We have a new game plan for them this week, and we’ll go from there.
“I think everyone is ready to go, and we’re all focused. We want to get a championship. I think it’s going to come down to who takes care of the football and who gets the breaks. It should be a fast and fun game. We’re all super excited to be here. Our goal is to score on every possession.”
Grady became the first AFL player to win consecutive MVP awards. He’s won three overall. The nine-year veteran led the league in passing yards (3,097), passing touchdowns (68), completion percentage (68.6) and passer rating (125.5). Grady is currently sixth in AFL history in passing yards (38,062) and fifth in TD passes (850).
Although Grady has a fantastic arm, he needs protection in the pocket. He’s not very mobile.
“We’ve got to protect Tommy,” said offensive lineman Mo Ruffins. “We’ve taken it upon ourselves to do whatever we have to do to keep him clean. Whether it’s because we have the athletic ability to do that, or because we watch film and pay attention to the little things that may give us a competitive edge. We’ve given up the least amount of sacks in the league this year. The more he’s clean and standing up, the more TDs he can throw. He’s 6-foot-7, and he’s not running anywhere. We mess with him all the time that he’s like a sitting duck. We just hope we can keep it clean again tomorrow.”
The Empire placed nine players on the All-Arena First team, including Grady, fullback Mykel Benson, wideouts Malachi Jones and Quentin Sims, center Ryan Cave, offensive lineman Jordan Mudge, jack linebacker Terence Moore, defensive end Joe Sykes and kicker Adrian Trevino. Sykes was named the AFL Defensive Player of the Year, while Jones was both the Offensive Player of the Year and the Receiver of the Year after leading the league in catches (96) and receiving yards (1,440). Cave was the Offensive Lineman of the Year, and Trevino was the kicker of the Year.
“This is an exciting time. This is exactly what we had as our vision when we first came to the Albany organization,” said Empire head coach Rob Keefe. “Right now, everybody is relaxed and calm, but it’s getting exciting. We’re going to have 13,000 or 14,000 people in the Times Union Center, and the game will be nationally televised. It might come down to who has the ball last.
“Clint [Philadelphia head coach Clint Dolezel] and myself might be 9-9 or 8-8 against each other over the years. We’ve battled. The game might come down to who takes care of the football, who has fewer penalties, and who can embrace the moment.”
Ruffins added that he and his teammates can’t wait for the big game.
“Early in the week, I was grinding and focusing. It was only Wednesday, then only Thursday and only Friday,” he said. “We were trying to calm down and take care of business. Now, we’re trying to take the mystique and the bigness out of the game so that we’re not tight or stressed out. Once we kick off for 60 minutes, we’ve just got to go out and execute the way we’ve been doing all season, especially the last month.”
Ron Jaworski, the former NFL standout quarterback who is considered the face and the backbone of the AFL, didn’t want to make any prediction about the winner of the game since he is in the ownership group of both teams and actually hired both head coaches, but he did have another prediction.
“Tomorrow’s game will be a tipping point for the AFL,” he said.