On August 26, 2016, the Philadelphia Soul played the Arizona Rattlers in ArenaBowl XXIX. Prior to the game, Soul QB Dan Raudabaugh told reporters, “…you gotta hit the gorilla in the mouth.” He and the Soul then proceeded to do just that, defeating the heavily-favored Rattlers in Arizona to win the Foster Trophy.
On June 22, 2019, Raudabaugh and the Soul were hitting again. This time, though, they weren’t hitting a gorilla in the mouth. They were instead punching the Columbus Destroyers in the stomach.
Indeed, the June 22 game felt very much like a gut-punch to the Columbus faithful. The Destroyers generated hope in their Nationwide Arena crowd by repeatedly stopping the Soul in the red zone on the Soul’s first drive. Two pass interference calls kept them from completely doing so, allowing the Soul to finally put the ball in the end zone, but it was still an encouraging
series for the home team. Columbus then scored a touchdown of their own. The two teams next traded two touchdowns each, with the Soul again getting help from penalties and missing the extra point, giving Columbus the appearance of dominance and a one-point lead. Columbus held that lead through most of the first half, capitalizing as the Soul failed an onside kick attempt.
However, the Soul would score a one-play touchdown with only eight seconds left in the second quarter, taking a lead into halftime. But as the Destroyers were getting the ball first in the second half, hopes in Nationwide were rising.
Those hopes were sadly dashed in the second half. Destroyers QB Russell threw an interception to begin the half. Raudabaugh then threw an interception to Destroyers Varmah Sonie, and hope sprung eternal. But Russell went down with a questionable hit, taking him out for a play and sparking a fight between Destroyer and Soul players which resulted in not just flags but also hats from the referees. Backup QB Liam Nadler came in for one play, then Russell returned to score a touchdown. Columbus then got another interception, and hope was high, but then threw an interception and hope was not so high. The Soul put it in the end zone, then the Destroyers did, keeping their one-point lead with five minutes left. But the Soul scored on another quick strike, getting a two-point conversion in the process, putting them up seven. They tried and failed another onside kick, giving Nationwide one last dose of hope, but then Russell threw another interception with only 30 seconds left, and hopes of Columbus’ second victory were dashed. Fans started hitting the doors before the final whistle even blew.
So the June 22 Soul-Destroyers was truly a punch in the gut for Columbus fans. The hope of victory was present the entire game, only to be dashed in the last moments. Yet the game was still a great example not only of how exciting arena football can be but how good the Destroyers can be. And that’s a hope the Columbus faithful can hold on to for a long time.