JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Five days after winning the inaugural National Arena League championship, Jacksonville Sharks players, coaches and staff celebrated the title with the trophy, cheerleaders and fans.
On a hot Saturday morning at the Jacksonville Landing, players and head coach Siaha Burley donned championship caps and shirts to celebrate a season that included only one loss, in the final regular season game of the year, but plenty of adversity.
"That was one of my things coming in, getting the players to understand what it would take to win the championship," Burley said. "Once you get to the playoffs, its anybody's race."
Despite an 8-0 record, the Sharks fired their coach, Mark Stoute, and hired Burley. They lost their starting quarterback, Tommy Grady, to injury six weeks in, and then saw the backup, Damien Fleming, knocked out of the NAL Championship game. Despite the controversy, the Sharks prevailed, beating the Columbus Lions 27-21 for the title.
"It shows all of the hard work pays off," Fleming said. "It means a lot for the Jacksonville fans, for the Jacksonville organization. I'm just glad we were able to bring it home."
With temperatures in the upper 80s and kids dancing in the fountain in the middle of the courtyard at the Landing, managing partner Jeff Bouchy praised his staff and called the fans the best in the league and promised big things to come in 2018, when the team will go for back-to-back championships.
That would be a welcome occurrence for Jon Linden, a long-time Sharks fans, who routinely paints his face for home games, and has come to be known by his alter-ego "the Painted One."
"It's great. The team is like a family to me," Linden said. "I didn't get a chance to celebrate the 2011 championship (in the Arena Football League) because I couldn't get out of work, so this one is absolutely fantastic for the city of Jacksonville, for these players, for everybody around."
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