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Long, strange week for Sharks ends with game against Orlando

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The Jacksonville Sharks (3-5) are in unfamiliar territory. Yes, they’ve had a losing record at times (0-1 in 2011, most of 2012), but it hasn’t meant that much until now. They sit third in the South division, which has never happened in franchise history. Also, they lost to the Orlando Predators for the first time since the American Conference semifinal matchup in 2010. If only that were the end of the story.

Since the last seven minutes of the game against the Iowa Barnstormers, Jacksonville has been in a whirlwind. First, the Sharks take out two quarterbacks. Then, they trade the rights to one for the rights to another, then they trade that quarterback to his old team in exchange for what can arguably be described as a no-name lineman. Still not the end of the story.

The Aaron Garcia cloud that has hovered over the team since the offseason is now gone, as Jacksonville traded his rights to the LA KISS just days after his unceremonious departure from the team. Three appearances, one start, mediocre stats, and very little desire to continue his second stint in Shark red and black. After Jacksonville made three trades involving him, he got what he wanted: glitz, glamour, and reality television. In return, the Sharks got J.J. Raterink, who has been abysmal in the City of Angels. He left in record time, as in practically the same breath Jacksonville traded him to Iowa, returning him to his old team with a chance to be the #1 man again (and you could also say as an apology for what happened), and all the Sharks can claim is that they got James McClinton, a nose guard.

However, that’s not the reason for this article. As if what happened in the offseason and in Week 1 wasn’t enough, the Orlando Predators activated Bernard Morris, who initially refused to report after going to Orlando in the first Aaron Garcia trade. This means that for the second time in two seasons, Jacksonville will face a former star signal-caller wearing the other black and red.

To say that there is anger all around is an understatement. Jacksonville and owner Jeff Bouchy are mad because the Arena Football League ignored their pleas to dissolve the trade and to get defensive back Tracy Belton back. They’re also mad that they have to win to not only narrow the South division race, but to salvage a 4-5 first half. Who leads the division? You guessed it, the 5-3 Predators.

Jacksonville has started to get their teeth back on defense, and like they did to Kyle Rowley against Portland, the Sharks would love to get a couple good shots in on Bernard Morris as a way of saying “You showed up? Seriously? Didn’t even consider coming back here?” Plus, with coming up short against the Thunder and Rattlers at home, they’re itching to win in front of the home crowd.

Orlando wants to win to salvage something. Despite a 5-3 start, they’re swimming in debt, they’ve lost their second owner in less than two years, and they’re now the second team owned and run by the Arena Football League, and potentially in danger of folding.

They want to win to clinch the season series. They want to win to extend their division lead to three games and solidify playoff chances at 6-4. Bernard Morris wants to win, and show off, just to stick it to Jacksonville for letting him go.

Jacksonville wants to win to restore the order in the South division. Jacksonville wants to win to restore dominance over their archrivals. R.J. Archer wants to win and put up another big performance to silence the naysayers (present company included).

To say this game will be tough, hard-fought, nasty, ugly, and bitter will leave a few things short. Tension will be in the air, fans from both teams will be in attendance, and eyes all around the league will be on these teams and this game to see who will walk off the field bloody, tattered, and victorious.

This isn’t just a must-win game, this doesn’t just define the season for both teams (and possibly the league). No matter what happens after the final whistle of ArenaBowl XXVII or how many teams return in 2015, it will all go back to this game. For Jacksonville: normalcy, a chance to turn a mediocre season around, redemption, a message to the league that they are still a top-tier team, and hope for another championship run. For Orlando, glory, surprise, vengeance, and a chance to remind those around the league that despite the troubles, the debt, the issues with the arena and the city, and all the chaos that has surrounded them, they’re still Predators.

Kickoff is set for Saturday, May 17 at 7 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Arena. The game, like every Sharks game this season, will be broadcast over the air on WBOB AM 600. The game will also be televised locally on WJXT Channel 4, and can be streamed online through ESPN3 or the WatchESPN app.

For more on the Jacksonville Sharks, including the latest news, updates, and transactions, log on to www.jaxsharks.com. For more on the rest of the Arena Football League, log on to www.arenafan.com and www.arenafootball.com.

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