No Sweat

                                 

  DALLAS - Shy Anderson needed some advice. The pressure was getting to him. 

And understandably so. 

His Dallas Desperados - he's the chief operating officer - were embarking on their first playoff appearance in three years here Saturday afternoon at American Airlines Center. They came with an Arena Football League-best 13-3 regular-season record, matching the most regular-season wins in league history. They were division champs. They had received a first-round bye. They were playing the sixth seed (Georgia). 

And awards had been rolling in the past week: Coach of the Year (Will McClay), Lineman of the Year (Colston Weatherington), two first-team All-Ironman members (Will Pettis and Duke Pettijohn) and three first-team All-Arena selections (Clint Dolezel, Pettijohn and Weatherington). 

But sticking in Anderson's mind all week was this nagging thought: What if we're "one and done?" 

"I've never been this nervous," Anderson said. "You got so much in front of you - everything has been so good, and none of it matters if you don't win. No one will remember it." 

So Anderson turned to his father-in-law for help. That guy just happens to be Jerry Jones. He knows something about pressure. He knows what it's like to be in charge of something but have no hand in the outcome. He's been there over and over and over again as owner of the Dallas Cowboys for the past 17 seasons. 

Like his father-in-law, on game day, there was nothing he could do.  

"I asked Big Jerry how do you handle it?" said Anderson, who is married to Jones' daughter Charlotte. 

So what'd he say? 

"Just don't let everybody see how nervous you are" were Big Jerry's words of advice. 

Ha! Shy went to bed at 10:30 Friday night. Didn't even stay up to watch the end of the Mavericks game. Didn't eat all day Saturday. His daughter says he's been as white as his shirt all week, and for the past couple days his stomach has been tied up in knots, literally. 

And you know what, it wasn't much better for McClay. 

"I was a little nervous," the third-year head coach admitted. "You think about all the hard work, all you accomplished and you could be one and done." 

Silly guys. 

Desperados 62, Georgia 27. This became one and more. Who knows, maybe much more. Guys, what was the worry? 

Did they all forget they had Clint Dolezel, maybe the best quarterback going in the AFL? And he reminded the some 12,000 people here and a national NBC TV audience of that by completing 31 of 38 passes for 260 yards and a team playoff-record eight touchdowns. 

Did they forget they had the best defense going this year in the AFL? That they had given up the fewest points in the league (44.4)? Did they forget they were averaging 5.5 defensive stops over their last 11 games? So this Desperados defense, somewhat of an AFL anomaly since the league is so offensive, comes out and produces six stops. The defense gives up an unheard of 27 points, 21 fewer than Georgia had scored in any game this season, and that 48-point effort occurred in the opener. Even more startling was the Desperados giving up only seven points in the second half. 

Did they forget they were coming into this game with the No. 1 scoring offense and No. 2 total offense? So this Dolezel-led offense reminds 'em all by scoring all nine times it had the ball, their only miscue a blocked extra point after the third touchdown. 

And did they forget they had a real team this year, one that plays together, stays together and rarely loses its

composure under pressure? That these were not the "old Desperados," the ones who would get in fights, get thrown out of games, let personal battles overshadow the team's battles? That they were not the ones certainly former offensive coordinator Steve Thonn, now the O.C. for Georgia, probably expected? 

So these new Desperados showed 'em, after a shaky and a bit chippy start, leading 34-20 at halftime, by simply burying a Georgia Force team which lost by only three to the Desperados during the regular season (62-59) and had won their first-round game last weekend over New York, 72-69. 

"We were a little too hyped, a little too tight," McClay said of the start. 

McClay worked his magic at halftime. He knew the Force was talking trash right from the start and that his guys were barking back. So he told them, enough. Play football. Just play like you've been the best in the league this year. No more pushing and shoving. 

Viola! After Georgia scored on its first possession of the second half, to narrow the Desperados' lead to 34-27, the offense scored the next five times it had the ball and the defense put the game away with a fumble recovery (Weatherington), a stop (big breakups by Hamin Milligan and Pettis) and then interceptions by Pettis, on a tip from Dialleo Burks, and Milligan. 

And that was that, the Cowboys-owned Desperados moving on to the National Conference Championship game at 2 p.m. (CDT) next Sunday right here at American Airlines Center against the winner of this Sunday's Philadelphia-Orlando game. 

They'll be one win away from ArenaBowl XX. 

They should be in much better shape for that game, at least their nervous systems. 

"I know for a fact I was extremely nervous," said Pettis, a fourth-year veteran. "It hasn't been like this since the first game of the season. But this was a lot different because it's the playoffs. You lose, you go home." 

The Desperados win, though, no problem. They go on. 

And everyone can eat again - at least for a couple days. Because now they're just one win away from the Big One. 

Big Jer, standby.                     

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