Dolezel likes the number 900, but he likes 1,000 better
Clint Dolezel likes having over 900 touchdowns, but 1,000 TDs would be much better in his mind.
Dallas' most famous quarterback spent last weekend at Wrigley Field, while Dallas' best quarterback spent last weekend making history.
While Cowboys QB Tony Romo was butchering "Take Me Out To The Ballgame", Desperados QB Clint Dolezel was throwing the 900th touchdown pass of his AFL career.
Romo has the fame and the money, while Dolezel has the gaudy records. And since they share workplaces (Cowboys owner Jerry Jones also owns the Desperados and the teams share offices), that means Dolezel can drop in on Cowboys practice any time he wants and give Romo pointers, right?
"No, I don't do that!" Dolezel chuckles. "I'm kind of friends with him. I just tell him 'good job' and move on from there. He's at a much bigger level than I am."
Romo may be on a bigger level in the pro football world, but no one is on Dolezel's level in the AFL. With his scoring toss to Marcus Nash during their win over Grand Rapids last week, Dolezel became the first pro football quarterback to throw 900 touchdown passes. Dolezel sits at 901, giving him more touchdown tosses than Peyton Manning, John Elway, and Warren Moon combined.
Dolezel doesn't think about all of that when he thinks about 900. "First thing I think is I've been around for a long time," he says with another laugh. "Thirteen years is a long time. You've got to have a lot of things go your way as far as injuries, good teams, and having good talent around you. I've been fortunate in that aspect."
But Dolezel isn't just a stat-compiling quarterback. He's also a leader, an orchestrator, and recognized by many as the shrewdest quarterback in the game. Michael Trigg was Dolezel's head coach in Grand Rapids from 2001 to 2003. He said in an e-mail to ESPN.com, "Line up all the greats -- Gruden, Grieb, Bonner, Warner, Garcia, Kelly and Dolezel is picked first, Warner second."
New York Dragons QB Aaron Garcia has thrown 847 touchdowns in his AFL career, in third place behind Dolezel and Chicago Rush QB Sherdrick Bonner. "I was actually ahead of Clint for a while," he said. "I passed 800 and I hadn't really thought about it. Then I got hurt and he passed me, and that's when it started getting important to me. It's kind of funny how that works.
"All of us, myself, Sherdrick Bonner, Andy Kelly, and Clint will tell you that we're real lucky to be able to play this long and throw that many touchdowns to so many great receivers. It's always a team thing, but it's always a fun thing to be a part of."
Dolezel would agree with that. But he'd also be quick to point out the biggest key to his success. "Ever since I've been calling my own plays I think I've had a little more success. Being able to call my own plays I can stay away from my weaknesses and emphasize my strengths. That's been the biggest key."
His offensive playcalling responsibilities have led some to compare him to Manning, a link Dolezel doesn't shy from. "I guess it's fair to compare us. There are more comparisons with me and Favre, given the years we played and the records we have. But I can see the similarities with Peyton because he calls most of his plays and is the orchestrator. Yeah, I can see that."
If calling his own plays put Dolezel's AFL career in the fast lane, Trigg gave him the keys. Trigg, now the head coach of af2's Corpus Christi Sharks, explains, "Dolezel and I both played for Eddie Vowell at East Texas State and participated in play-calling as collegiate quarterbacks. ... As a coach, I have always been amenable to allowing my QBs to do the same if they are comfortable and want it. Clint obviously wanted it and has proven his ability to put in the time, effort, and work needed to do this in film study and practice evaluation Dolezel relishes the role [of playcaller]."
For Dolezel, countless hours of preparation during the week go into 60 minutes of football on game day. "We try to get the last game tape on the opponent we're about to play, and we add it to three other game tapes over the last month," he explains. "I try to gather data and draw up plays they're running. Whatever coverage they're running, based on my formation I try to attack their weaknesses, and I go from there. Sometimes defensive coordinators will adjust and I'll have to make changes on the fly, but I get a good beat on our opponent watching film, and I feel real good going into every week."
As complex as that process may sound, Dolezel is able to boil it all down to a very simple game. "When I describe arena football to people who don't know our game, I say it's like playing backyard football with your buddies. 'You're the bottle cap, you go to the front trash can, you take a right.' It's just like that.
"Sometimes we don't have set plays. We go, 'this is what they're doing, this is what we've gotta do to attack it. You go here, and you go there, and let's see what happens. A lot of times it works out great for us."
The plays that actually do have names tend to work out well too. Take Dolezel's 900th touchdown pass, for example. "It was Rage Left 93 Y Out. They'd been putting two guys on Will Pettis, and they did it again on that play. They left a two-on-one next to the goal line at the boards. Marcus was wide open. I just flipped it out there to him. It was one of the easiest touchdowns we had all night. I was just glad to throw it and move on."
In 2001, Dolezel moved on to ArenaBowl XV, where he and Trigg led the Grand Rapids Rampage to their only championship. "It was a special season captained by a special player," Trigg remembers. "It wasn't even our best team assembled there in sheer talent, but his leadership and ability kept us in every game. Without Clint joining the Rampage in 2001, there is no banner in the Van Andel Arena."
But although Dolezel has an ArenaBowl championship in his pocket, he doesn't feel like it. "Honestly I still feel like I have that monkey on my back," he admits. "I'll tell you right now, the team I won in 2001 on, every team I've played on since then has been more talented than that team. Yet somehow we're not finding a way to get in that playoff run and win it all.
"There are so many guys that won more than one, and I'm not in that category. So I feel like one of the guys who hasn't won one. It's not fair to measure your career based on titles, like they talk about Dan Marino. But Aaron Garcia deserves one. Andy Kelly hasn't gotten one. I know it's not the same, but those guys have been around forever."
Dolezel has been around forever too, despite the banging, bumps, and bruises that come with being an AFL quarterback. A separated shoulder knocked Dolezel out of action for four weeks this season. But Desperados head coach Will McClay notes that Dolezel still made his team better even when he wasn't taking snaps. "Clint Dolezel is Clint Dolezel, and he's a proven star in this league. When you lose someone like that, you have to find ways to win football games and pick things up. Credit the coaching staff and the rest of the players as well as Chris Sanders. In finding ways to win the game, it made us a better team. It's difficult to say you got better after you lose your best player, but I think we did because the situation called for us to get better."
Life without Clint Dolezel may become a permanent reality soon for the Desperados. But Dolezel isn't thinking about life without football. During the Desperados offseason, he spends time working with the Cowboys' scouting department. "It's been working out great. Those guys put in a lot of hours. I don't know if I could do that for the rest of my life. When it's college season, they're out moving around, coming home maybe once or twice a month. I've enjoyed the other parts of it.
As for other areas of the Cowboys organization Dolezel has dabbled in, he says, "I've done radio for them. I like radio. I think I could do that one day. I enjoy talking football, and I know a little something about it."
Although Dolezel has access to the resources that a premiere NFL franchise has to offer, he is perfectly happy with his day job in the AFL. "Those NFL guys, they're getting paid lots of money, but it's not fun. Unless you're the main guy, it's so stressful just trying to make a team and hang on to your spot. You don't know if you're going to be around week-to-week. There's a lot of stress on those guys.
"For me, I'm enjoying the AFL. I'm off the field at 1:30 every day and going home to my family. If I want to go play golf, go fishing, go hunting, I can go do those things. That was the biggest draw for me. I might not be making the money those NFL guys are making, but I'm loving life."
Of course, with 900 now in Dolezel's rear-view mirror, everyone is now thinking about the next big milestone. "We can all say that numbers don't matter, but just to be able to say you threw 1,000 touchdowns would be huge," Garcia said. "I think it's definitely going to happen, but it's just a matter of who's going to get there first. Clint definitely has the inside track on that. He's already mentioned that he would love to do it, and I know it's something I would love to be able to do.
Dolezel agrees. "Throwing 1,000 means a little bit more to me. Nine hundred was cool. I looked at it and I said, 'yeah, that's pretty good.' But then I thought about one more number up there, and I said 'that's even better!' That's been my goal over the last few years. I wanted to shoot for 1,000 and we'll see whether I want to hang it up or not after that."
Troy Clardy hosts Inside the AFL, ESPN's Arena Football League podcast, posted Thursdays on ESPN's PodCenter. You can drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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