Injured Power DB Gray exerts leadership
Injured Power defensive back Virgil Gray has a nickname for teammate Al Phillips: Tom Brady.
“I joke with Al all the time and tell him he's Tom Brady,” Gray said.
Brady replaced injured teammate Drew Bledsoe and led the New England Patriots to victory in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Bledsoe never regained his starting job with New England.
“I don't know if I can get my job back,” said Gray, a two-time ArenaBowl champion with Arizona who was an early candidate for league MVP consideration before suffering a high-ankle sprain.
Gray, sidelined since May 17, doesn't know if he'll play Saturday night at Iowa despite repeatedly telling coach Ron James and the team's medical staff he's ready.
“I feel good,” Gray said. “I want to play, but it's what the doctors and trainers and coaches want. They don't want to put me on the field until I'm 100 percent. If the playoffs started last week (in the Power's 48-43 victory at New Orleans on July 7), I would have played. Fortunately, everybody's doing a great job.”
The Power have won 10 consecutive games — seven in a row since Gray's injury — and will advance to the playoffs for the first time.
Gray's leadership — even from the sideline — has emboldened Phillips, who attacks the ball in the air much in the same way that Gray does. Phillips leads the team in tackles, and is second in interceptions (behind Gray and Brandon Freeman).
“I always talk to Al. He still comes to me during games and asks me what do I see and what does he need to do,” Gray said. “I joked with all the defensive backs before the season they couldn't talk to me until they get a pick (interception). I kept challenging them to make them better players.”
An indoor football player since 2008, Gray starred on ArenaBowl championship teams with Arizona in 2012 and '13. Last year, he earned first-team All-Arena honors after setting a single-season franchise record with 15 interceptions and was named player of the game in the ArenaBowl.
Gray said he left Arizona seeking a new challenge and selected the Power because of quarterback Tommy Grady, who leads the AFL in passing yards and ranks second with 102 touchdown passes.
“In this league, everybody knows you can't win without a quarterback,” Gray said.
“I played against Tommy and knew what he could do. I wanted to go somewhere I could get back to the ArenaBowl. If Tommy wasn't here, I don't know where I would be.”
Now that he's with the Power, Gray doesn't want to play anywhere else.
“We have what it takes, but we are not there yet. Even though we've won 10 straight, we still have things to work on,” Gray said. “I'm going to do whatever it takes for us to win the ArenaBowl.
“It's not about me — it's about the team. If they want me to rest until I'm fully healthy and ready to contribute, that's what I'll do.”
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.