For three years, Virgil Gray had what so many in the Arena Football League strive for yet rarely attain.
Playing for the Arizona Rattlers, he was a standout for what's widely regarded as the league's model franchise. Being a part of such a franchise gave him a chance to find stability as well as personal and team success.
Now, in his first season with the Power, Gray has helped lead his new team toward what seems like a promising season. The Power is off to the best start (3-1) in the franchise's brief history, and this veteran defensive back leads the AFL with six interceptions in four games.
While these kind of accomplishments aren't unfamiliar to Gray, there's a certain newness to the Power's early surge, the kind that makes people question whether it can last.
With a road game tonight against the undefeated Rattlers, any sort of lingering doubts about the team's legitimacy quickly could be put to rest.
"It's definitely a measuring stick with them being the champions the last two years," Gray said. "They're the best team in the league, and, anytime you go against a team like that, you get to see where you really stack up against the rest of the league."
Since Ron James was named coach one week into this season, the Power has won its past three games, the kind of results some expected when it acquired high-profile players such as Gray and quarterback Tommy Grady in the offseason.
Those victories have not come against the strongest competition. The three teams the Power has beaten-- San Jose, San Antonio and New Orleans -- are a combined 3-11, a fact that embodies a larger trend. Of the 18 victories in Power franchise history, only three have come against teams with winning records at the time of the game. Furthermore, all three victories came in the Power's first season (2011). One win in 2012 was against the Cleveland Gladiators (6-5), but that came by forfeit.
For his part, James downplayed the game's importance, especially with seven of the 14 remaining games against divisional opponents.
"It's too early to say that," James said of the game being a gauge of where his team is. "We're still building and we're still learning."
In many ways, the Rattlers are in the position where the Power hopes to be one day. There's the obvious team success, but that's made possible by stability. In contrast to the Power, 16 of Arizona's 24 players were on the team in 2013 and the coach has been there since 2008.
Coming off their second consecutive Arena Bowl championship, the Rattlers have continued to excel this season, winning their first four games. They are one of only two unbeaten teams in the league. At 62.5 points per game, they lead the league in scoring offense, which should present an intriguing matchup against the Power, which owns the top-ranked scoring defense (35.2 points per game).
"When you look at their offense, it's a machine, and defensively, they're very opportunistic," James said. "You'd think when you lose a player of Virgil's caliber to another team that it would slow them down a little bit, but it doesn't.
"I guess what I'm trying to say is there aren't any weaknesses on that ballclub."
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.