Cleveland Gladiators
Cleveland Gladiators helmet Cleveland Gladiators logo

Leauge(s): Arena Football League
Conference(s): American / Eastern
Division(s): Eastern
Team History/
Also formerly known as:
New Jersey Red Dogs (1997–2000)
New Jersey Gladiators (2001–2002)
Las Vegas Gladiators (2003–2007)
Cleveland Gladiators (2008–2017)
Based in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
Stadium/Home field Quicken Loans Arena
Team colors Black, Red, White               
Owner(s) Dan Gilbert
Team history
Founded 1997
Folded 2017
/ Arena Bowl wins
Confernce championships: None
Division championships: 2: (AFL: 2002, 2011)
Mascot(s) Rudi
Team dancers: Goddesses

The Cleveland Gladiators were an arena football franchise based in Cleveland, Ohio which played in the Arena Football League. The team is part of the East division of the AFL's American Conference. The Gladiators played all of their home games at Quicken Loans Arena, which they share with the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers and the American Hockey League's Lake Erie Monsters. The franchise was originally based in East Rutherford, New Jersey and then later in Las Vegas, Nevada; it had been in Cleveland since the AFL's 2008 season. The Gladiators have gone to the playoffs five times, playing in the Conference Championship once in 2008 and never reaching the ArenaBowl.

Team history

New Jersey Red Dogs (1997–2000)

New Jersey Red Dogs mainlogo

The New Jersey Red Dogs entered the Arena Football League in 1997, along with the Nashville Kats and the New York CityHawks. Their ownership group, which was led by New Jersey radio entrepreneur E. Burke Ross, also included several ex-NFL players, such as Joe Morris, Carl Banks, and Harry Carson. The Red Dogs played at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

The AFL's intention was to add only New Jersey and Nashville for 1997. However, well after the awarding of the Red Dogs and Kats franchises, the owners of Madison Square Garden in New York City requested a franchise of their own, and the league granted this request. And so the CityHawks also began play in 1997. This had an impact on the Red Dogs, in that the league then prevented the Red Dogs from advertising in New York. While North Jersey itself is very populous in its own right, the Red Dogs had hoped to be the team for the entire New York metropolitan area. Despite this setback, the Red Dogs management built a good team, which opened its history in memorable fashion.

The team won 8 of its first 9 games, including a victory in their inaugural game on a last-second game-winning field goal, a thrilling overtime victory against the Albany Firebirds, a thorough thrashing of the Iowa Barnstormers (runners-up in the previous year's ArenaBowl X), and also one game in which they scored a then-record 91 points against the Texas Terror. (This record has since been surpassed by the New York Dragons, who scored 99 in a game against the Carolina Cobras in 2001.)

The Red Dogs were led by head coach John Hufnagel, who had been a quarterback and offensive coordinator for the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. After his time with the Red Dogs, Hufnagel went on to be an offensive coach for several National Football League teams, including the New England Patriots and the New York Giants. He then became the head coach of the CFL's Stampeders for the 2008 season, and won the Grey Cup in his first season at the helm. Hufnagel brought in several players with CFL experience to the Red Dogs, including QB Rickey Foggie and offensive specialist Larry Ray Willis. The team's other main receiver was Alvin Ashley, a player whose small size (150 lb.) made him unlikely to play in the NFL but suited the more compact Arena game.

Unfortunately, The Red Dogs slumped late in their first season, losing 4 of their final 5 games to finish 9–5, then losing to the Orlando Predators in the first round of the playoffs.

The Red Dogs finished 8–6 in 1998, their second season, and won their first playoff game in Albany against the Firebirds.

Hufnagel left the Red Dogs after the 1998 season for a job with the NFL's Cleveland Browns, and he was replaced by Frank Mattiace, a former defensive lineman for the New Jersey Generals of the USFL. Star Larry Ray Willis was traded to the Milwaukee Mustangs Following those losses, the Red Dogs slumped in 1999 to their first losing season, going 6–8, despite winning 3 of their first 4.

The Red Dogs made a significant trade following the 1999 season, a trade they never got to benefit from. New Jersey sent Alvin Ashley to the Orlando Predators for wide receiver/defensive back Barry Wagner, widely regarded as the greatest player in the league's history.[1] However, soon after the trade, the league and its players agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement that resulted in several veteran players—including Wagner—gaining free agency. Wagner then signed with the San Jose SaberCats.

In 2000, the Red Dogs, without Wagner, Ashley, and offensive mainstay Chad Lindsey, fell to 4–10. Foggie lost his job as starting QB, replaced by Tommy Maddox, at the time a failed NFL quarterback. Head coach Frank Mattiace left the team in mid-season and was replaced on an interim basis by Kevin Guy, a former defensive back/wide receiver who had played two full seasons with the Red Dogs.

New Jersey Gladiators (2001–2002)

Before the 2001 season, the New Jersey team was sold to Jim Ferraro, a lawyer from Miami, Florida. Ferraro changed the team name to the New Jersey Gladiators. The new ownership appointed as head coach the ex-CityHawk boss Lary Kuharich, who had won ArenaBowl VII in 1993 with the Tampa Bay Storm; and it acquired Connell Maynor from Orlando to be the starting Quarterback. Maynor had led the Predators to victory in ArenaBowl XIV the previous season, and was named the game's MVP. An all-around threat, Maynor had played with the CityHawks under Kuharich in 1997, but took only one snap all season as the backup to Mike Perez. Instead, the CityHawks used Maynor as a wide receiver/linebacker, and one week he even won the award for the league's best "ironman" (player who plays both on offense and defense, as 6 of 8 players use to play both sides of the ball in Arena Football).

The Gladiators reached the lowest ebb in franchise history during the 2001 season, winning only 2 out of 14 games. The club's top receivers attained roughly half the amount of yards that Larry Ray Willis had done in each of the franchise's first two seasons, and the rushing leader was Quarterback Maynor himself.

In 2002, the club had another new coach, Frank Haege, who had been a Red Dog assistant under John Hufnagel. After leaving the Red Dogs, Haege went on to coach the Quad City Steamwheelers of the AFL's minor-league circuit af2. Haege's Quad City team dominated the af2 for two seasons, winning 31 of 32 regular-season games—including one win by a score of 103–3 -- and two championships (Haege was later charged by the AFL with violating the af2 salary cap rules at Quad City, and was fined heavily by the league. Also, the Quad City team was banned from the af2 playoffs in 2002). The Gladiators' new Quarterback for 2002 was Jay McDonagh, who had played under Haege.

Former Red Dog Alvin Ashley was back with the club, seeing limited duty; however, this time around the main New Jersey receiver was Mike Horacek, who had starred for the Iowa Barnstormers, and who later returned to that franchise to play for the Dragons. The Gladiators' fortunes turned around, and they had their first winning season since 1998, going 9–5 and hosting a playoff game for the first time (a loss to Orlando).

The New Jersey Gladiators looked all set to go for the 2003 season. The 2003 season would be the first one to begin in February instead of April, and it would be the first one in which the league's games would be televised weekly by NBC. However, with only weeks to go before the start of the season, owner Ferraro moved the team to Las Vegas. The move came as a shock to the team's fans, as the Gladiators were sending out ticket package offers even through their last week in New Jersey. The AFL schedules for the 2003 season had already been devised, so the Las Vegas Gladiators would play that season in the Eastern Division of the National Conference, before shifting in 2004 to the American Conference's Western Division.

Las Vegas Gladiators (2003–2007)

The Gladiators relocated to Las Vegas, Nevada for the 2003 season and played their home games at the Thomas & Mack Center on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. This arena was also the home of a previous Arena team, the Las Vegas Sting, in 1994 and 1995. In 2007, in an effort to increase attendance, the Gladiators moved to the Orleans Arena. The move did not have the desired effect. The Gladiators averaged 5,383 fans in 2007, down from 10,115 in 2006.The Gladiators competed in the Western Division of the AFL's American Conference. The team went 31–50 in five years in Las Vegas, making the playoffs once.

Cleveland Gladiators (2008–present)

2008 season

On October 16, 2007, it was announced in a press conference that the Gladiators would be relocating to Cleveland, Ohio. This would be the second arena football team to play be in the Cleveland area; the Cleveland Thunderbolts played at the Richfield Coliseum in Richfield, Ohio for three seasons from 1992–1994. Former Cleveland Browns Quarterback Bernie Kosar was announced as the public face of the team, as well as the President of Football Operations and minority owner. The Gladiators would play their home games at Quicken Loans Arena, the home of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers and the AHL's Lake Erie Monsters.[2] The team also moved back to the Eastern Division of the National Conference for the first time since 2003. The team would still be known as the Gladiators and continue to retain the team colors of red, silver, and black.[3] On March 3, the Gladiators played their inaugural game in Quicken Loans Arena, a 61–49 win over the New York Dragons.Raymond Philyaw, the team's quarterback, was named the offensive player of the game after throwing for five touchdowns. The team's first season in Cleveland was a successful one, as they went on to have a winning record of 9–7.

On June 21, the Gladiators clinched a playoff berth with a 47–35 win against the Columbus Destroyers as well as home field advantage for the first round.Cleveland won its first playoff game in 10 years with a 69–66 win over the Orlando Predators. Raymond Philyaw threw for 436 yards (the second-most yards in AFL postseason history) and eight touchdowns, receiver Robert Redd caught a franchise best 204 yards and four touchdowns, and Brandon Hefflin had two interceptions and recovered a key fumble late in the game to seal the victory. The following week, the Gladiators advanced to their first conference championship game in team history when they beat the Georgia Force in the divisional round 73–70. Raymond Philyaw had eight touchdown passes and Robert Redd and Otis Amey each caught three touchdowns in the win. The 61 points scored by both teams in the second quarter was also an AFL record for combined points in a quarter. The Gladiators then traveled to Philadelphia to face the Soul in the National Conference Championship game. Unfortunately, their season ended one game short of the Arena Bowl with a tough 70–35 loss.

2009: AFL suspends operations

The National Conference Championship would be the Gladiators' last game for almost two years. The Arena Football League canceled its 2009 season and it seemed that operations would be suspended indefinitely. However, the league reorganized as Arena Football 1 before purchasing the assets of the Arena Football League, therefore assuming the AFL's history, and the Gladiators were revived for the 2010 season, with owner Jim Ferraro and Bernie Kosar returning as team president and Quicken Loans Arena continuing to act as the team's home field. On December 23, 2009, former Grand Rapids Rampage coach Steve Thonn was named as new head coach of the Gladiators.[4] Soon after, Arena Football 1 decided to re-adopt the Arena Football League name.

2010 season

During their first season in two years, the Gladiators hovered around .500 for the majority of the time. Highlights of the season included blowout victories over the Utah Blaze and the Iowa Barnstormers, but there were also some close losses attributed to poor special teams play. On July 17, during their 15th game of the season, the Gladiators were officially eliminated from playoff contention when their division rivals the Milwaukee Iron defeated the Orlando Predators. The Gladiators finished their 2010 campaign with a 7–9 record.

2011 season

The Gladiators returned in 2011 with Steve Thonn once again serving as head coach. John Dutton also returned as the team's starting quarterback. The Gladiators started their 2011 campaign successfully, upsetting the Spokane Shock, the defending ArenaBowl Champions, at their own arena. However, this victory was marred by an Achilles' heel injury to John Dutton in the final minutes, which would ultimately sideline him for the season. Fortunately, the team's backup quarterback Kurt Rocco performed well in his first Arena football start as the Gladiators 3-0. In their home opener, wide receiver Troy Bergeron set a Gladiator franchise record with six touchdown catches during the game. Unfortunately, the Gladiators were not able to post their best start in franchise history, losing the next two weeks. Injuries to Rocco during midseason led to third-string quarterback and Cleveland-area Case Western University alum Dan Whalen mounting second half comebacks. However, Rocco would eventually retake the starting position for the rest of the season.

Through 2011, the Gladiators were very strong at home but often mediocre on the road. Though they finished with a 7-1 record at Quicken Loans Arena, they were only 3-6 in away games. But the season ultimately ended with success, as the team beat their newest rival, the Pittsburgh Power, to clinch the American Conference East Division and guarantee a spot in the playoffs. This was the second time in three seasons that Gladiators will enter the playoffs while in Cleveland, as well as the first time they have clinched the East Division.

The team entered the playoffs with a 10-8 record to face the Georgia Force in the first round. Despite playing at home, the Cleveland Gladiators played poorly in the second half and were eliminated from contention, losing 50-41.

2012 season

On January 17, 2012, the Gladiators were sold to Cleveland Cavaliers and Lake Erie Monsters owner Dan Gilbert.[5]


Image gallery

Season-by-season records

Current roster

Cleveland Gladiators roster


Wide receivers

Offensive linemen

Defensive linemen


Defensive backs


Injured reserve

Refused to report

Team suspension

  • Currently vacant

Physically unable to perform

Rookies in italics

Roster updated March 7, 2012

24 Active, 7 Inactive

More rosters

Coaching staff


Head coach Tenure Regular season
record (W–L)
Post season
record (W–L)
Most recent coaching staff Notes
John Hufnagel 19971998 17–11[6] 1–2[6]
Frank Mattice 19992000 9–15[7] 0–0[7] Let go during the 2000 season.
Kevin Guy 2000 1–3[8] 0–0[8] Replaced Frank Mattice,
not retained after season.
Lary Kuharich 2001 2–12[9] 0–0[9]
Frank Haege 20022004 25–21[10] 0–2[10]
Ron James 20052006 13–18[11] 0–0[11]
Danton Barto 2007 2–14[12] 0–0[12]
Mike Wilpolt 2008 9–7[13] 2–1[13] OC: Brian Partlow
OL / DL: Lee Johnson
Also served as DC.
2008 Arena Football League
Coach of the Year.
Steve Thonn 2010–present 18–18 0–1 DC: Ron Seleski
OL / DL: Whitney Bell
Also serves as Director of Football Operations and OC

Notable players

Radio and TV

The Gladiators radio flagship station is WKRK-FM 92.3 with Doug Plagens calling the play by play, and former Ohio State Buckeyes safety and WKRK afternoon drive co-host Dustin Fox as color analyst for home games.[14][15]


  2. [ page=pressrel&article=7970]
  3. [1]
  4. Source: Arena Football will return to Cleveland in 2010 -
  6. 6.0 6.1 [ ArenaFan Online: AFL Coaches: John Hufnagel]. Retrieved on 2008-10-24.
  7. 7.0 7.1 [ ArenaFan Online: AFL Coaches: Frank Mattice]. Retrieved on 2008-10-24.
  8. 8.0 8.1 [ ArenaFan Online: AFL Coaches: Kevin Guy]. Retrieved on 2008-10-24.
  9. 9.0 9.1 [ ArenaFan Online: AFL Coaches: Lary Kuharich]. Retrieved on 2008-10-24.
  10. 10.0 10.1 [ ArenaFan Online: AFL Coaches: Frank Haege]. Retrieved on 2008-10-24.
  11. 11.0 11.1 [ ArenaFan Online: AFL Coaches: Ron James]. Retrieved on 2008-10-24.
  12. 12.0 12.1 [ ArenaFan Online: AFL Coaches: Danton Barto]. Retrieved on 2008-10-24.
  13. 13.0 13.1 [ ArenaFan Online: AFL Coaches: Mike Wilpolt]. Retrieved on 2008-10-24.
  14. WKRK new Gladiators flagship
  15. Dustin Fox Gladiators color analyst

<External links

[[Category:Arena Football League team rosters navigational boxes|Cleveland Gladiators]

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