PHILADELPHIA - Jon Bon Jovi packed the place again. His band’s music thumped throughout the sold-out arena and he received a mix of cheers and teen-idol screams when his picture was on the videoboard.
But just like the rest of the 17,484 fans, Bon Jovi could only watch as the New Orleans VooDoo beat his Philadelphia Soul 42-34 on Sunday in the first Arena Football League game for both expansion franchises.
Even with the loss, which ended when the Soul’s desperation pass fell short, the Bon Jovi-owned team has already been a runaway success off the field.
The pregame scene resembled something you’d usually need a backstage pass to see. Bon Jovi and guitarist Richie Sambora, who owns a 2-percent stake in the team, mingled with Bill Belichick and Doug Flutie as photographers filled the field.
“I can’t wait to tee it up,” team president and former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski said as he hugged Sambora.
Somehow this odd mix has given arena football a good name in this sports-crazed city.
Jaworski, who had been trying to bring a team to Philadelphia for nearly a decade, repeatedly thanked the crowd during a pregame speech, telling them, “We expect to see this place rocking and rolling.”
They got off to a good start when Sam Moore, of the 1960s soul band Sam and Dave, sang the hit “Soul Man,” and the national anthem.
Craig Spencer, the team’s other, less-famous co-owner, said the opener exceeded his expectations. Philadelphia wasn’t awarded a franchise until July and drafted its first player in September.
Spencer was talking about his team when Sambora, minus wife Heather Locklear, walked by.
“This guy brings a lot of excitement,” Spencer said as he pulled Sambora over.
“I love it. I’m so excited, I can’t wait,” said Sambora, who later introduced his mother to league commissioner David Baker.
Baker said he overcame his initial apprehensions about bringing an arena rocker into arena football.
“He promised he’d do this right and I think he has,” Baker said.
Bon Jovi walked around the field with Belichick, wearing his Super Bowl jacket just a week after coaching the New England Patriots to their second NFL title in three years.
The two are longtime friends who were introduced at a New York Giants practice in 1989 by punter Sean Landeta, when Belichick was the defensive coordinator.
Maybe the Soul could have used Belichick.
They led 14-13 at halftime but fell behind early in the third quarter and couldn’t keep pace.
“It’s a huge disappointment,” said wide receiver Ricky Ross, who caught nine passes, one for a touchdown.
Coach Michael Trigg, who won the AFL championship with Grand Rapids in 2001, said the hype didn’t matter if the team did not win.
“As bad as it was, we had an opportunity on the final play to throw it up there and maybe have some kind of miracle happen for us,” he said.
Still, the Soul put on a show for their fans, many of them attending an arena league game for the first time.
“I just wanted to check it out,” said John Sigafoos, 26, of Phillipsburg, N.J. “Philadelphia is a great sports city. We love our football. So far, it’s been very good. I can’t wait until the next game.”
Not all fans came just for the football, which explains making a veteran rock star the face of the Soul.
“I like football, but I’m a huge Bon Jovi fan. He’s the man,” said Michelle Toughill, 34, of Merchantville, N.J., who said she saw Bon Jovi in concert about 15 times and is a member of his fan club. “But I’m trying to develop an interest in Arena Football. I’d come again.”
Fans tailgated just as if it were an Eagles game — and many wore Eagles shirts — leaving Jaworski hoping the Soul could develop a similar feeling with their fan base.
“The excitement is mind-boggling. I wish I could put a helmet on,” he said.
Hey, there are limits, even for rock stars. Less than an hour before kickoff, all the VIPs were kicked off the field to make room for the players.
“C’mon, we own the field,” a smiling Sambora said.