Mike Terry, Deseret News
Coach Danny White, right, has taken over both offense and defensive responsibilities.

Sometimes even the most ambitious plans end up looking like a scene from "Lawrence of Arabia."

Take, for instance, those set by Blaze coach Danny White.

Last February he insisted "a reasonable goal now becomes a championship."

Five months and 10 losses later, it's still his goal — and still attainable.

That doesn't mean he didn't first have to go through his own Saharan death trek.

"We've been in the desert and we know what it's like, and we've been deeper in the desert than I've ever been before," said White. "To be in the position we're in now is a great thing, but it's also a scary thing. We don't want to waste what we've been through. It's been a real laboratory for all of us, and we don't want to waste that knowledge that we've gained."

When the Blaze kick off Saturday at Arizona, a playoff berth is on the line, which is a bigger story than one might think. They can become the first AFL team to lose its first nine games and still make the post-season. Moreover, with the right combination of wins and losses among other teams, the Blaze could even host a playoff game for the first time.

"I told them yesterday I never, ever in my life plan to be 0-9, ever again," said White. "So I'm going to get what I can get out of this one. This could be a historical year for us. It's not very often you get a chance to make history."

Isn't that like being the first person to survive falling from a 60-story building?

Yes, you survive, but oh, the pain.

Except for last year, when popular linebacker Justin Skaggs died of a brain tumor, this was the most difficult year of White's career.

"No question," he said. "It gets to the point where you start questioning everything you do. You start questioning your philosophies, questioning the things you learned as a kid, your work ethic — is it too much, not enough? — you question everything."

You start wondering, Gee, when did we get off the Fun Bus?

Salt Lake's Arena Football League team began the year with a home loss to Arizona. The Blaze actually had the game won, but the go-ahead touchdown was called back on a penalty. They also missed a last-second field goal.

It seemed only a minor setback at first. Yet two months later they were in a free fall. They had fired their kicker and hired him back. They had jettisoned their defensive coordinator, and White was coaching both sides of the ball.

That's when something clicked. Young players figured out the AFL's idiosyncrasies. The defense took hold and confidence returned. The Blaze won five of the next six, improving to 5-10.

That's the thing about Arena Football. In a league where the ball is played off nets and teams score on almost every possession, the difference between a 9-0 record and 0-9 can be slim. The Blaze lost three of their first four by a field goal or less.

"That's because there are so many uncontrollable factors in this game," said White. "You get one bounce that goes the wrong way and you lose the game ... one call goes the wrong way, one pass goes the wrong way, and you lose the game."

In that case, exactly what was White thinking last winter when he started talking about championships?

Turns out it's the same thing he's thinking now.

"I believed that then," he said, when asked about his preseason optimism, "and I still believe that. We have the personnel on this team to do that."

There he goes again, being optimistic.

The man coached in Arizona for 13 years.

Maybe he just knows about surviving in the desert.


E-mail: rock@desnews.com