STORM 60, COBRAS 20: Tampa Bay picks off five passes to cruise in its opener.
By FRANK PASTOR
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 1, 2003
TAMPA -- Arena Football League rules are designed to put defenses at a disadvantage.
Offenses have a shorter path to the end zone than in the outdoor game. And television advertisements promise spectators "scoring so high you'll need oxygen."
But the Storm's defense didn't seem bothered Friday in its opener against Carolina.
Powered by a pass rush that consistently pressured quarterbacks Chad DeGrenier and Stewart Patridge and a sure-handed secondary that picked off a team-record five passes, Tampa Bay beat the Cobras 60-20 before an announced 8,354 at the St. Pete Times Forum.
"I'm very pleased with what I saw out there," coach Tim Marcum said.
Wearing new white uniforms with blue stripes on the sides of the jerseys, Tampa Bay picked up its first win three games earlier than last season, when a 1-5 start led to a franchise-worst 6-8 record.
Carolina was no match after an ownership change in the offseason led to a purge of all but four players from the squad that swept the Storm last season.
"We wanted to send a message to the league that the Storm's back, but also to the other owners that try to cut back players salaries and just pay people the regular minimum, we wanted to send a statement," Tampa Bay quarterback John Kaleo said. "That's what Carolina did, and that's why we wanted to blow them out."
With each play, the Storm seemed to distance itself from the memories of a year ago.
There was Kaleo, who missed all but one game last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, completing 16 of 27 passes for 217 yards and six touchdowns.
There was offensive specialist Freddie Solomon, catching 10 passes for 132 yards and three scores in his Arena debut. A torn Achilles tendon sustained in camp sidelined him last season.
"It was good for him to kind of get the Freddie Solomon era under way," Kaleo said. "He's going to be a pretty good player."
There was history.
With a short catch along the left sideline with 4:25 remaining, wide receiver Gary Compton joined San Jose's Barry Wagner and Indiana's Eddie Brown as the only players in league history with 10,000 receiving yards. Compton's 15-yard touchdown a few plays later left him 14 points shy of 1,200 for his career.
And there was the defense, dominant from start (Keita Crespina's interception return for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage) to finish (Corey Sawyer's second interception in the final minute).
Linemen Troy Wilson, Kelvin Kinney, BJ Cohen and Al Lucas led the push up front; linebacker David White had a sack; and Sawyer, Crespina, Hurley Tarver and Omarr Smith added interceptions for a unit that stopped nine Carolina drives and held the Cobras to six second-half points.
"We've just got a lot of guys that are working and work well together," Wilson said.
Crespina started the deluge, intercepting DeGrenier's first pass and returning it 20 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown 1 minute, 2 seconds into the game.
It was one of five Tampa Bay stops in the first half, which ended with the Storm ahead 34-14.
"That set the tone for the whole team, not just the defense," Sawyer said. "The offense got rowdied up and the defense felt if he can do it, we all can do it."
If there was a concern for Tampa Bay, it was special teams, where kicker Pete Elezovic missed three extra points.