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Arena

Storm's Bowden just refuses to leave field

In his 13th season, he hasn't even thought of doing something else.

By FRANK PASTOR

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 11, 2003


TAMPA -- Andre Bowden isn't ready to grow up.

Not just yet.

For as long as he can remember, the Storm fullback/linebacker has wanted to play football. For 13 seasons, he has done nothing else, playing in the Arena League, NFL and World League of American Football.

He hasn't considered postcareer plans yet. Not when he's playing as well as ever.

"I hate to think about it," said Bowden, 35. "I know one day I'm going to have to grow up and do something, but not yet."

Twelve years after he entered the league, the only member of the Storm's first squad still playing in Tampa Bay is back for a third stint with the team and performing as well as in the previous two.

"If I were to look at him now and compare him to the first time I saw him, he looks like he's every bit as good," said Mitch Matuska, the Storm's director of player personnel and fullbacks/linebackers coach.

Bowden, out of football for the first seven weeks, was signed on March 26 after a shoulder injury sidelined David White. He scored a touchdown in a 68-39 victory over Arizona two days later and earned league Ironman of the Week honors after rushing for two touchdowns, making a sack and forcing a fumble in Sunday's 58-39 victory over Georgia.

"He came in in good condition, and the intangible that he brings to the game is just his knowledge," Matuska said. "We give those guys a lot of latitude to make their own decisions, and he is as good as a coach on the field as to knowing how to attack certain types of protections."

Bowden honed his knowledge at the highest level.

In 1995, he was slated to be a starting inside linebacker for the New England Patriots. But one day in practice, a defensive lineman diving for running back Curtis Martin smashed into Bowden's leg, breaking it and tearing an ankle ligament.

The injury cost Bowden his one shot at the NFL.

"I hate to look back and say that's what happened," Bowden said. "You go through things like that, and it's just part of the game. You've got to take it in stride and stay positive and continue to work. I'm just thankful for the opportunity that I had."

After a short stint with Frankfurt of the World League, Bowden found another opportunity in the Arena League, where he played on the first Storm team in 1991.

"We were just a group of guys who were hungry to play football and didn't know anything about the game," Bowden said. "We came out each day and worked hard. We had to learn the game together."

Bowden won ArenaBowls with Tampa Bay in '91 and '93 and ranks second in the league in career rushing yards (1,209) and fourth in sacks (36).

He signed with Carolina last season to play in front of family, but was not re-signed. Knowing the physical demands of his position, he stayed in shape and waited for another chance.

"When the injury occurred, he was right there, and there was no indecision to sign him up. It was just good timing," Matuska said.

"I'm just going to wait it out and see how I feel after the season and see if the love is still there," Bowden said. "The way I feel right now, I'm just going to go until they tell me to get out of here."

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