After four years with Tampa Bay, John Kaleo is starting over with Austin.
By FRANK PASTOR
Published February 22, 2004
John Kaleo delivered a message to the league Feb. 13 in expansion Austin's 49-48 victory over two-time ArenaBowl champion Orlando.
Today, the ex-Storm quarterback hopes to send a few words to his former employer.
"I want to show them they made a mistake not bringing me back," Kaleo said.
Eight months after leading the Storm to its fifth championship, Kaleo faces his former team for the first time when Tampa Bay (1-1) visits Austin (1-0).
Kaleo, who won 33 of 44 starts with the Storm, signed with the Wranglers as a free agent.
"Obviously, for the team it would be a huge win for us to get a second win in the Southern Division, to upset the defending champs, a franchise that's one of the mainstays of Arena football and a consistent winner," said Kaleo, 33.
"That would be huge for our organization and, personally, you can fill that with all the adjectives in the world. It would be just a euphoric feeling to get that win over Tampa."
Kaleo, who ranks second in Storm history in completions (792), passing yards (10,263) and passing touchdowns (187), will receive $106,000 from Austin.
Storm coach Tim Marcum said he offered Kaleo about an $8,000 raise from the $64,000 he made last season, with playoff bonuses that could have raised the value of the contract to about $100,000.
But Kaleo, an 11-year veteran, said that even after the raise, he would have ranked 14th in average base salary among starting quarterbacks.
Both sides have made the most of the situation.
Shane Stafford returned to the Storm after a year in NFL Europe and is tied for the league lead with 13 touchdown passes. His eight in Feb. 13's 70-62 loss to Georgia matched a team record shared by Kaleo and Jay Gruden.
Meanwhile, Kaleo managed to do something in one game with Austin he couldn't in four seasons with Tampa Bay: win in Orlando. His 307 passing yards against the Predators are second-most in the league this season. Stafford's 304 against Georgia ranks third.
"Shane's our leader, and John's their leader now," Storm wide receiver/linebacker Lawrence Samuels said. "When John was here, John was the leader. The quarterback is always the leader, especially on offense. He tells us where to go, and we just have to make plays. John was a big part of this team in that aspect of the game."
Kaleo led Austin back from a 14-point deficit against Orlando. He completed 28 of 39 passes, and his five touchdowns included a 10-yard toss to Darryl Hammond to cap a winning five-play drive in overtime.
"Orlando obviously is a difficult arena to win in, and for a first-year team to go in there with a bunch of veterans, it was a huge win and a message sent throughout the league," Kaleo said. "It was definitely a huge moment for our ownership (Greg Feste) and our head coach (Skip Foster) to get that first win."
The Storm will do everything in its power to prevent Austin from getting its second. Marcum hopes the return of linemen Kelvin Kinney and Shawn King to the lineup will help create pressure on the 6-foot, 205-pound Kaleo.
"He's a very accurate passer, so it's a situation where we've got to get him off his rhythm, that's all," Marcum said. "If we can do that, that's the key, whether it's Kaleo or Jay Gruden or whoever it is."
Though he and Marcum seldom saw eye to eye, Kaleo said he looks back fondly on his time with the Storm. He continues to make his home in Tampa, where his wife, Jamie, works and his children, Parker and Carson, go to school.
"I told the coach I was grateful for him giving me the opportunity to be the quarterback there for four years," Kaleo said. "I've won a lot of games there. I have a lot of fond memories of being a Tampa Bay Storm (player).
"That was a good part of my life. It's sad the way it ended, because I thought things could have worked out where I could have finished up as a Storm (player). But to each, his own."