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A change in his game plan

Storm quarterback Pat O'Hara gets his first start in nearly two seasons today against New York.

FRANK PASTOR
Published March 14, 2004

TAMPA - The day before last season's ArenaBowl, Storm quarterback Pat O'Hara was helping his wife, Billie, paint the dance studio she was opening in Orlando.

"If NBC was here, they'd probably laugh," O'Hara remembers telling his wife.

"No, they wouldn't," O'Hara said Billie replied. "You're just the backup."

O'Hara was the one laughing into the NBC cameras the next day as he related the story amid falling confetti at the St. Pete Times Forum. Filling in for injured John Kaleo, O'Hara threw two touchdowns and ran for another in the second half of Tampa Bay's 43-29 victory over Arizona.

He wasn't just the backup that day, and he's not now.

O'Hara, 35, makes his first start in nearly two seasons today, when the Storm plays host to New York in a pivotal early season matchup between 2-3 teams. Its title defense sagging after three losses in four games, Tampa Bay is turning to a veteran who has won three ArenaBowls in five appearances.

O'Hara hasn't started since June 21, 2002, when he passed for three touchdowns in Toronto's 47-34 victory over Orlando. He stays sharp by asking questions during film sessions, making the most of his repetitions in practice and using the experience he has gained from nine seasons in the league.

"As a starter, you need to prepare in a lot of different ways, one of which is you have to have a plan of what you're going to do and have an idea of what they're doing defensively," O'Hara said. "As a backup, it's a different mind-set because you don't know when you're going in and what the situation's going to be."

When O'Hara replaced Shane Stafford in the second half of last week's 55-43 loss to New Orleans, the Storm trailed by 24.O'Hara's mission was simple: score early and often. He threw for 158 yards and two touchdowns to cut the deficit in half.

In the ArenaBowl, the Storm led by seven and the defense was playing well. O'Hara knew that if he protected the ball and made a few big plays, Tampa Bay would win. He didn't have time to think about the ramifications of the situation after spending the morning playing cops and robbers with his sons.

"I just kind of went in there like it's practice, honestly," O'Hara said. "I went into the huddle and I just looked at the guys and kind of laughed and said, "Let's go,' and we broke the huddle. It's just one of those situations that could have gone either way, and it worked out."

O'Hara found Lawrence Samuels for a 9-yard touchdown in the third quarter and had an arcing 43-yard pass to Samuels for another score in the fourth. O'Hara's 3-yard run with 10 minutes left gave Tampa Bay an insurmountable 43-22 lead.

"He just throws an incredible deep ball," said wide receiver/linebacker Clif Dell, a teammate of O'Hara's in Tampa Bay and Orlando. "You don't see a lot of quarterbacks put a lot of air under the ball like he does. You don't know if it's going to come down, and it comes down in the right spot all the time."

O'Hara has coached at the high school level for six seasons, serving as offensive coordinator at Orlando Olympia for the past three. The experience allows him to double as an extra coach on the field.

Someday, he'd like to work as a coach in the Arena league. But not yet.

"I enjoy the process," O'Hara sad. "Whether I'm a backup, I'm accustomed to this. One thing I decided a long time ago was I wanted longevity. I wanted to play for a long time. That was important to me, and I have played football for a long time. I've been very fortunate, and I'm enjoying it."

On camera and off.

Saturday's games

PHILLY 43, COLUMBUS 41: Nick Browder threw the 25-yard winning touchdown to Ricky Ross with 18 seconds left for the visiting Soul. Browder was 16-of-34 for 168 yards and three scores for Philadelphia.

DALLAS 77, CAROLINA 52: Glen Gauntt threw for 306 yards and six touchdowns, and Jason Shelley had seven catches for 111 yards and two scores for Dallas. The Cobras have lost a league-record 16 straight home games.

TODAY: STORM VS. N.Y.

WHEN/WHERE: Noon; St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa.

TV/RADIO: Ch. 8; WDAE-AM 620. RECORDS: Tampa Bay 2-3, New York 2-3.

COACHES: Tampa Bay - Tim Marcum (160-58, 16th season); New York - Todd Shell (11-8, second season).

THE SERIES: Storm leads 1-0.

NOTES: Tampa Bay hopes to reverse a stretch of three losses in four games. New York ended a three-game losing streak with a 64-50 victory over previously unbeaten San Jose last week. Dragons quarterback Aaron Garcia was named the league's offensive player of the week and the Arena Football League Writers Association player of the week after throwing for nine touchdowns. Tampa Bay fullback/linebacker Basil Proctor was activated from injured reserve. Lineman Kelvin Kinney (groin) remains out.

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