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Can Storm make history?

Three reasons why the AFL playoffs are worth watching.

By DAVID MURPHY
Published June 30, 2007


Three reasons why the AFL playoffs are worth watching

1. The Storm can make history: Four teams have started 0-5 and rebounded to make the playoffs. None has ever appeared in an ArenaBowl. The Storm is also the first team in league history to start 0-5 and finish with a winning record.

2. Brett Dietz could be a future star: Injured veteran John Kaleo compares him to Mark Grieb, the San Jose Sabercats starter who has thrown for more than 4, 000 yards in four consecutive seasons. And for any NFL snobs who don't think that qualifies as lofty praise, Bruce Gradkowski is holding on line two.

3. You could get one more opportunity to taunt all those Ohio State fans who infest the Sunshine State. Let's not forget what happened the last time a football team from Columbus tangled with a team from Florida.

We know, we know: You've been busy.

From work to taxes to baby Shiloh, you've barely had time to eat a balanced breakfast, much less follow the Storm's miraculous turnaround from 0-5. But it's nearly July. The weather is broiling, it rains every day, and the Devil Rays are 12 games under .500. So unless you and Paris Hilton are getting together to discuss your favorite bible passages, you've got no excuse.

Since you've been gone, we'll catch you up heading into today's Arena League playoff game.

Three reasons why the odds are against the Storm

1. Dallas and Georgia, hands down the two best teams in the league, play in the National Conference. The Storm is 0-3 this season against them, including two losses to the Force, which it would play next week.

2. All but two of the Storm's wins have come against teams with losing records.

3. The Storm is one of only three teams in the playoffs that has been out-scored by its opponents. And, in most cases, to win a playoff game, one must score more points than the opposing team.

Three reasons you can't count the Storm out

1. Stranger things have happened: Last season, the Chicago Rush went 7-9 in the regular season, then won three straight playoff games on the road to advance to the ArenaBowl, where it defeated Orlando.

2. Tim Marcum, below, has more rings than a fraternity house toilet. The longtime coach has won seven of the league's 20 ArenaBowl titles. In comparison, Vince Lombardi won a paltry five NFL championships as coach of the Green Bay Packers.

3. Any team that features media relations guru Jim Robinson and athletic trainer Matt Benson is a title contender. Okay, they wanted us to write that. But seriously. Nobody wraps a groin like Benson.

Three things you wouldn't know about the team unless we told you (so we'll tell you)

1. The nickname of reserve defensive back Khalid Naziruddin, left, is "Killah." He also is an avid bowler who has a 210 average and a game-high of 279. Seriously.

2. Defensive back Traco Rachal is a member of a Christian Rap group. Asked to name her favorite lyric, Paris Hilton replied, "Um, I don't have a favorite."

3. With his 55-yard return against Philadelphia three weeks ago, former Buccaneers special teams standout Karl Williams now has one more kickoff return for a touchdown in the AFL (1) than he did in the NFL (0). If the Storm were to win the ArenaBowl, Williams would become the third player to win both ArenaBowl and Super Bowl titles.

Three unknowns heading into the playoffs

1. Hank Edwards: The rookie wide receiver had good performances in his first two games after taking over for T.T. Toliver, but his production slipped in the last two games of the regular season.

2. Brett Dietz: Yeah, he was all-rookie during the regular season. But if the regular season was all that counted, Dan Marino would have a ring and the Buffalo Bills wouldn't be a punch line.

3. The protection: The addition of Lincoln Kennedy has helped stabilize the Storm's offensive line, but the unit has been up and down the past few weeks. It'll be hard for Dietz to complete passes if he's looking out his ear hole.

Three fearless predictions

1. The Storm will beat the Destroyers.

2. Brett Dietz won't throw an INT.

3. Merrill Hoge and Mark Jones won't receive an Emmy nomination for their broadcast on ESPN.

Fast Facts:

Storm vs. Columbus

When/where: Noon; St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa

TV/radio: ESPN; 620-AM

Records: Storm 9-7, Columbus 7-9

What to watch for: The Storm beat the Destroyers 34-32 on April 29, their lone meeting of the season. ...The win jump-started the team's late-season run, when it won eight of nine games to finish the regular season. ... Rookie quarterback Brett Dietz made his first appearance against the Destroyers, relieving injured quarterback John Kaleo. He completed 13-of-25 passes for 170 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He has started every game since, and ranks seventh in the league with a quarterback rating of 119.3. ... Former Storm receivers David Saunders and Freddie Solomon play for Columbus. ... The winner of this game faces Georgia on July 8. ... Defensive end Tom Briggs (knee) has practiced all week and will likely play. ... Storm veteran receiver/linebacker Lawrence Samuels was named to the 2007 All-Ironman team Friday.