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Marcum: Stopping Warner will be tough
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 20, 2000
TAMPA -- There is a slight hope for Buccaneers fans weary of hearing about the supposedly unstoppable St. Louis offense.
Consider: In championship games against Tampa Bay teams quarterbacked by former area high school stars who attended Conference USA schools, Rams quarterback Kurt Warner is 0-1.
Okay, so it was in 1996, and it was the ArenaBowl, and it was the Tampa Bay Storm led by former Chamberlain star and Louisville grad Jay Gruden. But when football experts across the country (not to mention a strong majority of fans) are writing off your team's chances, it's something. Isn't it?
Not really, according to the man who coached the Storm in that game.
"You can't draw any comparisons," said Tim Marcum, who has won five Arena Football League championships. "None."
So what if the Storm stopped Iowa four straight plays when it had the ball at the 1 with 51 seconds left in the game won by Tampa Bay 42-38. That was then, this is now, and Marcum -- a Kurt Warner fan -- isn't sure you can stop the man, though that hasn't stopped a half-dozen or so media outlets from posing the question.
Gruden, coach of the Orlando Predators, remembers the game plan going in was to harass Warner and put pressure on him.
"We wanted to get a lot of pressure on him, and press his receivers to make him hold the ball that extra count," Gruden said. "I think that's what Tampa has to do."
Having watched nearly every Rams game this season, Marcum and Gruden are as blown away as anyone else that an AFL quarterback has made it to the top of the NFL. He is more surprised that Warner got the chance, though, than that he has succeeded. When Warner was lighting up defenses in the AFL -- including a seven-touchdown game against the Storm the year after the ArenaBowl -- Marcum had a hunch Warner might make it at the next level.
In 1996, Marcum told friend Mark Hatley, the Chicago Bears general manager (then a personnel man), that Warner had NFL talent. Hatley wasn't interested.
The next season, with former Storm assistant Tom Rossley (now the Kansas City quarterbacks coach) on the Chicago staff, Marcum tried again.
"I had a contact with the Chicago Bears and had him set up with a workout. That fell through. I guess someone from St. Louis heard about the guy and the rest is history."
Now, Marcum watches in amazement. One of the league's quarterbacks getting even a few snaps would have been a great step for the AFL, but the league MVP?
"When I first saw him, and I watched him when he was in Europe ... you knew the guy was for real. This wasn't a fluke.
"I think he said it best throughout the season; he learned a mentality in Arena ball that we have to score every time we got the ball. He knows you better get back and find a guy to throw the ball to. That's Arena ball at its best."
A benefit of Warner's sterling performance may be that Arena ball has gained some measure of notoriety and respect. Former Storm player Johnnie Harris played for the Raiders this season, Oronde Gadsden had some big games for Miami and Mac Cody returned kicks for Arizona. Marcum said there are about 25 former AFL players on NFL rosters.
And maybe, thanks to Warner's success, more to come.
"There's just so many kids out there with so much talent that are in the wrong place at the right time," he said. "Heck, even Kurt Warner goes to Green Bay, where they have Brett Favre, Ty Detmer and Mark Brunell at the time. He's not going to make that team.
"These guys play themselves into being better players. It's football. You get better. Guys that might be next? Mike Pawlawski (Albany quarterback and former Bucs draft pick). And Clint Dolezel. I'll tell you right now, he could make somebody's team."
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