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Arena duo: friends now opponents

Andre Bowden and Les Barley, on the same side for so long, are set to battle.

By JOHN C. COTEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 24, 2000


They have been face to face hundreds of times: as roommates, at family get-togethers in North Carolina and on the Storm bench.

Tonight, for the first time as friends, fullback/linebackers Andre Bowden and Les Barley will face off on a football field.

Bowden will lead the Storm into a crucial meeting with Barley's Grand Rapids Rampage at Van Andel Arena, with playoff positioning on the line as well as personal bragging rights.

"It'll be a little weird playing against him," Bowden said. "But you're just going to have to put all that behind you and play the game. We're going to talk, but at game time it's time to go to work."

Though the two haven't exactly baited each other all week, they have traded barbs during phone conversations. Barley, according to Bowden, tried to pry a scouting report out of his former running mate. Bowden has said a lot by saying nothing.

"He hasn't really trash-talked me," said Barley, who led the Storm in rushing and touchdowns last year. "I think he might be setting me up."

Bowden and Barley were inseparable as Storm teammates the past three seasons. They forged a friendship on a trip to Franfurt, Germany, in 1993 for an Arena Football exhibition game. They get together in the off-season; Bowden's mother lives 25 minutes from Barley's North Carolina home.

They are practically the only two fullbacks the Storm has known. Barley played with Tampa Bay from 1993-94 and 1997-1999; Bowden played from 1991-93 before a three-year stint with the New England Patriots. He returned in 1997 and has played since.

They are war horses, former college linebackers in the same conference who had to learn how to run the ball. For Barley, recruited to Winston-Salem State as a running back before switching positions, the transition was easier.

But when it comes to linebacking, he gives the edge to Bowden.

"My offensive skills still outweigh my defensive skills, but Dre is a way better linebacker than I am," Barley said. "He has real good, quick feet and has great side-to-side quickness. He's able to run down people."

And if the two happen to meet up in the open field, Barley as runner and Bowden as pursuer?

"Oh, I think I can get him in the open field," Barley said. "I'd let him think he's got the angle; then I'd just cut back and go under him."

Together, they are arguably Arena Football's greatest fullbacks ever and without question the most productive. They rank 1-2 in career rushing, with Barley the league's all-time leader with 1,355 yards -- the only player to reach 1,000 -- and Bowden right behind with 964. Barley's 69 touchdowns rank him No. 1; Bowden has 55, placing second.

Considering Bowden is younger and has the better set of knees, he could pass Barley in both categories next year. Barley is unsure how much longer he will play. He has missed three games this year because of a knee injury, "and each time I miss, Dre gets 30 yards closer.

"If someone breaks it, and I think Dre will, I'm glad it will be a friend," Barley said.

Bowden has passed Barley as the Storm's all-time leader in yards, 864 to 777, and touchdowns, 49 to 42. Barley shrugs off talk of either rushing record, though. He thinks fullback/linebackers are ignored as the league focuses attention on quarterbacks and wide receivers. And Bowden said he has not thought about approaching the 1,000-yard career mark.

"You have to make your name in this league on defense," Barley said.

And they have. Bowden's 30.5 career sacks top the Storm chart (and is third all time in the Arena League), and Barley is No. 2 with 17.5.

No current player is close to those numbers.

But for Barley, the game is about good times with good friends, and he will get both this weekend. The two made plans for Friday and tonight, and they know coach Tim Marcum is aware of that.

"When Coach does curfew checks (Friday), he'll definitely be coming to my room," Bowden said.

"And I'll be right there," Barley joked. "Maybe I can give (Bowden) some beers and get some information. Usually he tells me stuff, but not this week."

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