By JOHN C. COTEY
© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 3, 2001
The Storm's once-imposing Southern Division lead is now just half a game following Sunday's nationally televised 46-38 loss to Orlando, but coach Tim Marcum couldn't care less.
What the coach does care about is that his team is no longer No. 1 in the league.
That honor belongs to San Jose, which is 8-3 but holds the tiebreaker advantage over the league's other 8-3 teams -- Tampa Bay, Grand Rapids and Indiana.
More important, the Storm's grasp on finishing among the top four and earning a first-round playoff bye has become perilous. With Nashville (8-4), Orlando (7-4) and Arizona (7-4) in pursuit, another loss -- especially to Nashville in two weeks -- could knock the team into a first-round playoff game.
"I don't care about the division, that doesn't matter," Marcum said. "What we have to do now is win out to get in the top four. That matters."
The Storm plays an underrated Houston team Saturday that is 3-8 but has been outscored by just 44 points, then travels to Nashville before finishing with New Jersey, at 1-10 the worst team in the league.
What could help the Storm is San Jose. The Sabercats play Arizona and Indiana, and the three teams could end up canceling each other out. Provided the Storm can start winning again, the No. 1 seed remains within reach.
"We have to finish it off and go 11-3," quarterback John Kaleo said. "We can't look over our shoulder. When you do that, you start playing a little hesitant. We have to take these next three games and kick some butt and get that first-round bye."
RETIRED NO MORE: When Jay Gruden retired, he signed papers stating that if he returned, he would be property of the Storm. When Tracey Perkins retired, it was a different story.
"I took him at his word," Marcum said.
Today, only Gruden's No. 7 remains retired. Perkins, whose No. 24 was retired last year before the July 1 Orlando game, has had his unretired.
A miffed Marcum made that decision after Perkins returned to the league this season with San Jose. The fact that he didn't sign his retirement papers wouldn't have mattered much anyway because Perkins was an unrestricted free agent. But Marcum said he felt betrayed after giving Perkins an honor that more valuable players Stevie Thomas, Sylvester Bembery and George LaFrance have yet to receive.
Sunday, new defensive specialist Dwight Henry wore No. 24.
"We're not going to have a player who is still playing in the league have a retired number," Marcum said.
Chances are, No. 24 will remain in play.
OUT: Marcum said Pig Goff likely is out for the year and he hinted that he is toying with the idea of keeping injured offensive specialist James Bowden off the field until it really counts -- the playoffs.
Bowden's replacement Sunday, Sir Mawn Wilson (four catches, 91 yards), will be examined today to find out the extent of his left knee injury.
TSK TSK: A large chunk of the Storm's record crowd of 17,634 headed for the exits after the Predators took a 46-30 lead with four minutes left Sunday.
Why they would do that is a mystery. If anything, the Storm has shown that when it plays at home, nothing is ever certain until the final minute.
Consider: With 38 seconds left against Nashville, the Storm took the lead and went on to win; against Carolina, it appeared dead before kicking a field goal at the final horn and won in overtime; against Arizona, it missed a field goal at the final horn that would have won the game and eventually lost in overtime.
And Sunday, it came up a half-yard short from possibly forcing overtime on the game's final play, not that the departed noticed.
They were too busy beating traffic