By JOHN C. COTEY
© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 8, 2001
TAMPA -- Don't get too used to the No. 6 who was slinging touchdown passes all over the Ice Palace on Saturday night, the man electrifying the crowd and rallying the Storm to a much-needed victory.
He wears No. 14. They just couldn't find his jersey before the Arena League game.
But whether he wears No. 6 or No. 14, he is, for now, the No. 1 Storm quarterback.
Replacing the injured John Kaleo, rookie Shane Stafford was just one incompletion from the highest possible quarterback rating, throwing five touchdowns in the final 18 minutes to rally the Storm past Houston 70-47 before 12,681. Stafford was brilliant after entering with 5:35 remaining in the third quarter and the Storm behind 39-35.
His first pass was dropped, but the next five were complete for 88 yards and two touchdowns. In the last five minutes, he put the Thunderbears (3-10) away, adding three touchdown strikes to Gunnard Twyner to finish 8-for-12 for 119 yards.
"We were losing?" Stafford asked. "I didn't even realize what the score was when I came in. It was a lot of fun though. I just want to win, and I want to have fun."
The feeling appeared infectious. After Stafford entered, the Storm (9-3) seemed to perk up, getting two interceptions, one sack and dominating Houston the rest of the way in matching its season high for points in a game.
"It was time to force our will upon them," wide receiver Sir Mawn Wilson said. "We knew what Shane could do. He does it every day in practice."
"When I saw John (rotating his arm, as if to loosen it), I figured it would either hurt us or spark us," Twyner said. "Everyone's been waiting for Shane to get his chance. No offense to John."
After an interception that Houston turned into the go-ahead touchdown on Sedrick Robinson's fourth TD of the game, Kaleo started the Storm's next drive with a 2-yard scramble. But as he plowed ahead, he separated his throwing shoulder.
Kaleo, who was 12-for-23 for 173 yards, will miss at least three weeks, coach Tim Marcum said. The Storm has two games remaining and is fighting for a first-round playoff bye. Kaleo could return for the first post-season game, and Marcum said the No. 1 job is his.
Stafford had thrown only seven passes in three mop-up appearances this season. But as the starter for the Tallahassee Thunder of arenafootball2 last season, he led the league with 85 touchdowns passes and threw for 4,394 yards.
"I was just waiting for my chance to show what I can do," Stafford said. "That's what a backup is for. My role hasn't changed. I'm still the backup as far as I know."
Saturday, he quickly developed a rapport with Twyner, who started for the injured James Bowden. The rookie wide receiver set career highs with nine catches, 146 yards and five touchdowns. He caught five passes from Stafford -- four were touchdowns.
He also set up one of Andre Bowden's four touchdown runs in the first half by returning a missed field goal 51 yards.
"It was a good time tonight," Twyner said. "A real good time."
NOTE: The Storm said it would donate $5 for every ticket sold to the Gold Shield Foundation, which provides financial assistance and college educations for families of law enforcement officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty. Officer Lois Marrero was killed Friday in Tampa after a bank robbery.
FALCONS: Quarterback Michael Vick, the top pick in the draft, might move up on the depth chart sooner than later. Eric Zeier, acquired from the Bucs, sprained his right ankle on Saturday, the last day of minicamp. Though Zeier said he expects to be ready when training camp begins July 19, his injury clouded the battle for the No. 2 job behind Chris Chandler.
VIKINGS: Receiver Randy Moss isn't concerned about stalled contract talks: "My talent and ability to go out there and make it happen on Sunday is going to speak for itself when it comes time to really get the numbers right. The numbers are going to be there, so why should I worry about it?" Moss wants to become the NFL's highest-paid player.
-- Information from Times wires was used in this report.