In field in which every team thinks it can reach ArenaBowl, Tampa Bay hosts Indiana.
By JOHN C. COTEY
© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 5, 2001
TAMPA -- Some things never change -- the Storm is one of Arena football's best teams, boast one the league's best pass-catch combinations, and is in the playoffs.
Then again, some things do change -- it has been five years since the Storm laid claim to being Arena football's premier franchise, by winning its last championship and fourth in its first six years.
The quest to end that streak begins today at the Ice Palace, where the Storm hosts Indiana at 1:30 p.m., in its nationally televised post-season opener.
There is no doubting that as a team that once was 7-0, finished with 10 wins, and suffered three of four losses in the final seconds, the Storm is an ArenaBowl contender. But who isn't? Expansion Chicago beat the defending champion Orlando Predators last week, and no one is bowing down to No. 1 seed Grand Rapids.
Yes, this is the season of parity, one in which a defending champ can lose to a first-year franchise and the once mighty and dynastic Storm is given as much chance to win it all as, well, that very Chicago Rush.
Hardly a ringing endorsement. But that's parity, or even better for the Storm, an opportunity to reclaim past glory and end a woeful post-season streak that has left the franchise 0-for-Tampa.
But can the Storm, which has looked intermittently heady and head-scratching this year, find its rhythm for the so-called "second-season"?
"We have to," coach Tim Marcum said. "You either find it, or you go home."
To avoid going home, then, a few things have to happen:
1. Someone has to cover someone. The Storm's secondary is the most glaring weakness on the team, and three times in the past seven games the league's offensive player of the week did his damage against Tampa Bay. Tommy Henry set records for tackles and pass breakups, but never made a truly great play all year. He has struggled so much recently that Marcum benched him in favor of Jamie Coleman and Dwight Henry, who have combined for zero interceptions. The Storm has nine interceptions, but linebackers have three of them, and two-way player Clinton Hart has three.
Indiana has Eddie Brown, the league's all-time leading receiver who has a catchy nickname: "Touchdown."
2. Sack the quarterback. A few times. Maybe hurt him in the progress. Callous? Maybe. But the Storm once was known for delivering vicious hits, and it was never a better team. Orlando, Albany and Nashville all acquired the same reputation in the years since the last Storm title, and the trio has combined for five ArenaBowl appearances and three titles the past three seasons.
3. John Kaleo has to be better than he was before a shoulder separation sidelined him. Marcum says he is better, that a sore thumb was given time to heal and Kaleo's passes have zip again. The thumb, as suspected, may have accounted for his rash of interceptions after the team's 7-0 start. Kaleo was a beaten-up, struggling quarterback when he got hurt, and the rest should have done him good. The push provided by Shane Stafford and his exceptional performances in relief can't hurt. When Kaleo is good, James Bowden is great, and when James Bowden is great, the Storm generally wins.
4. Cover someone. Yes, this bears repeating.
5. Find the magic again. Maybe there was still some left in the Thunderdome, er, the Trop when the Storm practiced there Friday. If so, was someone smart enough to bottle it and sneak it back to Tampa?
Oh, sure, the Storm pulled out some doozies in the final seconds early in the season against Nashville and Carolina. But down the stretch, those plays were absent. A missed field goal (against Arizona), a completion to the half-yard line as time expired (against Orlando) and an inability to stop a run up the middle (against Nashville) proved to be the team's undoing in losses.
6. Someone has to beat Storm's Achilles' heel, Orlando, which has beaten Tampa Bay the past three years in the playoffs. Oops, wait. That happened, didn't it?
Well, then someone has to beat favored Nashville, too. The Storm has beaten Grand Rapids, should have beaten Arizona, and is not scared of San Jose or Chicago. But Nashville's defense fits perfectly with the defenses of the past three ArenaBowl champs, and it gives the Storm fits.
7. Beat Indiana today.
SAN JOSE 68, ARIZONA 49: Mark Grieb threw eight touchdowns for the host Sabercats and the defense collected two interceptions and two key sacks.
San Jose's semifinal opponent depends on the outcome today. San Jose travels to Nashville if Grand Rapids beats Chicago. If Chicago wins, the Cats host the winner of the Storm's game against Indiana.
NASHVILLE 45, TORONTO 38: Late Friday, Andy Kelly connected with Cory Fleming for a 23-yard touchdown with one second left, lifting the No. 2-seeded Kats in Nashville.
WHAT: Arena League quarterfinals.
WHEN/WHERE: 1:30; Ice Palace, Tampa.
TV/RADIO: ESPN; WDAE-AM 620.
RECORDS: Indiana 10-5, Storm 10-4.
COACHES: Indiana -- Mike Dailey (49-27, fifth season). Storm -- Tim Marcum (136-41, 13th season).
SERIES: Tampa Bay leads 8-5 and 2-0 in the playoffs.
OUTLOOK: With a bye week to get healthy, the Storm gets back WR/LB Sir Mawn Wilson and quarterback John Kaleo. Kaleo started his career with Albany and played alongside Storm OL/DL Sylvester Bembery. Indiana (formerly Albany) struggled to get past Carolina in the first round but won 58-41 thanks to six Cobra fumbles. Indiana WR Eddie Brown is the league's all-time leader in touchdown catches, and along with teammate Greg Hopkins caught more than 100 passes this season. Much of the credit goes to the accurate Raymond Philyaw, the league's second-rated quarterback (68 touchdowns, 3 interceptions). The Firebirds are No. 3 in the Arena League in scoring (58.1), total offense (301.6 yards) and first downs (252). The Storm counters with the league's second-rated defense, allowing 43.8 ppg. Storm OS James Bowden was third this year in total yards and should benefit from Kaleo's return. As a tandem, they were one of the league's best before injuries slowed them the final four games. The Firebirds handed the Storm its worst loss last season (67-34), but Brown was retired and Mike Pawlawski was the quarterback. The Firebirds have won the past two meetings between the teams. -- Compiled by John C. Cotey.