Welcome Back!

The Way I See It...

By Andrew Mason
Content Editor

May 7, 1997

TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. - From the home office---literally, because it is an office in the back of my house---I welcome you to the Storm Shelter and my weekly column about all things Storm and Arena Football. Some of you checking on this site might remember that I wrote such commentaries sporadically last summer. For that matter, you might remember that everything posted on this site was sporadic. No longer will that be the case. In the following paragraphs, I will explain why things got messed up, why this site wasn't what it could have been, and why it will be what I hope it can be this summer. That also involves explaining some events in my life in the last few months; I hope you read on and understand.

Arena Football deserves the utmost coverage it can get in any medium, be it print, broadcast or via modem. Last summer, I thought we could deliver the best coverage of any Arena Football League team in any medium. For a while, we pulled it off. But the page never hit my expectations. Maybe I just didn't have the time; maybe I didn't have the drive; maybe I was just wallowing in depression. How little I knew. Things seemed fine at the time for me---I just thought my lack of productivity at times stemmed from a slight case of laziness.

So let me warn you---while this column has a solid Storm and AFL thread to it, it's not about football, rather, it's about me and an attempt to try and explain why this site got off the track in the offseason, why I didn't respond to any e-mails wondering when the site would be updated.

The offseason brought about changes in the Arena Football League. Four teams are out; three are in; and one relocated. A new commissioner sits atop the league, and the league headquarters itself sit not in Fort Lauderdale, but outside of Chicago. Here in Tampa Bay, legendary quarterback Jay Gruden retired; kicker Jorge Cimadevilla and lineman Joe March were dispatched to Nashville in the expansion draft; the Storm's offices in St. Petersburg were demolished to make way for ThunderDome (now Tropicana Field) renovations; the team moved its headquarters to the Ice Palace in Tampa and practices to Tampa Prep.

As tumultuous as the offseason was for the team and the sport, frankly, I can top that. In September, I was back at the University of Missouri. By October, as it turned out, I was truly becoming depressed, though I didn't realize it until February. I managed to lie to my parents; to feign my academic performance, to deny that I had been suspended from school for a semester because my grades were so low. I sat in my dorm room, ignoring all calls from parents and friends, shut off from the world except to go downstairs to get a bite to eat. I was suffering from depression. I was doing things that I had never done before; I did things that I would not do today. What still baffles me is what my illness made me do. It made me stab my parents and friends in the back. I lied to each and every one of them. For a while it was too much for me, and I contemplated suicide, going so far as to sit astride a ledge on the eighth floor of my dorm building, one leg hanging over the side, the other hanging on to the balcony. One foot in life, one foot in death. Thank God that I didn't jump, that I came to my senses. Though what I did was out of mental sickness, and it was done at a time when I was not myself, it still pains me to think that I could do that to people who love me. Yet nearly all of those people are still here, still in my life.

So let me make a few acknowledgements here. (If you were bored by Cuba Gooding, Jr., giving thanks to everyone in his life during the Academy Awards, then I recommend that you move ahead a paragraph.) In no particular order, here we go...first, to technical editor Joe Kauffman, for giving me the impetus to get this site rolling again into the best it can be. Second, to Storm media relations director Chris Lahey, a terrific fellow who has been of tremendous service over the last year or so. Chris is the kind of person who doesn't ask merely for what you want---he asks what he can do to help you out. Third, to my parents for not giving up on me when times got rough in my life, and for at least trying to understand what kinds of effects depression can have on a person, and how it can make someone do or say things that he doesn't mean. And lastly, to my friends and girlfriend who stuck by me. I will never understand why you didn't just say, "To hell with you," because of all the deceit, mood swings and empty promises I piled up over the nearly eight months of offseason. But who am I to turn down loyal friends? I promise you, if similar trouble ever arises again, I will not hesitate to ask for your help. I will not try and get through on my own ever again.

For a while after I finally left school, I didn't do very much. Living in my dad's apartment, I took long walks around St. Louis trying to figure things out. When I came back here to Tarpon Springs, I would take long bike rides every day through the northern Pinellas County countryside wondering where I might be going, and what the heck went on. It took over two months after I left school for me to make the decision to go back to college---this time here in my hometown, at the University of South Florida. And it wasn't until Joe Kauffman, the technical editor of this site, came back from Florida State, not more than a couple of weeks ago, that I finally decided to get back and do this site. It was as if Joe reminded me of what I loved in life, what I loved to do, and what I still want to do in life---work in sports. There's no time like the present to make your voice heard and your presence felt. Within 24 hours, we were at his house, each of us on a computer, culling files from all sources to rebuild this site on its new server. It's only been 12 days, but I think we're quite proud of what we've already accomplished, and what lies ahead in the future.

As REO Speedwagon---the band behind "Ridin' the Storm Out," our team's unofficial fight song---once sang, "They say it's darkest right before the dawn, but, oh, those darkest hours can be so long." The dark days of my life in the past months seemed like an eternity to me. It's been a tumultuous offseason for the Storm, but the team's experiences had nothing on my own. Fortunately, the worst appears to be over---the proverbial dawn that REO sang of is on the horizon, if not already here. No longer do I sit and wallow. I will not go as far to call myself cured of this depression---frankly, one never truly gets cured. It is something I will live with 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for as long as I live. I will always have to deal with the fact that my illness, and my actions as a result, hurt a great many people, especially the people who cared most about me---my friends and my parents.

But while I can't forget the past, I refuse to dwell on it. What I carry from the past into my work on this Storm site is positive. That being the fact that I have grown to love this team from the first day they stepped onto the carpet of the then-Florida Suncoast Dome, on June 1, 1991. The Storm lost that night, but the game and the team won my heart. While my seat in the press box requires that I be openly neutral, deep down in my heart, I will always be that 14-year-old kid, wide-eyed at a new game, cheering wildly for local heroes, living and dying from week to week with the Storm. Like life itself, following the Storm has been a roller coaster ride, with a lot of ups and a few downs along the way.

So I apologize for not updating this page in the offseason. Everything we've done in the last two weeks, I originally intended to do in the offseason. But depression knocked me off the track. Finally, I am back on, and excited to get going again. To think that I considered ending this life of mine! How could I have even considered that? Just think what I would have missed! Things like a great win by the Storm last Saturday, a beautiful day like today when I can look out my office window and see a glistening pond surrounded by swaying palm trees, and the everyday chances to talk with my friends, parents, relatives, and everyone I come across. It's things like that which make our lives so precious and so special. I had to learn about it the hard way, but at least now I know. And that much, I will never forget.

As always, e-mails, comments, criticisms, whatever, are welcome. And I promise to respond to them this time.

And that's the way I see it.

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