The Rivalry's a Rout, but Storm Must Avoid ComplacencyThe Way I See It...
By Andrew Mason
May 18, 1996
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - For the first four years of their histories, the Orlando Predators had the better of their close neighbors, the Tampa Bay Storm. Sure, the Storm had two championships in that time, taking the ArenaBowls in 1991 and 1993, but the Preds were always the tormentors, a veritable cockroach in an otherwise spotless house of success.
Six of the first nine games in the series were won by Orlando, right on through to a 61-40 trampling of the Storm on July 1, 1994. Truly, the dominant team in head-to-head competition was the title-less Predators.
It wasn't until the final game of the Storm's 1994 season---the worst in the team's history---that the tide began to turn. Remember that game? The Preds came into the game strutting with an 11-0 mark. The 5,000 or so bikers in black that made the trek southwest on I-4 came armed not with verbal barbs, but with champagne.
When the evening ended, nobody was unbeaten. The Storm may have been knocked out in the playoffs one week later, but by upsetting Orlando 40-39, they had salvaged some pride out of the season.
What's happened since? A lot that Orlando fans want to forget, and just as much that Storm fans want to remember.
The Storm hasn't lost to the rivals since that 61-40 debacle. In fact, the margin of victory in the last four games of the series has averaged out to just under 19 points, with the Predators coming no closer than 48-35 in ArenaBowl IX last September.
The series margin has turned from a 6-3 deficit to an 8-6 advantage. In that time, Orlando has started three different quarterbacks against the Storm---Ben Bennett, current incumbent Pat O'Hara and fourth-stringer Darin Hinshaw----and has seen stars galore go down with injuries, especially in the second half of last season and the first five weeks of the current campaign.
Which is why---as peachy as things may seem in the Storm's grove---there's no reason in the world to ever take Orlando lightly. After all, the Predators went into Saturday's game with...
...no Alex Shell;
...no Flint Fleming;
...and most importantly, no Barry Wagner, who could be out for two months with a broken leg suffered in the Preds' win over the Florida Bobcats last week.
If all of them are back on July 19---when the Storm and Orlando collide in the O-Rena---there's no doubt the game will be extremely competitive, like the games of 1992 and 1993, when four of the six matches were decided by a touchdown or less.
So enjoy this rout, Storm fans. But beware. The animal in our backyard is staggering, but it will be back, looking to leave the Astroturf stained with Storm blood.
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