The Roar of the Kats

The Way I See It...

By Andrew Mason
Content Editor

August 10, 1997

TAMPA, Fla. - One year ago, they didn't exist. Today, they're favored to knock off the league's defending champion and winner of four of the last six championships.

Say hello to the Nashville Kats---the new members of the AFL's elite class.

Given that they were an expansion franchise, their 3-3 start was considered solid. Included were a thrashing of San Jose, an upset win over Orlando and a surprising loss to Texas. The Kats were up and down, and in the middle of the pack---probably good enough to make the postseason but not deep enough in talent to go any farther.

Two months later, they're playing the best football in the league.

Andy Kelly
For the Kats, success begins with QB Andy Kelly. He's always been a good AFL quarterback---he had the best record in the five-year history of the Charlotte Rage and was the only signal-caller to lead the Rage to the playoffs, doing so in 1993. But he was in and out of the league, shuttling between the AFL and the World League's Rhein Fire.

Given a chance to shine, he responded, tossing a league-best 82 touchdown passes---the second-best single season total ever. His success is due to a lot of factors---in particular, great receivers like Darryl Hammond, Cory Fleming, Lonnie Turner, and for six weeks, Khevin Pratt.

But some credit must ultimately go to the coaching staff. And the man on the sidelines directing that offensive attack is former Storm quarterback Jay Gruden.

Gruden went to Nashville, and was joined by another Storm alum, lineman (1991-93) and assistant coach (1994-95) Pat Sperduto. Together, they implemented a system that looks suspciously like the Storm's, featuring roving defensive backs, frequent substitution and the old fake-one-way-and -throw-the-other that has worked so well. Just substitute names like Gruden, Bowden and Barley for Nashville's Kelly and Terrence Samuels and the results are the same.

"A lot of what they do is what we do," Storm QB Peter Tom Willis said. "In going up there, we'll be playing against ourselves, to a certain degree."

Storm coach Tim Marcum---a prominent influence on the Kats' coordinators---agreed with Willis.

"In looking at them, we're looking at ourselves," he said. "It doesn't make it easier, though, because they know something about what we're going to do, too."

Andy Kelly talking to offensive coordinator Jay Gruden
QB Andy Kelly commiserates with offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. Photo courtesy
The similarities don't stop there---in fact, they stem from the top. General Manager Billy McGehee was the Storm's Director of Marketing and Sponsorships from 1993-95. The Kats' off-the-field success---which, with attendance averaging 12,283 per contest, has been as good as what transpires on the field---is reflective of McGehee's influence. He made a move for more fans by reducing the Nashville Arena's cheapest seats to $5 per game for next season. Such a move isn't surprising, though. McGehee was one of the minds behind the Storm's heavy promotion of cheap $5 to $7 seats in the upper reaches of the ThunderDome. He realizes that filled seats of fans spending money are better than empty ones.

The Kats are, in many ways, like the Storm of a few years ago. They're young, a bit naive on the field, but full of heart from top to bottom, from their front office to midfield. While success on and off the field can depend often on circumstances that change on a whim, the Kats have a great foundation set up, thanks to the Storm alumni there. While Storm fans will be pulling for their team tonight, it would be hard not to root for the Kats should Tampa Bay's AFL heroes fall.

And that's the way I see it.

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