The Return of a Legend

View From the Press Box

Joe Kauffman
Technical Editor

June 27, 1998

Editor's Note: This column was also published in the program for the game between the Orlando Predators and the Tampa Bay Storm on June 27, 1998.

This time it's different.

This time, he'll be with the other team.

Tonight, former Storm quarterback Jay Gruden is returning to Tampa Bay for the first time since retiring after the 1996 season as Arena Football's greatest quarterback and winner of four ArenaBowls. Under any other circumstances, this would be a welcome sight. Tonight, however, he returns as the head coach of the team that Storm fans love to hate: The Orlando Predators.

Gruden, in his first season as head coach of the Predators, has led the team to a 5-3 record, including a 42-40 win last week over the 1997 champion Arizona Rattlers when a Rattlers' two-point conversion attempt failed with three seconds remaining in the game. One of his three losses, however, came against the Storm in a Week 7 match-up in Orlando, when the Storm outlasted the Predators 42-34. The game was not decided until the Storm's Johnnie Harris caught his third interception of the night as time ran out.

As a coach, Gruden has accumulated a record of 15-8, including a 10-4 record as the offensive coordinator of the Nashville Kats under head coach Eddie Khayat in 1997. The Kats' ten wins were the most ever by an expansion team, and Gruden was an integral part of the success, teaching quarterback Andy Kelly and wide receiver/defensive back Cory Fleming the more subtle points of Arena Football. In fact, the Kats were 5-3 in games decided by seven points or less.

Playing for Tampa Bay from 1991-1996, Gruden became the Arena Football League's winningest quarterback. In six seasons, he was 65-17 as the Storm's starting quarterback, including 12 playoff victories in 14 tries. Gruden led the Storm to all four of their championships, defeating the Detroit Drive in 1991 and 1993, the Orlando Predators in 1995 and the Iowa Barnstormers in 1996. He was named the League MVP after the 1992 season, when the Storm compiled a 10-2 record; ironically, both losses came against the Predators, including a 24-21 loss in overtime during a semifinal game in Orlando. He also earned MVP honors in ArenaBowl VII in 1993, when he completed 18 of 32 passes for 204 yards, three touchdowns and a lone interception.

Prior to the 1998 season, Gruden held five Arena Football career passing records, including career pass completions (1,182), career passing yards (15,514), career passing touchdowns (280), most 2,000-yard passing seasons (five) and career interceptions thrown (78). He holds nearly all of the Tampa Bay Storm career passing records, too numerous to list, as well as the majority of single- season and single-game passing records. He also holds the career ArenaBowl record for most passing yards (975).

Jay Gruden has done much for Tampa Bay. He won championships for the area before the Lightning ever played a game. He led the team to four championships in six years, while the Buccaneers were still figuring out how to win games. The Devil Rays...well, the Bay area was still hoping to relocate the San Francisco Giants to St. Petersburg. With the help of many current Storm players, it was Jay Gruden who filled the seats of the then-ThunderDome with a record crowd of 28,746. In fact, the entire top ten Arena Football attendances are all held by the Tampa Bay Storm in the ThunderDome.

Gruden has earned much praise from his distinguished career in Arena Football. He deserves to be honored for his accomplishments, and will likely be inducted into the Arena Football Hall of Fame as soon as he is eligible.

To every Storm fan, he is a football hero.

But now, things are different.

Now, he is the enemy.

That's my view from the press box.

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