What's Wrong with the Tampa Bay Storm?

Sam Sez

Sam Wolfson
Contributing Editor

June 9, 1997

TAMPA, Fla. - Tampa Bay Storm fans have seen a lot of things in the 6+ seasons that the team has played in the Tampa Bay Area. They have seen four Arena Football championships. They have seen some of the best players in the history of the game including: Jay Gruden, George LaFrance, Stevie Thomas, and Sylvester Bembery. They have seen losses on bad calls by the refs. They have seen victories snacthed from the jaws of defeat on the strength of heroics by many different players. But this season, the Tampa Bay Storm has shown the fans something new. The Storm has lost 3 of 4 regular season games for the first time ever.

The 3-3 start that the Storm is off to ties for the team's worst ever with 1994. That year, the Storm fell in a hole early, losing their first two games. But, they rebounded strongly, winning six of their next seven. The season was capped off with an exciting 1 point win over the then undefeated Orlando Predators in the last game of the season, ending their arch-rival's quest to become the first undefeated team in the history of the league.

But this season has been different. For the first time in their history, the storm has a big question mark in the quarterback position. In 1994, the Storm had Gruden and knew that he was a winner, having won the championship two of the previous three years. But now Gruden is coaching in Nashville, away from the physical pounding he endured to win 4 rings. The Storm brought in former FSU star Peter Tom Willis to replace Gruden rather than try to go after an AFL veteran QB that might be available. While Willis seemed to struggle early getting used to the system, he appeared to have developed a good rythm, especially with LaFrance. The two had hooked up for 10 touchdowns in the last two games. Then, on the last play of the first quarter Saturday night, he was hit late, badly bruising his ribs. He was replaced by Dan White who looked somewhat shaky. It is unclear if Willis will be able to return for this Saturday's game against the first-place expansion team, the New Jersey Red Dogs.

The Storm didn't always have to rely on offense to get the job done in the past, though. If Gruden had a bad game, that was ok, because the Storm's defense was usually strong enough to make up for it. That has not been the case this year. In the Storm's 3 losses, the defense has failed both to pressure the quarterback and to come up with defensive stops at critical moments in the game. Look at last season's playoffs. The Storm denied both Arizona and Iowa at the goal line late in the game to preserve victories and win the Arenabowl. This year, those huge defensive stops haven't come. The Storm clearly misses one of the league's most talented defensive specialists, Johnnie Harris, who left the team for the Canadian Football League. But, perhaps even more than Harris, the team misses its pass rush. Unlike Harris, the Storm does not know where it went. In this league, even the best defensive backs will get beaten if the quarterback has enough time to through the ball. This has been the case for the most part this year as the Storm has registered only one sack.

When a team has these kind of problems, it is always a relief to see one of the league's weaker teams come into town. Unfortunately, that is not what will happen Saturday night. The Red Dogs boast a 5-1 record and might even be considered favorites against the slumping Storm. If the Storm wants to keep up with Orlando in the race for the divisional title, it must win this game. In a season of disappointing firsts, no Storm fan wants to see the first ever three game losing streak.

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