Streak Ends; Storm Must Regroup

Sam Sez

Sam Wolfson
Contributing Editor

June 29, 1996

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.- When players dumped Gatorade onto a head coach at the end of the Tampa Bay Storm's game with the Charlotte Rage, it was not Tampa Bay Storm players celebrating a record 18th consecutive victory. Rather, it was a jubilant Charlotte Rage team dousing head coach Rick Buffington after ending the Storm's league record winning streak.

In what will probably go down as one of the biggest upsets in the history of the Arena Football League, the Rage, who came into Saturday's game as 25-point underdogs, defeated the Storm 66-53.

To fully understand the magnitude of this upset, there are many factors to consider. Charlotte came into the game at 3-6, with their three wins coming against teams with a combined 2-24 record. Just last week, they allowed 88 points to Albany.

Yet the unthinkable happened. The Rage handed the Storm its second-worst home loss ever, and it came in typical AFL fashion---because of non-stop offense and bizarre plays. The Rage was stopped on their first possession, but scored every other time they touched the ball except for their clock-killing possession at the end of the game.

There were two key plays that made the difference in the game. The first came early in the second quarter. After tying the score at 14, Charlotte tried a gutsy onside kick. Cedric McKinnon had a chance to recover for the Storm, but the ball slipped through his hands. Charlotte recovered and chewed up over 8 minutes of the clock on their ensuing touchdown drive.

After the Gruden fumble, the Rage scored again to take a 14-point lead into the dressing room. Then, on the opening kickoff of the second half, the ball caromed off the net. George LaFrance couldn't handle it, and former Storm WR/LB Jeff Mayes fell on it, giving the Rage an insurmountable 21-point lead.

Lost in the shock of the upset was an outstanding performance by the Storm offense. Stevie Thomas and LaFrance both finished with 10 catches for over 100 yards each. LaFrance had three touchdowns and Thomas had four. Needless to say, it was a monster night for the man throwing the passes, Gruden, who completed 26 of 34 passes for 294 yards and seven touchdowns. In the process, he passed San Jose's Ben Bennett for the all-time AFL touchdown pass lead.

According to Storm coach Tim Marcum, it's not time to panic, but it is time to look ahead to Saturday's game with the Florida Bobcats.

"It's a matter of putting it back together and committing to stringing some more wins together. We won 17 together; we lost tonight together. Hopefully, we can play the remaining games and be the best team we can be."

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