Bad Calls, Bad Calls...Sam Sez
July 19, 1996
ORLANDO, Fla. - The Tampa Bay Storm might have one of the most talented teams in Arena Football history. But Friday night, the Storm ran into a team that no amount of talent could overcome. No, we're not talking about the Orlando Predators, rather, the officials. A very questionable call gave the Predators a second chance at a two-point conversion with no time remaining, and they converted, stealing a 40-39 win from the Storm.
The controversy arose at the end of the game. Backup quarterback Brad Lebo, replacing an injured Pat O'Hara, hit Alex Shell in the end zone on the game's final play to cut the deficit to one. Orlando elected to go for two. On the attempt, Lebo pitched the ball to Barry Wagner, who faked a run, then threw an incomplete pass for Shell. But Tampa Bay 's Wayne Williams was whistled for illegal defense, giving Orlando a second chance that they cashed in. The problem was that AFL rules dictate how a defense can play runs and passes. Williams played it like a run when Wagner sprinted to the outside, but when Wagner passed the ball, it became illegal defense.
Storm coach Tim Marcum felt that because it was a fake run, Williams should be allowed to play it as such.
"Maybe I don't know the rules," Marcum said. "That's an eligible receiver in the backfield, and my guy can go cover an eligible receiver. That's what he did. The guy had the ball; it was a running play. To him, he's just got to play football. If you tell me that guy can't cover a guy on one side of the line of scrimmage or the other, then I say we have a sorry-ass sport!"
Just as crucial as the illegal defense was a call that Marcum agreed with. Storm OL/DL Kent Wells was whistled for roughing the passer early in the fourth quarter, negating a Johnnie Harris interception. Orlando ended up scoring on the drive when Pat O'Hara hit Jeff Parker for a 33-yard touchdown.
One other factor sealing the Storm's fate was the offensive performance inside the Orlando 10-yard line. Three times in the first half, the Storm had the ball inside the Predator 10, but they could only come up with one field goal for their efforts.
Storm QB Jay Gruden attributed the failures to bad play by the Storm---including two fumbled snaps---and good pressure and coverage by Orlando. But what also killed the Storm was injuries to FB/LBs Cedric McKinnon and Tony Jones. As a result, lineman Lynn Rowland was pressed into service in the backfield.
This was the third time in as many games that the Storm's fate was decided on the final play. They won the first two, and perhaps that's good enough. You can't be lucky but so often, and finally, the bad luck caught up with them. Now, the focus for the season is clear---beat Arizona, don't nap against Texas, and get ready for the real season---the playoffs.
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