1997 Results | Game Coverage
Storm Hosts Fish Fry, Batters Piranhas 68-43In Brief: Tampa Bay wins thanks to old faces (Bowden, Perkins and Thomas) and new ones finding their stride (Walker, Willis).
By Andrew Mason
TAMPA, Fla. - In 1997, the Tampa Bay Storm has struggled as it never has before. With a record showing five up and five down, they spent over two months searching for an identity in a season that was not only their first in Tampa's gleaming new Ice Palace, but their first without Jay Gruden, the greatest quarterback in league history. New and old players have come and gone since the April 13 opening of training camp, victims of the Storm's poor 1997 showing relative to its proud and phenomenally successful history.
In ten games, there were flashes of success to go with occasional flameouts. Befitting a 5-5 team, they balanced each other out, creating a respectable team but also one that was no longer feared by some of the AFL's elite. Coach and general manager Tim Marcum tried everything from bringing in players from as far away as Italy to running offbeat practices, like the day in June when his charges ran nothing but goal-line situations for an hour and a half.
For over a month after the changes began in late May, they had little effect. But then Marcum, in trying to restore the glory of the Storm's past, delved back into the archives to find help. He sought out Jerald Jeffcoat, a lineman whose consistent, smart play helped bolster the Storm to last year's championship. But most importantly, he brought back Andre Bowden.
You can make a legitimate claim that Bowden is the best two-way player in Storm history. Although he only played three seasons in Tampa Bay (1991-93) before heading to the New Orleans Saints and later the New England Patriots, he remained the Storm's all-time leader in rushes, rushing yardage, rushing touchdowns and sacks.
A great AFL player with a great AFL resume, no doubt. But when he reported for his first Storm practice on July 2, the question beckoned: Could Andre Bowden readjust to Arena Football after four years playing linebacker only in the NFL and the World League?
Saturday night, he answered that question resoundingly. He tied a Storm record with four rushing touchdowns, gained 37 yards on eight carries, added a sack and recovered a fumble in leading Tampa Bay to a 68-43 runaway past Anaheim in frond of 13,542 at the Ice Palace on Saturday night.
"He's been all over the place since he got here," Marcum said one day after practice. "He hustles on every play, he hustles on kickoffs. He makes plays, and that's what we need right now."
Bowden led the brigade of old Storm hands in giving the team its second straight win and third in the last four games. Bowden is one of three players on the Storm who played on the 1991 championship team. The other two are DS Tracey Perkins and WR/LB Stevie Thomas.
For Perkins, Saturday marked the continuation of a season that has seen him be the Storm's most consistent player. He intercepted two John Kaleo passes, marking the second consecutive week he has made two picks. For Thomas, on the other hand, it was his best game in over two months. He caught four passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns. Most importantly, though, he caught a diving 38-yard pass from Peter Tom Willis on the last play of the first half that allowed the Storm to re-take the lead for good.
"They were pinning their ears down and getting a lot of pressure on me," Willis said. "Stevie just ran a great and I got him the ball."
Not all was rosy for the Storm, though.
"We just had improvement in almost every area except covering kicks," Marcum said.
Anaheim's Rodney Mazion torched the Storm on kickoff returns, running back five for 174 yards and a touchdown in the first half. After that, though, fortunes changed. Kicker Rich Fall nailed four consecutive kickoffs either into the soft net between the uprights or just below the crossbar, rendering Anaheim returners useless.
If there's one word to describe the game, it certainly will not be "bland." The teams not only combined for 109 points, the most in a Storm game since the semifinal win over Arizona last year, but they scored in all manners from seemingly all places on the field. In total, there were two safeties, a defensive touchdown on a fumble recovery, a kickoff return for a score, two field goals and five touchdowns that covered half the field or more on a single play.
But among all these occurences, one play stands out...a play ruled a fumble recovery by Storm lineman Willie Wyatt. Wyatt, who has been the team's most proficient field-goal blocker over the last three years, broke through the middle of the line on a 53-yard field goal attempt by Anaheim's Ian Howfield. The snap to holder James Guidry was good, as was his hold. The problem was that Wyatt was bearing down on Wyatt like a tsunami on a mile of Malibu oceanfront property. Guidry froze like a deer in headlights and continued to hold the ball for Howfield, who by this time had frozen himself without taking even a second step toward the ball. Wyatt dove in, scooped up the ball and lumbered down to the Anaheim two-yard-line.
"I'd never had a pick-up," a jocular Wyatt expounded after the game. "You know, that's what life's all about---firsts!" Later, the 6-2, 280-pound lineman added: "I'm glad [Guidry] didn't pick it up because I probably wouldn't have been able to catch him."
It was that kind of play that allowed the Storm to dominate proceedings. Only once did the Piranhas lead, and that lasted only for an 18 second stretch of the second quarter before Thomas's half-ending touchdown.
"If we play like we did tonight, then we are going to be a force to be reckoned with," Marcum said. "No question about it."
That force will be needed next week when the 8-3 Iowa Barnstormers come to the Ice Palace for a rematch of ArenaBowl X. Kickoff for next Saturday's game will be at 7:40 p.m. Tickets are available through TicketMaster or the Ice Palace box office. The game will be televised on ESPN2 tape delay at midnight EDT following the game. It will be the Storm's most crucial game to date, so a good crowd would go a long way toward helping the Tampa Bay cause.
Thunderclaps...Wayne's World - It truly was "party time" for Storm WR/DB Wyane Walker, who commemorated his Arena Football debut by catching three passes for 79 yards and a touchdown. Walker scored on a 25-yard catch early in the third quarter, but the play fans will remember is his first catch, a 41-yarder in the second quarter that saw him get underthrown, run back under the Willis pass to catch it, fall down, get back up, double back three yards and then finally run seven more yards forward to the Piranhas' one-yard-line. "The only way I could get to the pass was by doing a hook slide," Walker said after the game. It made for one of the most enthralling plays in Storm history and set up a one-yard touchdown run by Bowden that pushed the lead to 28-16. "He's got S-P-E-E-D," Willis said. "It's really going to help us to have a speed guy like that out there."
Sanders a Late Scratch - DS Tracy Sanders was scheduled to play in Saturday's game, but missed it due to illness and was deactivated at the last minute. New WR/DB Cornell Parker, signed on Thursday, replaced Sanders on the active roster. "I got a call two hours before kickoff and he said he had the flu and a very high fever, and that he couldn't play," Marcum said.
Stat Stuff - The Storm's 68 points were the most since a 55-point effort against Arizona on August 16 of last year...The 68 points also allowed the Storm to break the 50-point barrier for the first time since that game. The sub-50 skein covered 11 games, the longest stretch in team history. Before, the Storm had never gone more than four games without scoring 50 points...The Storm forced five Piranha turnovers while conceding only two, upping the Tampa Bay turnover ratio to minus-six on the season. That allowed the Storm to move out from last place in the league in that category. The Storm had been at the bottom of the league in turnover ratio since May...Willis' 280 yards through the air were a career-high...Perkins now leads the league with nine interceptions, which is also the Storm's single-season INT record.
Awards - The Wilson Player of the Game was Thomas. The Riddell Ironman of the game was Bowden.
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