1997 Results | Game Coverage
Who: New York CityHawks at Tampa Bay Storm
Kicking Off...Fresh off a passel of roster moves, the Storm attempt to stop a franchise-worst three-game losing streak when they host the expansion New York CityHawks. New York enters the game with momentum, having spanked Albany 61-42 last Saturday night to win their second in the last three games. The CityHawks are led by Lary Kuharich, who coached the Storm from 1992-94 and led the team to the ArenaBowl championship in 1993. And Did You Know That...The Storm has not scored 50 points in a game since putting up 55 in last year's playoff win over Arizona on August 16. Since, the Storm has gone eight games without scoring 50 points, the longest such streak in team history. Previously, the team had never gone more than four points without hitting the half-century mark; they were held to 38, 30, 34 and 36 points in a four-game stretch of the 1991 season before exploding for 62 against New Orleans to close the regular season on 8/2/91.
The Coaches...New York - Lary Kuharich, 2-5 in first season with the CityHawks, 33-28 in five AFL seasons.
Tampa Bay - Tim Marcum, 31-8 in three seasons with the Storm, 86-20 in nine AFL seasons.
In 1997...New York (2-5) - Lost to Orlando 50-42, lost to Nashville 42-39, lost to Milwaukee 54-46, lost to New Jersey 59-27, defeated Portland 45-27, lost to Florida 44-40, defeated Albany 62-41.
Tampa Bay (3-4) - Defeated Arizona 42-30, defeated Florida 38-19, lost to Orlando 43-17, defeated Nashville 42-26, lost to Milwaukee 51-42, lost to Albany 53-31, lost to New Jersey 44-28.
CityHawks to Watch...QB Mike Perez - Renowned from his days with the Albany Firebirds, he was traded to the CityHawks as his former team attempted to stockpile expansion draft picks in order to rebuild. However, it has been Perez's new team that has struggled like a rebuilding team, but it's not for a lack of effort and production from the second-team All-AFL quarterback last season. Perez ranks third in the league in passing yardage with 1,875 yards, third in total offense with 1,881 yards, fourth in passing touchdowns with 31 and has been the primary reason why New York's passing offense is fourth in the league. While Perez is just 1-2 in games against the Storm, he has always managed to rack up the yards---he has averaged 309 yards per game against Tampa Bay. His yardage totals have increased, too, from 280 in Albany's 71-45 win on 5/28/94 to 307 in their 56-49 loss to the Storm on 8/18/95 to 340 in a 65-52 overtime loss on 7/12/96.
WR/DB Eddie Brown - Before there was "Touchdown" Eddie Brown, the spectacular offensive specialist for the Albany Firebirds, there was "Downtown" Eddie Brown, who joined the Storm in time for the 1992 season and was a solid contributor for three seasons before injuries doomed his 1995 campaign. When he came back for the 1996 season, he saw limited action before being traded to Connecticut for future considerations on May 15 where he was reunited with Kuharich. He has become a go-to guy for the CityHawks in 1997, something he never was in Tampa Bay thanks to the presence of Stevie Thomas and George LaFrance, and has taken advantage of his elevated status, scoring 12 touchdowns so far this season, good for fourth in the AFL. Since leaving Tampa Bay he has scored 21 touchdowns in 19 games---with the Storm, he scored seven touchdowns in just over four seasons.
WR/DB/QB Connell Maynor - It's safe to say that Maynor was underutilized in his three years with the Storm; after all, New York has put him on the field at three positions, while the Storm was only able to suit him up as a quarterback in his last two seasons with the club. He only caught one pass in his Storm career---a five-yard touchdown catch in the Storm's playoff loss to Massachusetts in 1994. So far this season, he's caught 17 passes for 320 yards and seven touchdowns, and has added five tackles on defense to become a solid two-way player for the CityHawks. He broke out last week in the win over Albany, as he was named Riddell Ironman of the Game by virtue of catching six catches for 99 yards and two touchdowns. Not bad for a guy who was let go in the expansion draft---the Storm left him unprotected in last November's dispersal draft.
OS James Bowden - Another all-purpose weapon; he ranks fourth in the league in all-purpose yardage with 154.7 yards per game. Most of those have come on returns, as he has tallied 606 yards in that area. Bowden, one of the CityHawks' most surprising players, was not even on the team in the preseason.
Noting the CityHawks...Kuharich Redux - Welcome back, Lary. For the first time since he left after the 1994 season, Lary Kuharich will man the sidelines at a game involving the Tampa Bay Storm as he faces his former employers for the first time. History hasn't been too kind to Kuharich's three-year tenure in Tampa Bay. Although he compiled a 29-11 record and led the Storm to the league championship in 1993, he also led the Storm to playoff defeats in 1992 and 1994. He is the only coach in Storm history to have ever lost a playoff game.
After leaving the Storm, he coached the Scottish Claymores of the World League leading into the 1995 season. However, his abrasive style reportedly caused friction with his assistants, which included Super Bowl XXII MVP and former Tampa Bay Buccaneer QB Doug Williams, and caused Claymore management to give him the axe before the season began. In the process, he had inked former Storm kicker Arden Czyzewski and QB Jay Gruden to Claymore contracts; however, Gruden, was cut before the World League season began and returned to the Storm.
Kuharich returned to Arenaball with the Connecticut Coyotes in 1996. The good news was that he doubled the Coyotes' win output from 1995. The bad news? They still won just two games and limped to a 2-12 finish. The team showed signs of life, though, in what turned out to be its final season. Perhaps the team's most stirring game came on July 13 of last year when the 2-8 Coyotes went into Arizona to face the Rattlers, who entered with a league-best 10-1 record. In spite of the teams' record disparity, the game was tight the entire way, as neither could break ahead by more than seven points in the last three quarters. Finally, with the score tied, Sherdrick Bonner hit Herb Duncan from 29 yards out to give Arizona a 51-45 win. But this night proved to be a microcosm of a season that saw the Coyotes lose four times in the final minute, as it showcased a team long on heart but short on talent and results.
The Coyotes folded after the season but Kuharich found employment quickly in New York. The CityHawks' early results haven't been good, but as with the Coyotes in 1996, they have been plagued by close losses, as four of the CityHawks' five defeats have come by a touchdown or less.
Tampa Bay/New York Connections - As mentioned earlier, Maynor and Brown are former Storm players. So too, is WR/DB Bobby Byrd, who joined the Storm in 1992 and lasted until a 1995 trade to the Miami Hooters...OL/DL Kent Wells, traded to the CityHawks on Wednesday, was a star for the Storm in 1995 and 1996 before slipping dramatically this season...Marcum and Kuharich coached together on the staff of the USFL's San Antonio Gunslingers in 1984..CityHawks Director of Football Operations John Gutekunst was the Storm's defensive coordinator in 1992...Kuharich not only was the Storm's head coach for three seasons, but was the team's offensive coordinator in 1991.
Noting the Storm...Statistically Speaking - Tampa Bay ranks 13th in the league in scoring offense, averaging 34.1 points per game. However, the Storm's 123 first downs are good for second in the league...The Storm is second in scoring defense, allowing just 38.1 points per game...In spite of going scoreless in last week's loss to New Jersey, George LaFrance continues to rank among the league's scoring leaders; he is third in scoring with 92 points on 15 touchdowns and a two-point conversion...LaFrance also ranks second in receptions (53), fourth in receiving yardage (631) and first in total yards per game (186.3) as he positions himself to be the favorite for the All-AFL first team as offensive specialist...But among all the numbers, the most prominent and damaging has been the team's turnover margin. Thanks to three interceptions and a fumble in last week's loss to New Jersey, the Storm's turnover margin dropped to minus-12, the worst in the league. Next up from the bottom is the Florida Bobcats, whose minus-seven ratio pales by comparison.
Fighting Words - Wednesday's practice at the Ice Palace was not without incident, as lineman Sylvester Bembery and WR/LB Stevie Thomas engaged in a heated verbal exchange before trading blows during team drills. "It's not a cause for concern," Marcum. "It's just frustrated players."
Injury Front - Of course, the major story is QB Peter Tom Willis and his recovery from bruised ribs suffered in the loss at Albany on June 7 and aggravated last week against the Red Dogs. Willis will throw for the first time all week on Thursday; however, his status for Saturday night is again uncertain. He is officially listed as day-to-day, as he was last week. WR/DB Wayne Williams missed last Saturday's game with a knee injury suffered in practice on June 11, but is fully healthy and will play on Saturday. In addition, OL/DL Lynn Rowland continues to be on injured reserve with an ankle injury; he should miss one to three more weeks.
Black Monday - In what amounts to a complete overhaul, the Storm traded three linemen, received rights to three more in return, received one as the "future considerations" from an April trade and signed one from off the street. All this in a space of just over 48 hours from Monday to Wednesday. Gone are linemen Flint Fleming, Michael Kerr and Kent Wells.
Kerr was traded to Milwaukee for lineman David Wilkins, who has been on the Mustangs' exempt list all season because of his commitment to the Indianapolis Colts. Wilkins will not join the Storm, according to Marcum; all the Storm acquired were his rights. Still, that seemed like a good deal because of Kerr's ineffectiveness.
"He played six games and had zero pressures," Marcum said. "He gave up a sack and four pressures last week."
Kerr has not yet reported to Milwaukee and was placed on their Refused to Report list.
As for Fleming, he asked for a trade and got it, as the Storm sent him to Arizona for OL/DL Jim Hoffman. According to Marcum, Fleming asked to be traded to the Milwaukee Mustangs but no deal was worked out. Hoffman has been placed on the Refused to Report list as he sits at home in Arizona recovering from preseason knee surgery.
Most notable was the Storm's decision to let go of Wells. The AFL Lineman of the Year in 1996 struggled this season after reporting to camp more than two weeks late. When he finally arrived in Tampa from his home in Lincoln, Neb., he looked less like his nickname of "Big Nasty" and more like the Michelin Man as he had ballooned to approximately 60 pounds over his listed playing weight of 290. After seven games that saw him record three times as many penalties (nine) as total tackles (three), the Storm placed him on recallable waivers, then on Wednesday traded him to New York for the rights to OL/DL Roosevelt Nix. Whether Nix reports or not, Marcum feels that he can't possibly provide any less than Wells did.
"[Wells] did nothing. He was a zero," Marcum said.
After Saturday's loss, Marcum referred to the fact that some players on the team were getting paid a lot of money and not producing much. Which begged the question---was Wells one of those well-compensated players he referred to?
"Perhaps," Marcum said with a grin and arched eyebrows before laughing.
In the meantime, look for Michael Thornton and Wilky Bazile, linemen signed to the active roster in the days before the Albany game on June 7, to see more playing time in the place of the not-so-dearly departed. New lineman Tony Woods, a veteran of the Canadian Football League, was signed off Monday and will be on the active roster Saturday, Marcum said. Also, the Storm received OL/DL Gary Reid from the Portland Forest Dragons on Wednesday as the "future considerations" from an April deal that saw the Storm send the rights to lineman Brent Napierkowski, who last played for the Storm in 1992, to the Dragons.
Although the trading deadline came and went at 5 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, these moves may not be the last roster activity coming from the Ice Palace this season.
"If these guys don't help us win, then we're going to get some more guys," Marcum said.
From the Mouth of Marcum...On the Return of Maynor, Brown and Byrd - "They're going to come in and play the best game of their career. They always do. Those ex-players come in and play against you and play well."
Assessing the Storm - "We know we've gotta win the football game. We're 3-4, and to get into the final hunt, we're going to have to get ourselves together and play harder. Right now, we're not making the plays. We're not making plays down the field. We're not pass rushing. We're not doing some things that we've done before around here."
Series History...Saturday's meeting is the first in the series.
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