1997 Results | Game Coverage
Who: Tampa Bay Storm at Albany Firebirds
Kicking Off...Someone's struggles will stop on Saturday when the Firebirds, losers of three straight, host the Storm, who have lost two of their last three games. It'll be a tough task for Tampa Bay, as they haven't won in Albany since 1993 and will come in without the services of standout defensive specialist Johnnie Harris, who left the Storm to report for training camp with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. And did you know that...The Storm has endured just three two-game losing streaks in team history, and two of them include losses to the Firebirds in Albany.
The Coaches...Tampa Bay - Tim Marcum, 31-6 in three seasons with the Storm, 86-18 in nine AFL seasons.
Albany - Mike Dailey, 2-3 record in first season with the Firebirds, 2-3 in first AFL season.
In 1997...Tampa Bay (3-2) - Defeated Arizona 42-30, defeated Florida 38-19, lost to Orlando 43-17, defeated Nashville 42-26, lost to Milwaukee 51-42.
Albany (2-3) - Defeated Florida 45-26, defeated Milwaukee 34-23, lost to San Jose 41-37, lost to Iowa 68-57, lost to New Jersey 53-52 (overtime).
Firebirds to Watch...QB Mike Pawlawski - Yet another in the litany of former Tampa Bay Buccaneer quarterbacks still playing in the professional ranks, Pawlawski got a shot as the starter going into the season for the first time in his career when the Firebirds traded Mike Perez to the New York CityHawks in the offseason. He didn't come into 1997 without substantial AFL experience, as he completed 66 of 133 passes for 674 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions in occasional starting duty with the Miami Hooters in 1995. But those numbers were hardly eye-popping, and his 1997 numbers as Perez's replacement are good but not great, putting him in the middle of the pack in all categories but interceptions---in which he is second with nine behind Tampa Bay's Peter Tom Willis. Pawlawski passed for 306 yards on 35-of-45 passing last week, but also threw three interceptions. Still, with the 'Birds offense averaging a healthy 54.5 points per game over the last two weeks, it appears Pawlawski may finally be finding his wings.
FB/LB Chad Dukes - Ordinarily, running hasn't been the Firebirds' strong suit. It's gotten better, though, thanks mainly to Dukes, who is second in the league with 21.8 yards rushing per game. Dukes has gained 109 yards on 18 carries and has scored seven touchdowns. Considering that he only gained 75 yards and scored six touchdowns as the Firebirds' main FB/LB all of last season, his improvement is quite evident. Dukes also has a touchdown on the receiving end, as he scored in the Firebirds' opening night win at Florida. His eight total touchdowns lead the team---one ahead of Eddie Brown, the man most would expect to lead the 'Birds in that category.
OS Eddie Brown - Last year's AFL MVP continues to dazzle, leading the league with 51 catches in five games, an average of 10.2 grabs per game. His 521 yards are second in the league, but still good for an average of 104.8 per contest. However, he got off to a slow start in the scoring department. After scoring 51 touchdowns via various methods last season, he went scoreless in the first two games of 1997, both Firebird wins. Ironically, as Brown began to find the end zone, the Firebirds crashed, losing three in a row despite his eight touchdowns over that period. Brown has accounted for some good games against the Storm, but none are better than his 11-catch, 153-yard, five-touchdown performance in the 'Birds' 71-45 win over Tampa Bay in 1994.
DS Derek Stingley - The son of former New England Patriot All-Pro receiver Darryl Stingley, he is the ringleader of a revitalized defensive unit. Stingley leads the defense in tackles with 20 and assists with 5. He also has three interceptions for 34 yards in returns and five passes defensed. Not bad for a guy playing his first season of professional football. Stingley was on the Firebirds' roster in 1996 but spent the year on injured reserve with a hand injury.
Noting the Firebirds...Changes - It would be hard to find a team more active in this past offseason than Albany. The Birds acquired three picks in the expansion draft from New York in exchange for Mike Perez, and used them to draft WR/LB Michael Baker and lineman Joe Jacobs, while trading the other to Florida for FB/LB Ernest Allen. They also lost coach Mike Hohensee to Anaheim, promoting offensive coordinator Mike Dailey to the head job. In a stunning move, the team let go of long-time WR/LB Fred Gayles in the expansion draft, as he was picked by New York. And to top it off, the team changed its logo for the second time in three years, going to a sneering bird logo named Spike.
Tampa Bay/Albany Connections - Pawlawski served two years as backup for the Buccaneers in 1992 and 1993 after being picked in the ninth round of the 1992 NFL Draft...Storm OL/DL Sylvester Bembery spent four years with Albany (1990-93), where he was named to the All-AFL team three times.
Noting the Storm...Just Five Yards from History - Needing just ten yards to break the league's all-time rushing record, FB/LB Les Barley saw the ball disappear, as he only had two carries in last week's loss to Milwaukee. He did manage to gain five yards, though, meaning he has 833 yards rushing his career. Five yards against Albany will give him the record.
Statistically Speaking - Tampa Bay ranks second in scoring defense, giving up 34.0 points per game, and second in total defense, allowing 208.8 yards per game. Orlando ranks ahead of the Storm in both categories...Offensively, Tampa Bay is 12th in scoring offense, putting up just 36.0 points per outing, and is ninth in total offense, averaging 248.2 yards per contest. However, the Storm is second in first downs with 89...The Storm is second in the league with 51 penalties---first is Albany, with 54...LaFrance is second in the league in scoring with 74 points, is second in touchdowns with 12, ranks third in receptions (37) and sixth in receiving yardage (452)...Tracey Perkins' three interceptions are good for fourth in the league...Peter Tom Willis' pass efficiency rating of 133.6 is 11th in the league.
Riding Shotgun - Wednesday's practice saw the Storm lined up in the shotgun for the first time in recent memory. Although Milwaukee, Orlando, Nashville and Florida used the shotgun formation on occasion, Storm quarterback Peter Tom Willis has taken all the snaps from directly under center. But don't expect to see it against the Firebirds. "It's something new we're going to work on for a couple of weeks," Marcum said. "We're not going to use it this week."
Injury Front - OL/DL Lynn Rowland will be out three to five more weeks with an ankle injury. Lineman Terry Beauford sat out practice on Wednesday due to a right knee injury in last week's loss to Milwaukee; he will be undergoing an MRI on Thursday. However, he insisted that he was going to play. Defensive specialist Tracey Perkins sat out the last half of practice on Wednesday after pulling his hamstring during individual drills. WR/DB Antoine Worthman also missed the last half of practice on Wednesday with a sore ankle.
From the Mouth of Marcum...On the Firebirds' Home Field Advantage - "They get that crowd going really loud up there. I would say that they are probably seven points better at home than they are on the road."
On Albany - "All they do is just score just about every time they have the football, so it's going to be a high-scoring game, as all of the games with Albany have been."
Assessing the Storm after Five Weeks - "I think we've got the right people. This is basically the same football team we've had for the last two years. We're learning, we've got a new quarterback and we're trying to get on the same page with P.T. [Willis]. It's gonna happen. The only thing I'm disappointed in is our pass rush. In the two games we've lost, we haven't dominated the line of scrimmage like we normally do. That will improve, I think it will get better as we get in shape."
Series History...Other than Orlando, there's no AFL team that the Storm is more familiar with than the Firebirds. The teams have met at least once a year since the Storm started play in 1991. Tampa Bay has won the first five games of the series and the last two to lead the series 7-2, including a 2-0 mark in the playoffs. Twice, Albany seasons have ended with playoff losses to the Storm. But it's not just the losses, but they way they have happened. On three occasions, the Storm has come from behind to either force overtime or win outright with a touchdown in the last 35 seconds of the game.
06/29/91 - Tampa Bay 57, Albany 53 - In the 1993 edition of ArenaBall magazine, the editors selected this game as the greatest game in the first six seasons of Arena Football. It's since been passed by other games in the last few years, but this still ranks as one of the most exciting games ever played. The game featured ten lead changes, and it was the last one that mattered most, coming when Tampa Bay backup quarterback Chip Ferguson hit Tracey Perkins from 27 yards out to give the Storm a 57-53 lead with 34 seconds left. Ferguson entered the game late in the third quarter after Jay Gruden's third interception of the game was returned 25 yards for a touchdown by Tony Slaton. The pick gave Albany its biggest lead of the night at 47-36 going into the fourth quarter. Gruden would get the starting job back one week later at Detroit, but on this night, Ferguson caught lightning in a bottle. He completed seven of eight passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns, and led the Storm to touchdowns on all three of the drives he was in. The fans chanted his first name and did the tomahawk chop in reference to his days at Florida State. Lost in all the excitement was a franchise-record 122 yards on the ground by the Storm. Pacing the assault was FB/LB Andre Bowden, who averaged 9.0 yards per carry to gain 72 yards and score three touchdowns as he was named the game's Ironman.
07/18/92 - Tampa Bay 62, Albany 42 - In front of a national TV audience on ESPN, Jay Gruden set two franchise records, completing 84 percent of his passes (21-for-25) for eight touchdowns as the Storm spanked the Firebirds. The Storm averaged 8.0 yards per play, gaining 319 yards on 40 snaps. Gruden passed for 305 yards, 155 of those to Stevie Thomas, who caught eight passes---four for touchdowns. Albany's Fred Gayles also shone on the receiving end, catching 11 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns. Gruden got started early, hitting Thomas on the second play of the game for a 32-yard touchdown. Albany tied the score three plays later on a 26-yard pass from Tom Porras to Merv Mosley, but the Storm countered with another Gruden-to-Thomas strike three plays later to gain the lead for good. Tampa Bay didn't finally break away until the fourth quarter, when the Storm outscored Albany 20-7 to pull away in front of 22,464 at the Suncoast Dome.
06/26/93 - Tampa Bay 36, Albany 33 - The Storm made its first trip to Albany, and managed to keep up their end of an offensive shootout in the first half, responding to every Firebird score with one of their own. Tampa Bay didn't finally grab the lead until Thomas grabbed a 27 yard pass from Gruden with 1:00 left to put the Storm ahead 30-26 going into the locker room. The first quarter was particularly wild, beginning with a successful onside kick by Albany's Chris Drennan and ending with each team scoring on all three of their possessions. The second half was dominated by defense, as the teams combined for just 13 points, all of which came in the third quarter. In the final period, Albany had three chances to take the lead but never gained a first down. Needing only a field goal to tie, the Firebirds could get no closer than their own 17-yard-line, and Drennan missed field goals from 48, 52 and 60 yards, ensuring a Storm victory.
07/24/94 - Tampa Bay 48, Albany 26 - It was Fan Appreciation Night for the Storm, which meant that fans could mill about on the field until an hour before kickoff. It was a good night for me personally, as I collected autographs of Gruden, Thomas, defensive specialist Rawland Crawford, Firebirds WR/LB Fred Gayles, Firebirds QB John Kaleo, Lightning players Shawn Chambers and John Tucker and LB Demetrius DuBose. But enough about that. Tampa Bay took a 14-0 lead to start the game on touchdown runs by Andre Bowden and Bobby Byrd. The lead swelled to 21-3 and 28-10 late in the second quarter before the Firebirds mounted a rally, scoring 16 unanswered points to pull with 28-26 with 14:15 left in the game. But the Firebirds would draw no closer. Bowden scored his third rushing touchdown of the game to push the lead to 35-26 with 9:52 left. Three plays later, defensive specialist Corey Dowden scored on a 24-yard interception return. Another defensive score---this time on a fumble return by Bowden---closed out the scoring. Gruden passed for 204 yards but had only one touchdown, thanks to the short-yardage efforts of Bowden and Byrd. Kaleo struggled, completing 23 of 48 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown, but had three interceptions.
08/06/93 - Tampa Bay 48, Albany 34 - The Storm entered the playoffs as the No. 3 seed and needing a win to meet owner Bob Gries' guarantee of a 10-win season. A loss would have meant a 20 percent refund for all season ticket holders. There was no refund, but fans were happy anyway as the Storm thumped the Firebirds for the second time in three weeks in front of a then-playoff record crowd of 21,111. Albany's Chris Drennan hit a 50-yard field goal to begin the scoring, but Tampa Bay's Les Barley responded with an eight-yard touchdown run to give the Storm a lead they would never relinquish. Two unanswered 36-yard touchdown passes from Jay Gruden to Stevie Thomas in the second and third quarters pushed the Storm's advantage to 21 points at 34-13, and the teams traded touchdowns from that point as Tampa Bay cruised to its first playoff win en route to its second ArenaBowl championship. Box Score
05/28/94 - Albany 71, Tampa Bay 45 - The Storm got off to an 0-2 start, losing at Albany in the team's worst loss at the time. The 71 points scored by the Firebirds remain the most ever allowed by Tampa Bay. Albany never allowed the Storm to get into the game, taking a 26-7 lead into the second quarter. Tampa Bay managed to score two straight touchdowns after that to narrow the gap to five points, but it proved to be just a tease. The Storm never pulled closer than 12 points after the half, although the teams exchanged scores, giving Tampa Bay some semblance of hope early in the fourth quarter, as they trailed 50-37. Then, Albany put the game away, scoring two straight touchdowns, and the runaway was complete. The game was the coming-out party for Albany's Eddie Brown, who entered an unknown and left a star after catching 11 of Mike Perez's passes for 153 yards and five touchdowns. The loss was the second in a row for the Storm, giving Tampa Bay its first-ever multiple-game losing streak. Box Score
06/17/95 - Albany 42, Tampa Bay 36 -Tampa Bay lost its second straight to the Firebirds and its first of 1995, blowing an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter in the process. Tampa Bay fell behind 21-6 at the end of the first quarter as Eddie Brown caught three passes for 94 yards and two touchdowns in the period. However, Brown went down with an injury early in the second quarter and did not return. His absence helped the Storm claw back into the game, as the Storm outscored the Firebirds 30-7 over the second and third quarters to take a 36-28 lead into the final period. Albany scored twice on two Mike Perez touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, then held on as ad Jay Gruden pass was intercepted in the end zone in the final minute. Stevie Thomas led the Storm with 11 catches for 158 yards and three touchdowns in the losing effort. Box Score
08/17/95 - Tampa Bay 56, Albany 49 - In the series history, this is the game. The Firebirds were the No. 7 seed in the playoffs, but didn't play like it in the first round, rallying from a 31-7 halftime deficit to stun the No. 2 St. Louis Stampede 51-49 to set up a semifinal matchup with the Storm. The teams exchanged scores until late in the second quarter, when George LaFrance caught the first of three unanswered Storm touchdown passes. As they did against the Stampede, the Firebirds spotted the Storm a sizable amount, and entered the final period trailing 42-23. But in the final quarter, the Firebirds were unstoppable. QB Mike Perez passed for four touchdowns on four consecutive possessions while the Storm could only manage two Jorge Cimadevilla field goals. Finally, with 15 seconds left, Perez hit former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Willie Culpepper from 27 yards out to give Albany its first lead since midway through the second quarter, at 49-48. Then came what will forever be known to Storm fans as the play. Trey Weir's kickoff hit off the rebound nets and was muffed by LaFrance. The ball bounced loose in the corner of the end zone, and there was a wild scramble involving six members of the Storm. Somehow, Stevie Thomas emerged from the pile, and sidestepped seven Albany cover men, all of whom fell on top of each other like bowling pins. Thomas crossed the Storm's goal line and nothing in front of him but Weir and three blockers. As the fans in the stands went bananas jumping up and down, Thomas ran across the field, eluded Weir's futile attempt at a tackle and scored on a breathtaking 54-yard kickoff return that gave the Storm the lead. A two point conversion pass to Thomas from Gruden accounted for the game's final margin. Box Score
07/12/96 - Tampa Bay 65, Albany 52 (OT) - As if Stevie Thomas hadn't caused the Firebirds enough heartache, he did it again as the Storm won in overtime for the first time in team history. With Tampa Bay trailing 52-45, Thomas forced overtime when he got open on 4th-and-goal from the 14-yard-line and caught a pass in the front of the end zone with six seconds left. Jorge Cimadevilla's extra point tied the game at 52. The Storm nearly averted overtime, but just missed on a sack of Mike Perez that would have provided a safety and the winning points. In overtime, the Storm again faced a fourth-and-goal, this time from the 10-yard-line. Again, Jay Gruden went back to pass, and again, he found Thomas, this time in the left corner of the end zone for a seven-point lead. Befitting AFL rules, Albany got one possession, but it didn't last long, as Lawrence Samuels stepped in front of Mike Perez's pass and returned it seven yards for a touchdown to end the game. Box Score
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