1997 Results | Game Coverage
Who: Tampa Bay Storm at Arizona Rattlers
Kicking Off...In a matchup pitting the only two existing teams with ArenaBowl trophies, the Storm meet the Rattlers. The game will be a rematch of last year's thrilling AFL semifinal that saw Tampa Bay advance to ArenaBowl X by virtue of a 55-54 win. For the Rattlers, all of the key players from last year's 11-3 season return. That's not the case for the Storm, however, as 1997 will be Year One A.G. (After Gruden). Record-setting QB Jay Gruden called it a career last fall, and former Chicago Bear and Florida State signal-caller Peter Tom Willis will line up under center.
In the Preseason...
Tampa Bay (0-2) - Lost at Iowa 48-27, lost to Orlando 51-34.
Arizona (1-2) - lost to New York 51-29, defeated New Jersey 41-33, lost at Texas 50-36.
Rattlers to Watch...QB Sherdrick Bonner - Bonner's on-and-off Arenaball career is on again, as he returns for what will likely be his second consecutive full season since a 1994-95 stint with the Miami Dolphins. In just two seasons and parts of two others, Bonner ranks ninth in league annals in passing yardage with 6,975. 3,690 of those became last season, when he ranked second in the league in completions, attempts, yardage, completion percentage and completion percentage. Befitting an established starter, he sat on the bench for most of the preseason, going 12-for-31 for 159 yards and three touchdowns.
OS Calvin Schexnayder - In 1996, he assumed the role of offensive specialist once held by long-time Rattler Hunkie Cooper, and he stepped out of the dimunitive Cooper's lengthy shadow, catching 82 passes for 1,152 yards and 19 touchdowns. All of those figures ranked him in the top 10 among the final season statistics last year. He only caught four passes in the preseason, but averaged 25.3 yards per catch and scored three times. At 27, he enters his fourth Arenaball season entrenched as the Rattlers' primary deep threat.
WR/LB Hunkie Cooper - Cooper may have been sidelined with a foot injury and may be a step slow for Saturday's game, but there's no questioning the importance of this Rattler who has traversed all but one season of the Rattlers' history. Only once has he failed to gain 1,000 yards receiving---that was in 1994, when he missed four games thanks to a stint with the New Orleans Saints. Perhaps the best thing about Cooper is the fact that he is the prototypical AFL player in his ability to make big plays in all ways. In 1996, his first season as a two-way player, he scored 17 touchdowns receiving, 3 rushing, one on special teams and accounted for an interception, two fumble recoveries and 39 tackles on defense. Like Schexnayder, Cooper is only 27, and thanks to his conversion to a two-way player, appears to have a lot of opportunities to make catches and big plays before his AFL career is done. Combined, they give the Rattlers a one-two punch that compares favorably with the Storm's receiving duo of George LaFrance and Stevie Thomas.
Noting the Rattlers...Hunkie's Not Hunky-Dory - WR/LB Hunkie Cooper was placed on the physically unable to perform list during the preseason with a foot injury. The Rattlers recalled him to the active roster on Monday, but are expected to start rookie backup Sir Mawn Wilson in place of Cooper.
Quotable: Arizona Coach Danny White - "We are better than we were at this point last season...Our rookies and newcomers got a lot of action in the preseason. It is now time to put the first team on the field and win some games."
Tampa Bay/Arizona Connections - Arizona OL/DL Keith Browner played for the Storm from 1991-93 and for one game in 1996...Rattler defensive coordinator Doug Kay served in the same position for the Storm during their 1993 championship run...Tampa Bay QB Dan White starred at the University of Arizona...Storm offensive specialist George LaFrance lives in Arizona on a Navajo reservation during the offseason; his wife, Darlene, is a Navajo...Kicker Terry Belden is a graduate of Northern Arizona University.
Noting the Storm...Roster Moves - In need of a kicker since the departure of Bjorn Nittmo to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Storm acquired Terry Belden from Portland as the future considerations from the Storm's March trade of overcaffeinated FB/LB Ivan Caesar. Belden was 19-of-24 on extra points and 7-of-26 on field goals in 1996. He arrived in Tampa on Thursday...Lineman Willie Wyatt returned to practice this week; he was placed on the Refused to Report list on April 11...Also practicing for the first time last weekend were lineman Kent Wells and WR/DB Tracey Perkins...WR/DB Stacey Simmons was placed on the suspended list Monday; he will be out until June because of a teaching committment at Pinellas Park High School.
The Running Men - Tampa Bay sports two of the league's three all-time leading rushers. Former Cleveland Thunderbolt QB Major Harris ranks first, but FB/LBs Les Barley and Cedric McKinnon rank second and third, respectively. Barley, a member of the Storm in 1993-94, returns after spending 1995 in Connecticut and 1996 with Charlotte. His 756-yard total puts him 81 yards behind Harris. FB/LB Cedric McKinnon returns for his third consecutive season with the Storm; his career total of 726 yard s puts him 111 behind Harris. Another season like last year, when he gained 166 yards on 49 carries, would vault him past Harris.
Injury Front - WR/LB Stevie Thomas is questionable for Saturday's game with a sprained ankle. Lineman Sylvester Bembery will miss at least two games with an injury to his right hand.
Series History...Arizona and Tampa Bay have met five times since the Rattlers joined the Arena Football League. Tampa Bay has a 4-1 edge, and has a two-game winning streak in the series. The Storm is 2-1 at America West Arena, but hasn't played there since 1994.
07/11/92 - Tampa Bay 59, Arizona 28 - Highlights: Stevie Thomas scores four times from more than 25 yards out; Storm grabs 43-14 lead by early in third quarter and cruises. Box Score
06/12/93 - Tampa Bay 63, Arizona 33 - Highlight: Storm scores four touchdowns in the last 2:17 of the game---including three in the final 22 seconds---to break open a close game late. Box Score
07/30/94 - Arizona 48, Tampa Bay 21 - Highlights: The Rattlers' lone win in the series; Storm held to lowest point total in franchise history; Jay Gruden completes a franchise-record 49-yard touchdown pass to George LaFrance; Arizona reels off 34 straight points to turn a 14-14 tie into a rout. Box Score
07/27/96 - Tampa Bay 69, Arizona 48 - Highlights: Storm spots Rattlers a 31-14 second quarter advantage before scoring twice in the last minute of the half; in the last 27:45 of the game, the Storm outscored the Rattlers 34-10 in turning the game into a rout. Box Score
08/16/96 - Tampa Bay 55, Arizona 54 - Highlights: Storm stops Rattlers on two-point conversion with 11 seconds left to preserve Tampa Bay's trip to ArenaBowl X. Box Score
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