1998 Results | Game Coverage
Who: Orlando Predators at Tampa Bay Storm
Kicking Off...For the 20th time, the Storm and Predators renew their rivalry. However, this game brings with it some unusual circumstances. The winner not only gets offseason bragging rights, but the ArenaBowl trophy. This is the second time the teams have met in the ArenaBowl; in ArenaBowl IX on Sep. 1, 1995, the Storm defeated the Predators 48-35 at the then-ThunderDome to win its third Arena Football world championship. Orlando made it to Sunday's game as the No. 4 seed in the postseason, posting a home win over Nashville two weeks ago by a 58-43 count and pulling off an upset win last weekend at Arizona, 38-33. The Predators are playing in their fourth ArenaBowl in the last seven seasons. Tampa Bay made it to today's clash with two decisive wins, over San Jose 65-46 in the first round and, one week later, over the New Jersey Red Dogs by a 49-23 score that was not reflective of how close the game actually was. But whatever the margin of victory, the end result was that the Storm will host its second ArenaBowl in the last four seasons, and its first since that win over Orlando at the close of the 1995 season.
Sunday's Officials...Referee: William McCabe (48). Umpire: Carl Paganelli, Jr. (12). Head Linesman: John Parry (37). Line Judge: David Chesney (23). Back Judge: Jim Anderson (18). Alternate: Buddy Ward (27).
The Coaches...Orlando - Jay Gruden, 11-5 in one season with the Predators, 11-5 in one AFL season.
Tampa Bay - Tim Marcum, 51-13 in four seasons with the Storm, 106-25 in nine AFL seasons.
In 1997...Orlando (11-5) - Defeated Grand Rapids 42-27, defeated Milwaukee 54-44, defeated Iowa 28-6, lost to Nashville 62-48, defeated New York 43-41, lost to New Jersey 60-49, lost to Tampa Bay 42-34, defeated Arizona 42-40, lost to Tampa Bay 56-30, defeated Florida 53-44, defeated Nashville 37-22, defeated Portland 68-44, lost to Albany 79-70, defeated Florida 59-52, defeated Nashville 58-43, defeated Arizona 38-33.
Tampa Bay (14-2) - Defeated San Jose 45-23, lost to Nashville 54-52, defeated Houston 56-25, defeated Florida 44-29, defeated New Jersey 81-42, defeated New York 65-33, defeated Orlando 42-34, defeated Albany 63-42, defeated Orlando 56-30, defeated Houston 62-46, defeated Florida 59-18, lost to Nashville 49-43, defeated Iowa 71-44, defeated Grand Rapids 55-44, defeated San Jose 65-46, defeated New Jersey 49-23.
Predators to Watch...WR/DB Barry Wagner - Tampa Bay has been the only team to muffle Wagner lately. In two games this season Johnnie Harris led a Storm defensive effort that limited Wagner to just four catches for 36 yards. On July 19, 1996---in Harris' first game against the Preds, Wagner caught just three passes for 29 yards and no touchdowns as he never managed to break open.
But when Wagner faced the Storm on May 17 of last year---his first and only game in the Ice Palace---Harris had a pulled groin, and Wagner was simply unstoppable. He scored five touchdowns, including four on passes from Scott Semptimphelter. However, the most damaging score of all came on the first play from scrimmage, when he stepped in front of a Peter Tom Willis pass and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown. He personally accounted for 115 of Orlando's 178 offensive yards in the win.
DS Kenny McEntyre - In Friday's press conference, Gruden pointed to McEntyre as one of the biggest reasons behind the Preds' playoff success. After enduring a rough night in his Arena Football debut against Florida on July 31, he has rebounded to shut down Nashville's Cory Fleming and Arizona's Calvin Schexnayder in recent weeks. McEntyre led the Predators in tackles last week with seven, and also broke up two passes.
Noting the Preds...No Matter What, He's Still the Ironman - For the first time in his career, WR/DB Barry Wagner did not qualify for either the All-Arena Football League first team or second team. The wide receiver/defensive backs selected ahead of him were Alvin Ashley of New Jersey, Rodney Blackshear of Houston, Brian Greene of Portland and Carlos James of Iowa .But don't let the lack of honors for the Ironman fool you. This season, he tallied 2,564 all- purpose yards---the third-highest total in Arena Football League history. He also caught 78 passes for 1,137 yards, scored 33 touchdowns and notched 64 total tackles. In addition, last week at Arizona, he accounted for the winning points, scoring on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Pat O'Hara with six seconds left in the game. "Everyone knows I'm the best," a modest Wagner said on Friday.
Something's Got to Give - While Marcum's 6-2 record coaching in ArenaBowls is fornidable, at a .750 clip, it pales in comparison to the 1.000 ratio posted by Gruden in his four ArenaBowls as a Storm quarterback. All the while, the former Storm QB Gruden has trepidations about facing the Storm and his former coach. "We're definitely going to have our work cut out for us," he said early this week. "This Tampa Bay team may be one of the greatest of all time. They have talent and depth at every position and have steamrolled practically every opponent they've played this season...I'm not sure if it's possible, but we have to find a way to slow them down."
Perhaps in slowing them down, Gruden can milk the clock. Repeatedly against Arizona last week, the Predators let the play clock fall to within five seconds of expiring before getting their snap off. A similar strategy could bring time of possession---a stat that rarely holds any significance in Arena Football---into play.
Noting the Storm...In the Spotlight - Sunday's game is being broadcast nationwide on ABC's Wide World of Sports. This is the first time a broadcast network has ever shown an Arena Football game, and will likely bring with it the largest television audience to ever witness Arenaball. Former NFLers Mike Adamle and Mike Golic, who have been calling the action on ESPN and ESPN2-televised games this year, will step up to the broadcast network to offer commentary on today's contest.
Fast Facts - In leading Orlando to the championship game, Jay Gruden became the first coach to take his team to the title game in his first season since Storm coach Fran Curci in 1991. Curci led the Storm to a 48-42 win over the Marcum-coached Detroit Drive in front of 20,357 at the Joe Louis Arena...Tampa Bay has yet to lose a postseason home game in franchise history; the Storm is 10-0 over the years in the then-ThunderDome and Ice Palace...Score 49 points on the Storm and you're bound to win. The Nashville Kats put up 54 and 49 points on the Storm in their two wins. In all other games, Tampa Bay never allowed more than 46 points, with that total coming from Houston on July 2 and San Jose in the first-round playoff game two weekends ago (August 8)...Before last week, Tampa Bay was in something of a defensive slump. The Storm had allowed 45.8 points per game in its previous four games after yielding just 34.2 points in its first eleven. However, last week, the Storm turned in their best postseason defensive performance in two years, limiting New Jersey to 23 points. That total was 43 fewer than the Red Dogs placed on Albany in their first-round upset win...Orlando is the first No. 4 seed to ever make the ArenaBowl...No top seed has ever failed to make the ArenaBowl. However, when there, the results have often been diastrous. No. 1 seeds are 4-7 in the championship game. From 1991 to 1994, the top seed lost each ArenaBowl, a stretch that included two Storm wins (1991 and 1993) and two Predator home losses (1992 and 1994). However, the home teams have won two of the last three, including the Storm's 48-35 win over the Predators in 1995...Even with their two playoff wins factored in, Orlando is just 4-5 against postseason teams this year. The Storm, meanwhile, is 9-2...Orlando's largest margin of victory this season was 22, coming on May 15 against Iowa (28-6). By comparison, the Storm has had seven wins by more than 22 points, including a Week Nine win at Orlando's expense (56-30)...With an 11-5 record entering today's championship game, Orlando is the worst team in terms of winning percentage to make the title game since the Preds qualified with a 9-5 record in 1995...The Preds-Storm series tends to run in streaks. Tampa Bay won five in a row from 1994-96, then Orlando struck back with three in a row from 1996-97. Tampa Bay got back on the successful side with a two-game winning streak this season. Currently, the series stands at 10-9, in favor of the Storm. Included in that ledger is the Storm's 2-1 edge on Orlando in the postseason...The last three ArenaBowl winners ended the season with two losses. Tampa Bay finished 13-2 in 1995 and 15-2 in 1996, and Arizona went 15-2 in 1997. The Storm enters today's game with a chance to extend that streak; the team has just two losses in 1998...No team has beaten another three times in a season since the Storm knocked out Orlando three times in 1995. However, when preseason is factored in, the Storm has a chance for a remarkable single-season four-game sweep. Tampa Bay defeated Orlando 50-48 in the preseason finale on April 23, which, when factored in with the two June regular season wins, sets up the Storm for a four-peat, something never before achieved in Arena Football...With 19,500 seats for Arena Football, the Ice Palace is the largest venue to host the championship game since these same teams met at the then-ThunderDome in 1995...No pro team playing home games in the city of Tampa has won a league title since the Tampa Bay Rowdies won the NASL title in 1975.
Storm Players Honored By League - Four Storm players were selected to the All-Arena Football League first and second teams, announced this week. DS Johnnie Harris and OL/DL Willie Wyatt were selected to the first team. It is the first appearance for Harris and the second in a row for Wyatt. Making the second team were QB Peter Tom Willis and FB/LB Les Barley.
Series History...The series began on the first weekend of the 1991 season, when the expansion Predators met the relocated Storm, who had spent the previous four seasons in Pittsburgh as the Gladiators. Tampa Bay and Orlando have met twice a year in the regular season since then, and the Storm leads the series 10-9. Tampa Bay has also won two of three playoff meetings. Home field has been of little significance in the history of the series. In ten games against the Storm at Orlando Arena, the Preds are 5-5. In the eight games in Tampa Bay, the Storm is 5-4.
For a look back at the wild history of the Storm-Predators series, check out our story on the history of the rivalry.
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