1998 Results | Game Coverage
Murphy's Law Governs Storm
By Andrew Mason
These negative numbers belong to the Tampa Bay Storm. The team that many were waiting to name the best in league history. The team that was a 14-point favorite heading into Sunday afternoon. The team that had the league's best offense and defense in 1998. The team that had both the Defensive Player of the Year (Johnnie Harris) and the Coach of the Year (Tim Marcum).
The best team of 1998, and arguably, the best team of all time in Arena Football League history, took a crashing dive on Sunday afternoon and turned in perhaps the worst performance in ArenaBowl history. Orlando took advantage of some questionable officials' calls, and the Storm's inability to rebound from adversity, to pummel Tampa Bay 62-31 in front of an Ice Palace-Arenaball- record 17,222 on Sunday afternoon.
"To put it real blunt, we got whupped," Marcum said. "[Orlando] turned it up; played at a different level, and they got after us."
Orlando existed on a whole other plane from the Storm for most of the afternoon. However, it didn't start off badly. Using two touchdown passes from Willis to George LaFrance, the Storm grabbed a 14-10 lead after the first quarter. When Harris intercepted a Pat O'Hara pass to stop Orlando on their next drive, things appeared to be business as usual. The crowd was rocking. Tampa Bay had the ball, with a lead and possession of the ball after halftime in hand, and it seemed like the moment of the game for the Storm to take control, just as they have on 14 occasions this spring and summer.
Sensing that it was time to go in for the kill, Willis went deep down the middle of the field for LaFrance. The crowd rose to its feet, with most of the fans in attendance ready to celebrate a third Storm touchdown. However, Orlando DS Chris Barber outran LaFrance, and the ball hung a bit too high and too far for the Storm receiver, and Barber picked it off and posted a 15-yard return.
It was the beginning of the end for Tampa Bay.
That third touchdown that the crowd expected didn't come until there was just 3:12 left in the third quarter. And the score didn't give Tampa Bay a two- score lead, rather, it pulled the Storm within 22 points. In the 23:31 that elapsed from Barber's interception to Tampa Bay's third score, the following disastrous circumstances took place:
Orlando outscored the Storm 37-3;
Willis was intercepted twice, by Barber and Barry Wagner;
WR/LB Stevie Thomas was tackled in the end zone for a safety;
Orlando scored on a missed field goal return by Wagner of 48 yards and on a three-yard run of a fake field goal by Connell Maynor;
Predators FB/LB Rick Hamilton reeled off the longest run in ArenaBowl history; a 36-yarder in the second quarter.
Those occurences conspired to turn the Storm into a passing shower. By the final score of the run---the Wagner missed field goal return---Tampa Bay was a befuddled club. Wagner's run came thanks to some shifty moves in Predator territory and shoddy tackling on the Storm's side of the field, as he broke through the attempted stops of Bjorn Nittmo, Terry Beauford and Lawrence Samuels. Wagner cut through them as easily as a piping hot knife through butter, and the game was, for all intents and purposes, over.
"A whole lot of credit's got to go to Orlando," Marcum said. "God-a-mighty, that's a pretty good butt-kicking we got...We just didn't make the plays they did. The run on short yardage, Barry's return, I could just go on and on and on...I guess you just say, 'what might have been.'"
Aiding the Predators were a few questionable calls. First, on Hamilton's 36-yard touchdown run, Orlando OS Robert Gordon went low for Storm DS Tracey Perkins, undercutting him from below the knee. An illegal block below the waist seemed to be the correct call, but Hamilton sauntered into the end zone with no laundry left on the field.
The second questionable call came in the final minute of play in the second quarter. Tampa Bay OL/DL Robert "Pig" Goff hit O'Hara just before he threw, jarring the ball loose. Storm lineman Willie Wyatt fell on the ball and advanced to the Preds' one-yard-line. Possession there would have given the Storm a chance to go into halftime with the score tied 24-24. However, the officials called the play an incomplete pass, even though O'Hara's arm was not moving forward as he was hit.
Finally, in the third quarter, Orlando scored on a safety when Webbie Burnett tackled Stevie Thomas in the Storm's end zone. Thomas had recovered a muffed kickoff by LaFrance. However, the play should not have been a safety; rather, it should have been a touchback. LaFrance did not break out of the end zone with the ball before he lost it; therefore, the ball never left the end zone. According to league rules, a safety can only be scored on a kickoff return if the ball is advanced out of the end zone and then goes back into the end zone. This lapse of judgment cost the Storm not only two points, but a possession, which Orlando converted into another touchdown.
Marcum, bound by league rules, was mum on the subject.
"No comment," he said when asked about the officials. "I can't do that. I like my money; [I] don't want to get fined, but that's the way it goes. That's football, and it's that way at every level."
The calls did help turn the game. However, they did not decide the game unequivocally. Those plays put the Storm in an unfamiliar position, trying to fight from behind. As early as the second quarter, when the game was still in doubt, the Storm showed signs of panic. Willis kept firing deep passes. The sure-handed Thomas dropped one on a mid-second-quarter possession. And the blocking, normally sound, began to collapse as the Storm's hopes kept fading.
By the time the Storm finally gained some semblance of the team they had been all season, they trailed by 30---and then, LaFrance scored to stop the bleeding. For a brief moment, the Storm had a glimmer of hope, trailing by 22 and with the crowd finally back into the game. Then, Wagner struck the death blow. He took Nittmo's kickoff---which landed short of the nets, eight yards deep in the end zone and catchable---and sprinted 50 yards to the Storm's eight-yard-line. Samuels forced a fumble at the end of the run, but Wagner recovered. Although Orlando only managed a field goal on the possession, that run stuck a final pin in the balloon that was the Storm fans' collective psyche. The rest of the game was academic.
Many Storm fans had left by the end of the game, which saw Orlando run out the clock mercifully on the battered, shattered Storm. Orlando celebrated as the Storm bid a hasty retreat to the locker room. The players looked dazed---almost like they didn't know what hit them, and still couldn't figure it out. It was a game the dimensions of which this franchise has never experienced. There have been losses, but none come close to this. In terms of points, a few do---the 26-point losses at Albany in 1994 and against Orlando last year, and a 27-point loss at Arizona in 1994 come to mind.
But this was the showcase game. The league's first on national broadcast television. And the Storm was embarrassed in their own building. From this kind of game, no honor can be salvaged, and the memories of a season of success will forever be tinged with bitterness after this bloody Sunday.
"14-3 is disastrous when you don't win the last one," Marcum said.
What more can be said of a game that degenerated into one that we wanted to hurry up and get overwith?
Thunderclaps...Statistics Lie, and We Have Proof - The Storm outpassed Orlando, 213 yards to 107...O'Hara finished just eight-of-25...Tampa Bay averaged 6.3 yards per play to the Preds' 5.4...Tampa Bay recorded the game's only sack...The Storm broke up 10 passes; the Preds, three.
Rewriting the Record Book - Hamilton rushed for an ArenaBowl record 82 yards...Willis' six interceptions were a league record for any game, regular or post-season...Wagner's 156 return yards were the most in an ArenaBowl...Burnett's safety on Thomas was the first in a title game...Wagner's 48-yard missed field goal return for a score was the longest in ArenaBowl history...Gordon's eight-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter on an onside kick was the shortest in ArenaBowl history...Barber's three interceptions tied an ArenaBowl record...Orlando's 62 points were th emost ever scored in a title game; the 31-point margin of victory was also a record...The Preds' 127 rushing yards were the most in an ArenaBowl and the most ever surrendered by the Storm...Orlando's 26 point outburst is unmatched in ArenaBowl history...The teams combined for ArenaBowl records in interceptions (seven), touchdowns (12), kickoff return yards (214), most points in the second half (52), most combined return yards (316) and most field goal attempts (four).
Awards - The MVP was Hamilton and the Tinactin Ironman was Wagner.
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