1998 Results | Game Coverage
Who: Albany Firebirds at Tampa Bay Storm
Kicking Off...Although Laurence Olivier won't be playing the role of Zeus, the Ice Palace will see a proverbial Clash of the Titans when Albany and the Storm face off in the Ice Palace. The first thunderbolt will be heaved from Mount Olympus on Saturday at 7:40 p.m. Albany has yet to defeat the Storm in Tampa Bay; however, all of the previous games came across the bay in the ThunderDome. The Storm will be looking to extend their winning streak which now stands at five, the longest in two years. Tampa Bay will also look to win their third straight game in the Ice Palace, which would be a franchise first. The Storm won two in a row at home last year, beating New York 27-9 on June 21 and then defeating Anaheim 68-43 on July 12.
Tampa Bay won its fifth straight and its first in Orlando in three years, holding off a late Predator rally to win 42-34 in front of 15,948 at the O- rena on Friday night. DS Johnnie Harris clinched the game by intercepting a Pat O'Hara pass on the last play of the game. The pick was Harris' third of the night, setting a single-game franchise record. Offensively, QB Peter Tom Willis was named the game's Most Valuable Player for completing 19 of 35 passes for 239 yards and five touchdowns. Five of those catches went to Wayne Walker, who played his first game since suffering a groin injury in the Week Two loss to Nashville. Walker ended up with 81 yards in receptions and two touchdowns, including a 35-yarder with under two minutes remaining in the game that placed Orlando behind the proverbial eight-ball, a.k.a. a 42-28 deficit that proved to be too much to overcome.
One night after the Storm took care of their central Florida business, the Firebirds did the same in the home confines of the Pepsi Arena, defeating the Florida Bobcats 66-49. FB/LB Chad Dukes was a hazard to the Bobcats, returning a league-record three kickoffs for scores. Two of Dukes' kickoff returns were also league records for length, covering 58 yards. Dukes ended up accounting for 208 yards on five kickoff returns overall as Albany pushed their record to 6-1, tied for the best mark in the league with the Storm and the Arizona Rattlers.
The Coaches...Albany - Mike Dailey, 14-9 in his second season with the Firebirds, 14-9 in two AFL seasons.
Tampa Bay - Tim Marcum, 43-12 in his fourth season with the Storm, 98-24 in ten AFL seasons.
In 1998...Albany (6-1) - Defeated Portland 65-58, defeated New Jersey 52-38, defeated San Jose 56-30, lost to New York 57-46, defeated Portland 48-45, defeated Nashville 52-49, defeated Florida 66-49.
Tampa Bay (6-1) - 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.
Firebirds to Watch...QB Mike Pawlawski - Yet another former Buccaneer QB to make good, but this time on the Arena level, Pawlawski has settled into an indoor groove after some trying times earlier in his career. In his first and only game in Tampa Bay, on June 10, 1995, he took to the ThunderDome field with an overmatched Miami Hooters club and was pounded mercilessly. He completed 15 of 32 passes for 113 yards and two interceptions, and was also sacked on four occasions. Nine times, he led the Hooters onto the field to begin a drive, and nine times, his team came away pointless. Only after he was benched late in the fourth quarter did Miami notch a face-saving score to avert an embarassing shutout in a 54-7 loss. He served 1996 as a backup in Albany, and did not play in the teams' ThunderDome meeting. 1997, however, was a different story. He was named the game's MVP as the homestanding 'Birds flew through the Storm, 53-31. Pawlawski was never sacked and completed 18 of 29 passes for 238 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions. He ended 1997 as the top-rated single-season quarterback in league history, but still had detractors as Albany finished 6-8 and out of the playoffs for the first time in seven years. Those voices of dissension have been silenced, as Pawlawski has led his club to a league-best start.
OS Eddie Brown - He made his coming-out party against the Storm in a 71-45 walkover at the then-Knickerbocker Arena in 1994 and hasn't gone back in since, cementing his standing as the league's most explosive receiver. By scoring four times last week against the Bobcats, including once on a kickoff return, he kept pace with Arizona's Calvin Schexnayder for the league lead in touchdowns (24) and points (144). Last year against the Storm, Brown caught ten passes for 161 yards and three scores, and, for good measure, threw a five-yard touchdown pass to Charlie Davidson, now of the CityHawks.
FB/LB Chad Dukes - Of all of Albany's weapons, Dukes is the one who has the potential to wreak the most havoc because of his proficiency on kickoff returns, a Storm weak point in 1998. Dukes set a league record by returning three kickoffs for touchdowns last week in the 'Birds win over the Florida Bobcats. He set a new Albany record with 208 yards, and his three touchdowns in one game on returns tied the franchise mark for return touchdowns in a season. Dukes is also lethal on the ground, as well, leading the league with 35.7 yards per game. He is currently on pace to run for 499 yards, which would be a league record, shattering the mark of 429 yards set by Major Harris of the Columbus Thunderbolts in 1991.
Noting the Storm...Setting the Pace - Seven games through the season marks the midpoint of this campaign, and now's as good a time as ever to offer some projections for Storm players based on their current statistical pace.
FB/LB Les Barley: 156 rushing yards, 14 rushing touchdowns, four sacks.
FB/LB Andre Bowden: Eight sacks (franchise record).
DS Johnnie Harris: 14 interceptions (league record), 30 passes defensed (league record), 84 total tackles (franchise record).
K Bjorn Nittmo: 18 field goals (franchise record), 78 extra points (franchise record), 132 points (franchise record for kickers).
OS George LaFrance: 56 receptions, 926 yards, 36 receiving touchdowns (franchise record), 616 yards of kickoff returns, 540 yards of missed field goal returns (league record).
DS Tracey Perkins: 50 unassisted tackles (franchise record).
WR/LB Lawrence Samuels: 56 receptions, 654 yards, 12 touchdowns.
WR/LB Stevie Thomas: 76 catches, 838 yards, 14 touchdowns.
QB Peter Tom Willis: 244 completions in 424 attempts, 3,334 yards, 70 touchdowns (ties a franchise record).
In addition...we have the case of WR/DB Wayne Walker, who only played in three games in the first half of the season but had per-game averages of 4.3 catches, 80.3 yards and 1.67 scores. At those per-game numbers, and assuming he stays healthy, he is on pace for 43 receptions for 803 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Rowland Named Ironman of the Week - The league named Storm lineman Lynn Rowland as the league's Tinactin Ironman of the Week for Week Seven. Rowland earned the distinction by turning in a monster game at Orlando, posting a sack of former Storm QB Connell Maynor in the second quarter, and then, on consecutive plays in the fourth quarter, turned around and leapt backwards into the end zone for the ball. Rowland also forced Pred QB Pat O'Hara into a hurried throw on the last play of the game that resulted in a Harris interception. Rowland is the third Storm player to be honored by the league as Ironman of the Week; Bowden earned the distinction in Week One and Samuels was so honored after Week Five. Ironically, Rowland wasn't even named Ironman of the game last week...that honor went to Barley.
Storm Trades Rights to Scott - Wednesday's league trading deadline brought forth a flurry of activity around the league's front offices, and the Storm's was not exempt from the proceedings. Tampa Bay traded the rights to lineman Earl Scott to the San Jose SaberCats for future considerations. Scott played for the Storm during the last five weeks of the 1997 regular season, as well as in the playoffs. He spent all of ther 1998 season to date on the exempt list, as he was playing at center for the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe.
Tampa Bay-Albany Connections - Storm lineman Sylvester Bembery played with the Firebirds from 1990-93...Firebirds QB Mike Pawlawski was a 1992 draft choice of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and remained with the team through 1992.
Countdowns - With just 18 more yards in missed field goal returns, LaFrance will tie his own franchise record of 288 yards on MFGs in a season; he set that standard in 1996...Bowden needs 29 yards to move into fourth place in league history in rushing; he currently has 665 yards on 202 carries...FB/LB Cedric McKinnon needs 92 yards to move into third place in league annals; he was deactivated last week...Lineman Sylvester Bembery, the league's all-time leading sacker, needs one to get to 40 for his career...Storm coach Tim Marcum is just two wins away from becoming the first Arena Football League coach to reach the century mark in victories.
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
06/07/97 - Albany 53, Tampa Bay 31 - This one was an all- around disaster for the Storm. QB Peter Tom Willis began his painful trek through his first season when Firebirds FB/LB Leroy Thompson slammed into Willis, bruising his ribs. Backup Dan White replaced Willis and performed adequately, completing 14 of 29 passes for 154 yards and three scores. But mere adequacy was not going to win this game. Albany OS Eddie Brown caught 10 passes for 161 yards and three touchdowns, and, for good measure, threw a scoring strike to Charlie Davidson. Tampa Bay never led, falling behind 33-19 at halftime. Storm kicker Terry Belden missed three of four extra points, putting additional punctuation on a forgettable night that saw Tampa Bay drop to 3-3. Game Coverage
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