1998 Results | Game Coverage
Who: Orlando Predators at Tampa Bay Storm
Kicking Off...In a scheduling quirk, the Storm and Predators will renew their War for I-4 for the second time in three weeks, this time in the friendly confines of the Ice Palace. Tampa Bay comes in off of a rousing 63-42 win over Albany that saw the Storm outscore the Firebirds 18-0 in a stretch that covered the second and third quarters to turn a 21-21 game into a 39-21 bulge. Albany never pulled closer than 11 points after that, and the Storm cruised through the fourth quarter to the win. Tampa Bay was paced by WR/LB Stevie Thomas, who earned Player of the Game honors by virtue of catching nine passes for 128 yards and four scores. The receptions and yardage totals were season highs, and the four touchdown catches also represented a career high. For good measure, Thomas added the cherry on the sundae by returning an onside kickoff four yards for a touchdown with six seconds left, giving him a fifth touchdown for the night.
Meanwhile, 3,000 miles to the west, Orlando pulled off one of the shockers of the season so far in the league, defeating Arizona 42-40 in front of a stunned crowd at America West Arena in Phoenix. The Preds grabbed a 42-34 lead in the final minute, but yielded a touchdown with two seconds left on a pass from Sherdrick Bonner to Calvin Schexnayder. However, Orlando stopped the Rattlers' two-point conversion attempt, and escaped with a winning record and crucial momentum.
The Coaches...Orlando - Jay Gruden, 5-3 in one season with the Predators, 5-3 in one AFL season.
Tampa Bay - Tim Marcum, 44-12 in four seasons with the Storm, 99-24 in nine AFL seasons.
In 1997...Orlando (5-3) - 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.
Tampa Bay (6-2) - 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.
Predators to Watch...WR/DB Barry Wagner - Tampa Bay has been the only team to muffle Wagner lately. Two weeks ago, Johnnie Harris led a Storm defensive effort that limited Wagner to just two catches for 13 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.
OS Robert Gordon - A new Arenaball player who has had his ups and downs this year due to injuries and inexperience, Gordon was the Predators' leading receiver two weeks ago against the Storm, catching a team- high five passes for 74 yards and one score. Gordon also struck for the Preds last week, catching four passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns in Orlando's upset win. He has played in six of Orlando's eight games, catching 26 passes for 421 yards and eight scores.
Noting the Storm...The X-Storm Files - Former Storm quarterback Jay Gruden returns to his hometown on Saturday night, as the league's all-time leading passer at the time of his retirement leads a club into the Ice Palace for the first time. To mark this occasion, the Storm will retire Gruden's No. 7 in a ceremony prior to the game. Gruden will become the first player so honored in Storm history. He is the Storm's all-time leader in passing yardage, passing touchdowns, completions, attempts and, yes, interceptions. His honors include the league's Most Valuable Player award in 1992, selection as the first-team All-AFL quarterback in 1992 and 1995, and ArenaBowl MVP honors in 1993 and 1996. He retired after the 1996 season to take over as the offensive coordinator of the Nashville Kats. Is there some supreme conspiracy theory as to whether the ceremony is not for the purpose of honoring a great player, but for ulterior motives like trying to get the opposing coach misty- eyed? The truth is out there.
In Gruden's tow are also three former Storm players and teammates: DS Corris Ervin, who was a member of the Storm in 1996 until being waived to make room for Defensive Player of the Year candidate Johnnie Harris, WR/DB Bret Cooper, who was a member of the Storm for the last half of the ill-fated 1994 season, and QB Connell Maynor, who, after serving as the Storm's version of a utility infielder during the 1994 season, was a backup to Gruden in 1995 and 1996.
Bembery Placed on Injured Reserve - Late Tuesday the Storm officially learned that the right knee injury to long-time lineman Sylvester Bembery was serious enough to keep him shelved for the remainder of the season. Bembery suffered tears to both the anterior cruciate and posterior cruciate ligaments in his right knee. He is expected to undergo surgery next week once the swelling in the area has abated. On Thursday, Tampa Bay officially placed Bembery on injured reserve; he joins WR/DBs Cornell Parker and Kevin Jackson on the list.
Storm Signs Former Atlanta Falcon Agee - To fill Bembery's spot on the 24-man roster and to plug the vacancy created by the loss of the ten-year Arena Football League veteran, the Storm signed Mel Agee on Thursday. Agee arrives in Tampa fresh off of a tour of duty in NFL Europe, where he played with the Frankfurt Galaxy. Frankfurt finished 7-3 and qualified for the World Bowl, in part due to Agee's efforts. He started most of the ten- game season at left defensive end for the Galaxy, and finished in a tie for third on the team with two sacks. Agee is the second former Galaxy player on the Storm; the first is Andre Bowden, who rejoined the Storm after two years orbiting within the Galaxy. Agee and Bowden aren't the only NFL Europe players who have joined the Storm after the early June close of the season. In 1997, Marcum utilized NFL-E, then known as the World League, to shore up the roster, signing WR/DB Jack Kellogg, lineman Earl Scott and lineman Jerold Jeffcoat to fill in on the team.
Willis Named Co-Player of the Week - In spite of the fact that he was not selected as the Player of the Game by the elite cadre of local media representatives gathered in the Ice Palace press box on Saturday night, QB Peter Tom Willis was named the league's Co-Player of the Week for Week Eight on Tuesday. Willis completed 21 of 29 passes---including his first 11 in a row---for 274 yards and six touchdowns. It is the first time that the former Seminole QB has been so honored in his one-and-a-half season Arena Football career. Willis has thrown 41 touchdowns on the season---as many as he had in all of 1997. He is currently on pace for 72 touchdown passes, which would break the Storm record of 70 set by Gruden in his final season of 1996.
Willis will share the honors with Iowa QB Aaron Garcia, who led the Barnstormers to a 46-43 overtime stunner over the Kats at Nashville on Monday night. The 2-6 Barnstormers did the Storm a huge favor with the win, as they dropped Nashville to 5-3, a full two games back of the Storm in the race for the Southern Division crown.
Going for a Century's Worth of Success - Storm coach Tim Marcum is going for his 100th career win on Saturday night. Including the postseason, Marcum's clubs in Denver (1987), Detroit (1988-89, 1991-93) and Tampa Bay (1995-present) have won 99 games, losing just 24, including an 18-3 playoff ledger. "Whether it's number one, number 100 or somewhere in between, they're all equally important," Marcum said.
Can He Live Up to History? - If Jay Gruden's Predators fall on Saturday night, it will mark the first time that a rookie coach in the Storm-Orlando rivalry has lost his first road game in the series. Orlando coach Perry Moss won his first game at Tampa Bay in 1991, by a 51-38 count. First-year Storm coach Fran Curci countered with a 26-16 win in the O-rena later that season. In the first game of 1992, new Storm coach Lary Kuharich earned his first win as an Arena Football head coach by leading Tampa Bay to a 39-32 win in Orlando. And in the last road game for a new Storm or Predator coach, Tim Marcum's Tampa Bay club placed a 51-34 thrashing on the Predators on July 14, 1995---a result which remains the Preds' worst home loss in club history. With Moss gone in Orlando, it is up to Gruden to keep up the string.
Another LaFrance Record - Even in a subpar game, OS George LaFrance still manages to make a little history. That was the case on Saturday night, when he broke his own franchise record for most missed field goal yardage in a season with a 19-yard runback of a missed Pete Elezovic kick. LaFrance ended the game with 289 yards on missed field goal returns for the season; the old record was 280 yards, set in 1996.
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 series is tied 9-9. However, the Storm has 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 4-4.
For a look back at the wild history of the Storm-Predators series, check out our story on the history of the rivalry.
We also have game coverage of the contest from two weeks ago.
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