1998 Results | Game Coverage
A Night of Records for the Storm
By Andrew Mason
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - If a record falls in the woods, and no one's around to hear it, does it make a sound?
Although an announced crowd and league-record-low of just 2,062 was around to witness it, those in attendance---including a vocal cadre of fans from Tampa Bay who kept the West Palm Beach Auditorium from becoming a mausoleum---saw a historic evening in the annals of the Tampa Bay Storm. The milestones made the night special, and helped give the Storm a 44-29 win over the winless Bobcats.
The night of milestones commenced when, on back-to-back plays in the second quarter, OS George LaFrance made his 500th catch and scored his 1,000th point, capping off a late second quarter drive that gave the Storm a 28-9 lead.
To start with, the Bobcats penetrated the Storm's five-yard-line before LaFrance caught the ball. A flag came out right away, ensuring that if LaFrance could not score, the Storm would still receive an untimed down and a chance to make a play before halftime. But LaFrance ended the need for the extra play with a twisting, looping dash that measured just 54 yards in length on the scoresheet but was probably close to 100.
LaFrance darted around the end zone, catching the ball halfway between the sideboards and darting to the right, before doubling back to the left. By the time he'd gotten to the Storm's five-yard-line, he had put most of the Bobcats in his wake.
By the time he'd crossed back over to the right side of the field, he was on his way to an unimpeded score. Referee R.G. DeTillier's announcement of the declined returner interference penalty was just a formality.
"Only in Arena Football can you go from 'Oh, s---' to 'atta-boy' that quickly," Marcum said.
LaFrance's 54-yard return---though it is, at moment, officially 50 yards due to an error in the Bobcats' computer scorekeeping system---is a franchise record. He gained 96 yards on three missed field goal returns, also setting a Storm record.
The half didn't end with that, though---Florida Bobcat OL/DL and Storm preseason waiver victim Steve Clarke broke through and blocked Bjorn Nittmo's extra point attempt. However, Clarke was whistled for an illegal outside rush and the point was re-tried. After the blocked kick, the ball bounded down inside Storm territory and the players on the field gave chase. Then, a scuffle ensued, involving Bobcat and former Storm FB/LB Travis Pearson and the 195-pound Nittmo. Pearson gave Nittmo a rough shove in the chops before both were restrained.
The shoves were just a taste of the consistent tension between the clubs. At one point, Storm FB/LB Cedric McKinnon and Bobcat WR/DB Otis Mounds were both whistled for offsetting unsportsmanlike conduct fouls. Perhaps Mounds was peeved at the taunting chant from the Storm Krew booster club, who called, "Almond Joy's got nuts, Mounds don't."
Mounds' frustration, though, was indicative of his team's. Florida coach Rick Buffington, looking to shake things up, replaced starting QB Fred McNair with backup Clemente Gordon, even though McNair had completed eight of 15 passes with no interceptions and had ranked among the league's passing leaders in 1998. The effect of the change was negligible. Gordon, who took over on the first possession of the third quarter, led the Bobcats to 14 points in the second half, while McNair led the team to 15 in the first half.
There were no records for the Bobcats, but there was more than just LaFrance's marks for the Storm. WR/LB Lawrence Samuels caught his 100th career pass, and added three more, finishing with a team-high six catches for 66 yards and a touchdown. Nittmo kicked three field goals, a single-game Storm regular season record. WR/LB Stevie Thomas went over the 800-point mark for his career with two scores.
But with one minute left in the game, one milestone was still left unattained. FB/LB Les Barley, the league's all-time leading rusher, had rushed twice for two yards, leaving him three yards short of 1,000 for his career.
With first-and-ten from the Storm's 24-yard-line, Barley ran up the middle for three yards. That gave him his 1,000, and for good measure, he gained two yards one play later. As his record was announced to the crowd, his teammates mobbed him at midfield. It proved to be a excellent cap to the Storm's third win of the regular season.
The Storm will attempt to keep within one game of the Nashville Kats and, in doing so gain revenge on the New Jersey Red Dogs next Saturday night at the Continental Airlines Arena when the Storm goes barking up the Red Dogs' tree. The game was originally scheduled for Friday night, but was pushed back a day over a month ago due to the potential for a conflict with the National Hockey League playoffs. Saturday's kickoff will come at 7:30 p.m. EDT and the game will be televised statewide on Sunshine Network with Rick Peckham and Jerry Johnson providing the call. Sunshine will show six of the Storm's last ten games live, with ESPN providing coverage of the Storm-Bobcats rematch in the Ice Palace on July 12.
Thunderclaps...It's the End of the World as We Know It - Throughout Saturday night's game, the Bobcats' public address announcer encouraged fans to get out to TicketMaster and buy seats for the "last event in the history of the West Palm Beach Auditorium," the June 8 game between the Bobcats and the Houston ThunderBears. After the game, the arena and surrounding lands become the property of the Jehovah's Witnesses.
The Back End of the Arena Football League - And we think we've got problems in Tampa. They appear to be nothing on what the Bobcats' staff has to deal with. The franchise has put on a brave face, but in viewing the scene there in West Palm Beach on Saturday, it is hard not to gulp and shake one's head. There's a Bobcat mascot, caked with dirt and fading fur, wearing a jersey with patches that read "Inaugural Season" even though this is the Bobcats' third campaign. A stifling heat hangs in the air of the old building, causing everyone inside to break a sweat even before kickoff.
To the credit of the ownership and staff, the club has persevered, trying to make it to 1999. That year will bring about a move to the new Broward County Arena in Sunrise, just outside of Fort Lauderdale. Hopefully, that will bring about some form of payoff, putting an end to this franchise's aimless and unsuccessful wandering which dates back to their 1993 South Florida debut as the Miami Hooters.
Bazile Traded - Late Friday, the traded OL/DL Wilky Bazile to the New York CityHawks for future considerations. Bazile, who made his Storm debut last season, played the first two weeks of the season but was placed on injured reserve before last week's game with Houston and was squeezed out of a crowded line depth chart. The trade moves Bazile closer to his upstate New York home.
Awards - The Wilson MVP was Willis and the Tinactin Ironman was Samuels.
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