1998 Results | Game Coverage
Storm Breaks Down in Many Ways, 49-43
By Andrew Mason
All that came crashing down on Friday night. The Storm still has a lock on home field advantage for the postseason, needing just one more win to gain that edge. But the team's look of a champion is gone, perhaps irretrievably, after a sorry display in front of a sellout crowd of 16,121 and a television audience watching back in Florida on Sunshine Network.
Tampa Bay pulled a Chernobyl. The 49-43 final score in Nashville's favor does not do justice to the extent of the meltdown that happened on the turf of the gleaming Nashville Arena. Tampa Bay turned the ball over three times---twice on interceptions by Peter Tom Willis and once on a botched field goal snap by Terry Beauford, who, on a first-quarter field goal attempt by Bjorn Nittmo, snapped the ball past Willis and Nittmo and out of the end zone for a safety. Add to that a rare return foul-up by George LaFrance, who muffed a kickoff off the loosely strung ends and watched Darryl Hammond of the Kats fall on it for the score, and one already has a litany of foul play on the part of the Storm.
However, that is not what will be remembered from the game for Tampa Bay and head coach Tim Marcum. Sadly for the team and the league, the Storm's breakdown was not just physical---in the form of turnovers and consistently allowing the Kats' pass rushers to penetrate the Tampa Bay blockers---but mental. Never has a Storm team fallen to pieces like this one did.
The Storm was penalized 15 times for 93 yards---high totals, especially considering that nearly all penalties are, in yardage, half as much as the outdoor equivalent. Some of the breakdowns were relatively insignificant, in the form of offsides, false start and motion penalties. But 26 of the penalty yards don't fall under that category.
The disintegration began five minutes into the second half. With the score tied at 15, FB/LB Andre Bowden sacked Kats QB Andy Kelly, forcing Nashville into a fourth-down play from their own six-yard-line. That situation of advantage existed for about three seconds for the Storm, or the time it took for Kelly to try and get back up, only to be met by the hand of Bowden, who clearly shoved him back to the ground. Before you could say "stupidity," a yellow flag hit the field, to the happiness of the crowd, and Bowden was assessed the requisite unnecessary roughness penalty, good for ten yards, and, lethal for the Storm, an automatic first down.
But Bowden wasn't finished. He continued to subject referee William McCabe to his harangue, and before the penalty could be assessed, yet another flag was thrown on Bowden, for unsportsmanlike conduct. Bowden, along with the rest of the team on the field, continued to protest. As the ball was moved to the Kats' 24-yard-line, yet another flag came out, this time on WR/LB Stevie Thomas.
Thomas' penalty came just six days after he was involved in a disquieting incident at home against Florida. After scoring a fourth quarter scoreboard-padding touchdown on the Bobcats, Thomas took the ball and placed it below his rear, and simulated a dog's bowel movement as his form of celebration.
His penalty against Nashville was the final curtain in a short stage show that saw the Storm allow the Kats to move from their own six-yard-line to the Tampa Bay 18-yard-line without so much as snapping the ball. Afterwards, Marcum took a timeout, called his defensive unit into the huddle and proceeded to berate them for 20 seconds. But Marcum's words did little. The 18-yard touchdown pass from Kelly to OS Tyronne Jones that followed seemed assured even before the former Tennessee signal-caller went back to pass.
"This is the most disappointing feeling I've had in a long, long, long time," a despondent Marcum said afterwards. "And it has nothing to do with the score. It has to do with the way my football team acted on that field. That's what it has to do with. This has to do with the fact that we are the most undisciplined, undisciplined team in Arena Football. And that's going to change."
Willis, who was battered by the pass rush but still passed for 235 yards and three scores, concurred.
"There's no excuse for ever getting three unsportsmanlike conduct penalties," he said.
Bowden's actions overshadowed his successes. He ran for three touchdowns, doubling his season output, and gained 15 yards on six carries. But, ultimately, all that Marcum and the Storm will remember about this trip to the Music City is the team's incredibly vast loss of composure in the third quarter, one that was unlike any other seen in Storm annals and that was an embarrassment to the team and to the entire Tampa Bay Storm organization.
"We just have a very, very undisciplined football team," Marcum said. "And until we get that discipline, we're not going to [win a championship]. We ain't going to do it. That's all there is to it.
"These guys are supposed to be professionals. Were they ready? I don't know. I thought they were."
It's hard to imagine that next week could be any worse. The Storm will close out their regular season home slate against the Iowa Barnstormers at the Ice Palace on Saturday night, July 25. Kickoff is at 7:40 p.m. The game will be broadcast on Sunshine Network throughout the state of Florida.
Thunderclaps...The Kats Made Errors, Too - Lost in the avalanche of Storm missteps were the mistakes by Nashville, which had more turnovers than the Storm (four to Tampa Bay's three) and also committed 17 penalties for 74 yards. But a win tends to dull the memories of a team's mistakes. "We're not going to find any negatives publicly, I'll say that about this game," Kats coach Eddie Khayat said afterwards. "We're very proud of our victory. Now, when we get to the film room, we'll correct our errors."
In the Alley -If you haven't been to a Nashville Kats home game, make it a point to go as soon as you can. From the Jack Daniels for sale on the concourse level, to the attentiveness of the Kats' staff, to the professionalism of the operation, to the choice of music and intensity of the crowd, the Nashville Kats put on a Friday night show that represented everything Arena Football should be...creative (adults racing on child big wheels), visually appealing (the cheerleaders and the laser show) and big (the fireworks which blasted in the upper levels, the replay board hanging over midfield). With the Kats, it's first class, and it doesn't get any better than that. A big thank you goes to all members of the Kats family for showing us a great evening and the epitome of the Arena Football experience.
Awards - The Wilson MVP was Jones and the Tinactin Ironman was Hammond.
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