1999 Results | Game Coverage
Who: Albany Firebirds at Tampa Bay Storm
Kicking Off...Opening Day...the culmination of months of waiting, weeks of anticipation, and days of preparation. Two of the league's most bitter rivals face off in the Ice Palace when Albany comes to town to take on their historical nemesis. Both teams enter this game with a passel of question marks after offseasons that saw more losses than gains. For the Firebirds, the primary losses came when offensive coordinator and former head coach Mike Hohensee left to become the head coach of New England, and when standout FB/LB Chad Dukes, the only player in the league since 1992 other than Barry Wagner to win Ironman of the Year honors, left to pursue his dream of playing in the National Football League.
For the Storm, the losses didn't affect the coaching staff, which returns intact with the addition of former Texas A&M-Commerce head coach Eddie Vowell to round out the staff. However, the personnel losses were severe, including Johnnie Harris, Lynn Rowland, Antoine Worthman, Corey Dowden and Wayne Williams. The bulk of the losses came in the defensive secondary, which will force the Storm to go with a passel of players with no Arena experience prior to the opening of the preseason two weeks ago.
The Coaches...Albany - Mike Dailey, 16-13 entering his third season with the Firebirds, 16-13 in two AFL seasons.
Tampa Bay - Tim Marcum, 51-14 entering his fifth season with the Storm, 106-26 in ten AFL seasons.
In 1999...Albany (0-2 in the preseason) - Lost to Milwaukee 47-45, lost to Iowa, 60-39.
Tampa Bay (1-1 in the preseason) - Lost to Orlando 45-39, defeated Florida 49-44.
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 embarrassing 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. Last year, in the 'Birds' loss to the Storm, he still completed 22 of 36 passes for 282 yards and five touchdowns, the best overall performance any quarterback had against the Storm last seaosn.
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. Against a significantly more experienced Storm secondary in last season's game in the Ice Palace, he hauled in nine passes for 127 yards and three touchdowns. Brown is the main worry for the Storm's callow secondary, which will include two Arena Football rookies starting their first games in Carl Greenwood and Melvin Cunningham. Greenwood, who will start at defensive specialist along with Tracey Perkins, hasn't even had the benefit of a full training camp, having been signed one week before last week's game with the Bobcats.
FB/LBs Tim Brown and Leroy Thompson - Collectively, these two will be asked to replace the almost irreplaceable Dukes. Together, the two combined for 77 yards in 1998---76 coming from Brown, who scored five rushing touchdowns to rank second on the 'Birds in both rushing yardage and rushing touchdowns. Last year, Dukes led the league with 364 rushing yards and ten touchdowns. However, what made him the league's Ironman of the Year was his prowess on kickoff returns, as he finished second in the league in average per return and tied for first in touchdowns with four. Eddie Brown will be counted on to spell Dukes in that regard. Whether Albany ascends to the heights it achieved in 1998 will depend largely on just how much Tim Brown and Thompson can do on the ground to take pressure off of Pawlawski and Eddie Brown.
Noting the Storm...Linemen Return - Friday, the Storm re-activated stellar linemen Robert "Pig" Goff and Willie Wyatt from the Refused to Report list. Goff had been working as an extra on the set of On Any Given Sunday, while Wyatt was indisposed with teacing and coaching duties at his hometown high school in Adamsville, Ala. The Storm had only been carrying 23 men on its roster prior to the activation of the two big guys, so they needed to only make one move, placing rookie phenom Jason Dulick on the injured reserve list.
Beware of Jersey Changes - On our roster, we try and keep up with the latest changes. However, these changes sometimes come a little more rapidly than we'd like, and certainly at a pace too quick for all the numbers to be placed with their corresponding names in the game program. Storm players were changing their jersey numbers as late as Thursday of this week, so our roster may not be accurate come game time. If you are going to the game, be sure and listen to public address announcer Paul Porter for the right names and numbers as the contest progresses.
The Nice Section - On Sunday, Sylvester Bembery, Stevie Thomas, Lawrence Samuels, Les Barley and Andre Bowden will participate in a charity softball game on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Al Lang Field in downtown St. Petersburg. The game, sponsored by WLLD-FM 98.7 ("Wild 98.7"), will benefit the family of Ashley Mance, a young girl who was killed by a stray bullet from an AK47 rifle that went through her window. Admission to the game is $3.
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.
Injury Front - Dulick was placed on injured reserve with an injury to his right knee. He sat out practice the last half of this week with the injury, which has been nagging for a week. Also on injured reserve, all with ankle injuries, are WR/DB Tony Covington, WR/DB Derrick Atterberry and FB/LB Steve Lee. All are Storm rookies.
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 three to lead the series 8-3, 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 Bucs 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 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 a Gruden pass was intercepted in the end zone in the final minute. 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, 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 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. 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, 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 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
06/20/98 - Tampa Bay 63, Albany 42 - Both teams entered the game tied for the league's best record at 6-1. However, Thomas again broke down the Firebirds, this time doing so by catching nine passes for 128 yards and four scores as the Storm cruised to a decisive win. The lone blight on the game came when Sylvester Bembery went down in the second quarter with two torn ligaments in his knee and was lost for the season. Game Coverage
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