1999 Results | Game Coverage
Storm Runs Out of Time, Defense
By Andrew Mason
However, thanks to a combination of timely mistakes by both veterans and newcomers, a porous defense that yielded nearly 400 total yards and confounding clock management at the end of the game, it was the Storm players that remained on the field in a state of befuddled bewilderment and frustration. Peter Tom Willis sat at the six-yard-line, shaking his head, holding his arms around his knees. Storm coach Tim Marcum pleaded with the officials for one more second on the clock that perhaps should have been there but was never granted.
Meanwhile, the Firebirds celebrated, pouring onto the field as referee Buddy Ward announced that the game was, indeed, finished. In doing so, eight years of frustrating trips and heartbreaking losses melted away in the euphoria of the victory, coming by a 49-42 count in front of an announced crowd of 10,436 at the Ice Palace.
The ending, while demonstrating the extreme dichotomy between success and failure, was not without controversy. The last play, a pass from Willis to Alvoid Mays, fell incomplete in the end zone when Albany defender Chris Lawson reached around Mays and knocked the pass down. However, it appeared that when the play was blown dead, there was still one second left on the clock. Marcum, Willis and others made unsuccessful, but vocal cases for more time. However, the blame for the zeroes on the clock is not on the officials, but on the Storm itself.
With 20 seconds left, Willis completed a pass to Lawrence Samuels to the three-yard-line. The Storm still had one timeout left, but did not stop the clock, instead choosing to let the clock run down. By the time Willis spiked the ball to stop the clock, the confused Storm had frittered the available time down from 20 to five seconds, setting up the fateful final play.
In the postmortem, Marcum turned the finger of blame on himself.
"It was a poor job of coaching," he said. "We had a timeout left, there was 15 seconds, I thought we'd [spike] the ball and save a time out in case we wanted to run the football from the two. We didn't get the thing clocked in time.
"I take full credit, and full responsibility. If I had to do it over again, I'd call a timeout right there."
As Willis pointed out, though, the circumstances creating the loss---which was the Storm's first Week One defeat since a 44-39 setback to Charlotte in 1994---were based in more than just procrastination.
"Well, it ain't all Coach's fault," he said. "We didn't play like we should have won the game."
Although Willis himself had an outstanding game, throwing for a career-high 321 yards and four touchdowns, the Storm's offense could not do enough to cover up for the proficiency of Albany's offense and the Gandhi-esque passive resistance of the Tampa Bay defense. Albany rolled up 390 total yards---the most ever allowed in Storm history---per play, and would have added more had FB/LB Tim Brown held onto the ball at the Storm's goal line in the second quarter.
Quarterback Mike Pawlawski blitzed the Storm, completing 23 of 37 passes for 369 yards---the most ever yielded by the Storm through the air---and five touchdowns. However, the man of the night was the brightest star in the Firebird firmament, offensive specialist Eddie Brown.
Brown, named the game's most valuable player, caught three of Pawlawski's five touchdown passes, including the game-winner with 46 seconds left. Throughout the game, the Storm used a variety of coverages to try and minimize Brown's impact on the game, experimenting with various zones in addition to the basic man-to-man defense.
However, on the winning touchdown, the Storm went to the man-to-man, leaving defensive specialist Tracey Perkins alone with Brown near the goal line on the right side of the field. Brown broke right for the corner and caught the 26-yard, third-down strike from Pawlawski which put the Storm behind the eight-ball for the final time.
Afterwards, Pawlawski seemed confounded by the Storm's decision to isolate Perkins on Brown---not just on that play, but on others throughout the game.
Brown was more succinct in describing the play.
"I just ran by [Perkins]," he said. "Everyone knew I was going to get the ball. I don't know why he played so far back."
Brown, an ever-effusive sort who can occasionally evoke memories of a young Muhammad Ali at his most expressive and gregarious, felt that this game represented a changing of the guard among the elite players of Arena Football.
"Tonight, they did."
Brown's boastfulness is borne out in the game's final statistics. His 14 catches for a career-high 213 yards and three touchdowns outpaces the combined total of LaFrance and Thomas, who teamed for ten catches for 160 yards and two scores. Brown's total was also the eighth-best in league history, and the best for any one player since June 6, 1998, when Calvin Schexnayder hauled in 216 yards in receptions against the San Jose SaberCats.
"That's why he is what he is," a forlorn Marcum concluded afterwards. "He's done it, and he'll continue to do it."
Meanwhile, the Storm must find a way to shore up a pass defense that was plagued by missed tackles, blown coverages and general mistakes.
"I think we made so many mental, critical errors," Marcum said. "Lining up offsides. These are experienced guys, and we made critical errors, and in the long run they cost us chances to stop them."
The Storm has just six days to start finding answers to the numerous questions that continue to present themselves. Thursday night, Tampa Bay travels to Milwaukee for the first time in four years to take on the Mustangs, themselves reeling from a devastating 61-27 loss to Portland Friday night. Kickoff in the Bradley Center will be at 8:40 p.m. EDT, and the game will be televised back to Tampa Bay on WTTA-Ch. 38.
Thunderclaps...Hoppin' Mad Hopkins - With just under eight minutes left in the first quarter, the game took a controversial turn. Pawlawski went deep down the right side of the field for WR/LB Greg Hopkins, but his pass was short. Hopkins dove to the turf for the ball, and it appeared to hit the ground short of his hands before bouncing into the arms of Alvoid Mays. However, the officials ruled that the ball had bounced off Hopkins' hands, and not the turf, and awarded possession to the Storm. Hopkins erupted, protesting the call and, in the process, bumping an official. He was whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct and was immediately ejected.
Storm CyberBytes - Albany attempted two risky special teams plays: an onside kick in the first quarter and a fake field goal in the third. The onside kick worked, as kicker Don Silvestri easily recovered the ball as the Storm's kickoff crew turned their backs to the kick. The fake field goal, however, was less successful, as a Jeff Loots pass to Van Johnson only gained three yards, four short of what the 'Birds needed for a first down...Perkins led the Storm in tackles with nine and passes defensed with three...For all the talk about the Storm's new players, only four---Johnie Church, Tommy Henry, Melvin Cunningham and Charles Wilson saw significant minutes. However, Henry and Cunningham were a part of the Storm's maligned secondary.
Awards - The game MVP was Eddie Brown and the Ironman was Albany WR/DB Van Johnson. The Storm Shelter MVP was Pawlawski and the Shelter Ironman was Andre Bowden. We'd like to say that earning a Storm Shelter award brings with it some kind of nice perk, like a vacation or a free dinner...Alas, all we can offer is a standing invitation to join us as a guest in our chat room.
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