1999 Results | Game Coverage

Bobcats Get Pounded By Storm---Again

By Andrew Mason
Content Editor

Melvin Cunningham
WR/DB Melvin Cunningham had a breakout two-way game, catching three passes for 54 yards and a score, forcing a fumble and breaking up three passes as he was named Ironman of the Game.
TAMPA, Fla. - There are a few inalienable truths of the Florida Bobcats' wretchedly peripatetic existence. Home games will be played in front of mostly empty arenas and will have anemic local media coverage. Bad breaks will continue to multiply like overly stimulated rabbits. And the Bobcats' trips to Tampa will continue to be fraught with errors, frustration and failure.

In three previous trips to the Ice Palace, the Bobcats never lost by any fewer than 19 points, and were never competitive for any more than a quarter or two in each of the games. The Bobcats' respectable showings in their first three games and near-win over the Storm in the preseason gave them hope heading into Saturday's game at the Ice Palace, but by the end of the second quarter, the optimism had faded into the modus operandi of Florida-Tampa Bay encounters at the Ice Palace.

By that time, the Storm had ripped off 29 consecutive points, had sacked Bobcat QB Fred McNair in the end zone for a safety and had limited the Bobcats to just 12 yards in the second quarter. From there, it just became a matter of finishing the contest as the Storm cruised to a 43-12 win in front of an announced crowd of 9,673 at the Ice Palace.

Tampa Bay was not completely effective in its own right. QB Peter Tom Willis was plagued by pressure from the Bobcats and drops by his receivers in the first 18 minutes of the game, including one particularly galling blown catch by Arena rookie Charles Wilson, who broke open five yards beyond the entire Florida defense and had a Willis pass fall in and out of his hands at the goal line. The Storm set season lows in total yardage (200), passing yardage (172) and failed to score any points in both the first and third quarters.

However, the Storm's defense coaxed five fumbles out of the Bobcats---recovering four---and limited Florida to a season-low 178 yards. One of the fumbles---a first-quarter strip of Michael McClenton at the Storm four-yard-line---was forced by rookie WR/DB Melvin Cunningham, a rookie whose development was accelerated and put on prominent display over the course of a performance that was worthy of Ironman of the Game honors.

Defensively, Cunningham made two tackles and borke up two passes, in addition to his forced fumble. On offense, though, he made his greatest contribution, shaking the languishing Storm to life in the second quarter by catching a 37-yard pass from Willis just over four minutes into the second quarter. Cunningham, who played the game while still recovering from an ankle injury suffered against Albany, ended the game with three catches for 54 yards, good for second on the team in both categories.

"I think Melvin is invaluable," Willis said. "Not only is he a great defender, which is his key, but he's like having a wide receiver out there, and it's really hard to find a guy that he can play at the caliber that he can play at defense and cover like he did."

A defensive back in his college days at Marshall University, Cunningham had last played offense in high school prior to arriving with the Storm. However, he felt confident in his offensive skills from the moment he arrived in training camp.

"To be a good defensive back, you have to have good offensive skills," he said. "You have to have the ability to catch the ball."

Cunningham may well be forced to take on a more prominent role on defense, though. Veteran defensive specialist Tracey Perkins went down in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury in a futile attempt to keep Darren Hughes from scoring the Bobcats' second touchdown.

"He's in pretty [bad] pain," Storm coach Tim Marcum said. "They're going to X-ray his ankle right now; he got it rolled up; they rolled up on him on the second [Bobcat] touchdown. We'll see what happens. We certainly can't afford to miss him."

Perkins had been an apt metaphor for the Storm's defensive progress in 1999. He had a sub-par game in the Week One loss to Albany, an average outing at Milwaukee, but rolled into game shape during the bye week and turned in an outstanding performance, holding the Bobcats' explosive offensive specialist, Curtis Ceaser, a season-low 54 receiving yards.

His injury---and the fallout from it---will be the biggest concern for the Storm as it prepares for a brutal five-game stretch which includes four games against teams with winning records and another with last year's ArenaBowl champions, the Orlando Predators. The trek begins with two consecutive games against Nashville, with the front end coming at the Ice Palace next Saturday night. Kickoff for the division tussle will be at 7:40 p.m. EDT, and the game will not be televised live in the Tampa Bay area.


Deactives - For the game, the Storm deactivated FB/LB Vidal Mills and linemen Johnie Church, Tony Plantin and Rod Williams.

Of Numbers and Attendance and So-Forth - The crowd of 9,673---which appeared to be at least somewhat inflated---was the lowest of the season and the second-lowest in Storm history; only the announced throng of 9,623 for the Nashville home game last season was lower...The Storm honored the man purported to be the one millionth fan ever to come to a Storm regular season or playoff home game. Romando Purcell, a 33-year-old warehouse worker from Tampa, was shepherded onto the field by Bubba the Love Sponge, an ethically and socially challenged radio personality for WXTB-FM 97.9 (98 Rock) in the Bay Area. Purcell was given the opportunity to try and win either a Dodge truck or $1 million.

Prior to the game, the promotion was shrouded in secrecy regarding what the fan would have to do to win the truck or the cash. In a news release one week before the game, Storm Vice-President of Sales and Marketing Chris Lahey emphasized that the task wouldn't be unfeasible. "Our one-millionth fan won't have to do something impossible, like kick a 50-yard field goal or toss a football through the eye of a needle or try to tackle all-time AFL sack leader Sylvester Bembery," Lahey said.

That's where Lahey was wrong. It was, indeed, impossible. Purcell was given the chance to kick a football from 25 yards out for the truck or from 35 yards away for the cash. However, he wasn't asked to try and kick it through the uprights---he was asked to kick the ball squarely in the bed of the truck, stationed in the end zone. Considering that it was not lined with anything soft to cushion the ball, the chances of the pigskin staying in the bed without bouncing out were negligible.

He probably he would have had a better chance of tackling Bembery. His kick fell well short of the truck.

Imagine if Alex Trebek Was Wrong on Jeopardy! - Unbeknownst to the crowd, the Storm made an embarrassing gaffe in its second quarter trivia contest. Public address announcer Paul Porter asked a fan in what year did the Storm have its 500,000th fan walk through the gates, and the matrix boards hovering above the field offered four choices: a) 1993, b) 1994, c) 1995 and d) 1996. The fan in the stands---who had an opportunity to win a prize pack provided by W.H. Simon, an accounting firm which sponsors the Storm---chose the third option of 1995. However, Porter, reading from the script provided to him by the team, intoned that he was wrong---and that the answer was actually 1994. While the Storm did honor its 500,000th fan during a game with the Massachusetts Marauders in 1994, the team actually ended the season short of the mark, finishing that year with 477,832 fans.

Really Screwed - Due to the a constricting confluence of events cramming the Ice Palace schedule this week, facility workers were unable to set up the field until game day, and were forced to lay the field over a base of ice covered with plywood, necessitated by an ice skating show playing at the building on Sunday afternoon. As a result of the quick turnaround time and the need for ice, the field was laid down hastily and poorly, with humps all over the playing surface, some as high as four or five inches off of the Palace floor. To flatten the turf, workers began mechanically inserting screws into the playing surface in order to provide a level playing field. The alteration process began just two hours before kickoff after several players, including FB/LBs Andre Bowden and Les Barley, complained about the field's Himalayan qualities.

Awards - The MVP was Willis and the Tinactin Ironman was Cunningham.

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