1999 Results | Game Coverage

Bobcats Turned Back in New Lair

By Andrew Mason
Content Editor

Jason Dulick
WR/DB Jason Dulick, shown last week against Orlando, solidified his spot on the roster by catching two touchdown passes, including a beautiful diving grab in the fourth quarter. Photo by Chris Arnold.
SUNRISE, Fla. - Most preseason encounters are about the quest of players to make a team's roster. In that regard, this game was typical of a warm-up encounter in any sport, as Storm rookies such as Casey Gamble, Melvin Cunningham, Johnie Church, Alundis Brice, Charles Wilson, Pokey Eckford and Tommy Henry all saw substantial playing time in their second Arena Football audition. Some, like Cunningham, who had one interception called back, nearly had two more and scored on a 17-yard touchdown catch, probably solidified a place on the 24-man roster. Others will sit in their hotel rooms or apartments this weekend, praying to avoid the dreaded call.

However, most of the watercolors comprising the tableau of this game between the Florida Bobcats and the Tampa Bay Storm dealt with the environment surrounding the game itself, a 49-44 win by the Bobcats. In this case, it was the Bobcats' new lair, the National Car Rental Center, an ominous edifice within earshot of the heart of the Everglades. One can't rent a car here, but can watch a football game.

Unfortunately, a car rental promotion might have done much better at attracting a crowd than an Arena Football game. The announced attendance was 5,817, but it actually appeared that all the fans could have fit comfortably in the team's old home, the 4,600-seat West Palm Beach Auditorium, and had elbow room to spare. That being said, the attendance was still a vast improvement over the intimate gatherings at the Auditorium the last two seasons---something that is as much backhanded compliment as cause for optimism.

A stroll through the concourse at the arena was a solitary trek, even as the countdown to kickoff stood at less than 20 minutes. The Bobcats did not go to the measure of closing off the upper deck as the Storm has at the Ice Palace this year, but there were numerous upper level sections with gatherings whose number you could tally up on one hand.

The loudest cheers of the pregame introductions came for Florida coach Bruce Hardy, assistant Jim Jensen and the honorary coin-flip participant, Mark Clayton. All, of course, are former members of the Miami Dolphins. Perhaps in that situation lies a solution to the community apathy surrounding the Bobcats' move to Broward County---to sign any and all members of the Dolphins to contracts to play Arenaball in the offseason.

Okay, it's not a viable solution. However, the crowd did begin to warm up to certain Bobcats as the game went on. The team's acrobatic offensive specialist, Cleveland Pratt, invigorated the fans with two 40-yard-plus kick returns in the fourth quarter. The team's pass rush chalked up two second-half sacks of Storm backup QB Josh Wallwork, and held the Storm to just one offensive touchdown after the halftime break.

Through the emptiness of the vast National Car Rental Center---which, in spite of the fact that its capacity is 1,000 less than the Ice Palace, seems the larger building in every way---there arose some signs for hope. Hope, though, is all this franchise can have, given its history.

The people in charge of producing the presentation on the JumboTron screens at the National Car Rental Center appear prepared for this franchise's seventh losing season in as many South Florida summers. Evidence of this came in the fourth quarter as the Bobcats tried in vain to erase a 12-point deficit. At that point, a series of motivational, Hollywood-rally-from-unrealistically-impossible odds rolled on the arena's big screens. From beyond the grave, John "Bluto" Belushi, presumably having just quaffed a fifth of Jack Daniels, hypothesized that nothing is over until he decides it is. Belushi was followed by clips from "Hoosiers" and "Rudy." All that was missing was Leslie Nielsen's moving elegy for George Zip.

None worked. Any bonus bounce the Bobcats might have received was counter-balanced by the team's failure to manage the clock in the final 20 seconds of the game. After a penalty call set them back to the Storm's six-yard-line, the Bobcats dawdled in the huddle as the clock began to run, per referee R.G. DeTillier's correct decision to re-start the clock after a penalty on a running play. Casually, the Bobcats broke the huddle until they all appeared to glance at the game clock in unison and scurried to the line of scrimmage like a horde of hyper kindergarteners.

On the ensuing play, Storm WR/DB Melvin Cunningham, who had come tantalyzingly close to two interceptions earlier in the game, finally picked one off in the end zone. There was little premature jocularity by the Storm players, though---they saw the penalty flags and knew the likely cause---a holding penalty on rookie WR/DB Alundis Brice.

Less than one second remained---0.5, to be precise. For once, the noise of the crowd drowned out the public address system. One play to win ore lose---the first game-deciding decision of new coach Bruce Hardy's head coaching career. The ball was snapped and pitched by former UF walk-on QB Noah Brindise to Michael McClenton. Storm FB/LB Les Barley knocked McClenton off balance as he raced to the left side. Perliously close to the sideline, McClenton lunged for the pylon---and appeared at first glance to make it in. Most of the fans signaled for a score, as did Bobcat players and coaches.

But all the hundreds of arms that rose skyward were meaningless. Only five sets of arms---those of the officials---truly matter. Those arms remained lowered; the ruling was that he stepped out between the one and two-yard-lines. Storm coach Tim Marcum concurred with the decision.

"He was not in. There was no way," Marcum emphatically stated afterwards.

Perhaps this would be a matter worth contesting for the Bobcats were this a regular season encounter. However, it was not---and the teams move on to Week One of the regular season. After paring the active roster down to 24 on Monday, the Storm will begin full-fledged preparations for Saturday night's contest with the Albany Firebirds. Tickets are available by contacting the Storm office at (813) 276-7300 or through TicketMaster at (813) 287-8844. Fans can also purchase tickets through www.ticketmaster.com.


Don't Bother Checking Your Program - The Storm made three late roster additions that made neither the game program nor the game notes distributed to the media. Tampa Bay added WR/DB Derrick Atterberry, WR/DB Carl Greenwood and FB/LB Vidal Mills to the roster. Of the three, Mills is probably the most familiar name to Tampa Bay football fans, as he was on the Buccaneers' training camp and practice rosters in 1994.

Awards - The MVP was Willis and the Ironman was Lawrence Samuels.

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