Huge Hearts in the Eye of the Storm
If you could pick one game this season to sum up the Arena Football League to a person who had never watched it before, the game to pick would be Saturday’s Wild Card contest between the Tampa Bay Storm and Columbus Destroyers.
This game had just about everything. There were a couple excellent special teams plays, both defenses recorded monstrous goal line stands, quarterbacks were sharp, receivers were making acrobatic catches, and after 60 minutes of hard-nosed football, a mere extra point was all that separated the two teams. As the old AFL adage states, “He who gets the ball last, wins.” After being tied at 14 at the end of the first quarter, 35 at the end of the second quarter, and 42 at the end of the 4th quarter, it’s a shame that Storm kicker, Seth Marler, who Coach Tim Marcum later called, “the best kicker in the league,” had to be the scapegoat. I’m convinced if those two teams played 60 more minutes of football, the final margin between them would still be that lone extra point.
I felt the emotion on the field all the way up in the press box. Both teams gave this one everything they had and left nothing out there. No matter whether Marler’s last gasp 56-yard field goal attempt that sailed narrowly wide to the left was good or not, both teams would leave with their heads held high. Columbus may be moving on to take on the Dallas Desperados next weekend, but the entire Tampa Bay Storm organization should be very proud of their efforts this season.
Rewind to April 29th… The Storm were 1-6 and coming off of a thumping in the Jungle at the hands of the Orlando Predators. They were down 13-10 at halftime against these same Destroyers at home. Columbus was receiving to start the 2nd half, and Storm QB John Kaleo had been knocked out of the game. Enter Brett Dietz. The 26-year old from Covington, KY led the Storm on three 2nd half touchdown drives, propelling the Storm to a 34-32 victory that day. As Marcum said after the game, “She wasn’t pretty, but we danced with her anyway.”
Who knew that April 29th would change the entire complexion on the season for the Storm? In fact, eight of the last nine games of the regular season were Tampa Bay victories, with the lone defeat coming in Atlanta against the Georgia Force.
Unfortunately, there was much more to overcome this year for the Storm family than just a 1-6 beginning to the season. On May 16th, long time Storm FB/LB Nyle Wiren lost his wife, Caroline following the birth of their first child, Clay. FB Torrance Marshall also lost his father during the season.
Suddenly, records didn’t matter anymore. Everything seemed to get put in perspective. You can go 0-16 and still come back next season. There isn’t always a “next season” in the game of life.
You could just feel how emotional the Storm locker room was following the game.
“We had major tragedies and still [went] on a big run in the end. It’s special, and everyone will remember this season in the locker room. It’s been a memorable season, and it sucks that it ends like this.” This doesn’t sound like a quarterback who just stepped into an AFL game for the first time two months ago. Brett Dietz sounds like a veteran leader.
As for veteran leaders, WR/LB Lawrence Samuels added, “I’m so proud of this team and all of the accomplishments we made this year. It shows the type of professionalism, character, and heart these guys have.”
No matter if you’re from Tampa Bay, Orlando, Columbus, or any other city, how can you root against a team with players like this?
Just look at this team. Dietz is perhaps the best up and coming quarterback in the league. Lawrence Samuels has been the consummate pro since 1994. Veterans like Marcus “Snowball” Owen, Jeroid Johnson, Ernest Certain, and Tom Briggs, provided inspiration and leadership for the younger players such as Alex Wallace, Hank Edwards, Marvin Brown, and Tom Kaleita. Then there’s Lincoln Kennedy and Karl “The Truth” Williams, who both came to play in the AFL after lengthy NFL careers at the age of 36. Coach Marcum spoke only the highest about Kennedy. “You’ve got a guy playing football because he loves the game.”
If only everyone took this message and stopped worrying about ticket sales, glamorous appearances on national television, and revenue and remembered that this game was built by guys who played for the love of the game…
But perhaps the most rewarding part of my brief time in the Storm locker room was that no one ever mentioned “I” or “me.” No one pointed the finger at Marler for making what ended up being the costly mistake of the game. No one made excuses for injuries or officiating. Everyone was talking about what the team accomplished and how they never gave up when there were plenty of chances to do so over the course of the season.
Coach Marcum summed it up the best. “These guys did what they did, and did it as a team. They did it together.”
Finally, after years of weeding through players, Tim Marcum finally has a squad of players that he really seems to love being around. No, the Storm may not be ready to compete with the elite teams in the AFL… yet… But with time, Marcum has proven that he can build a championship team. The foundation has been laid for the Storm to return to prominence in the AFL, and love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re doing it right.