Silver Anniversary Gone Wrong, And Then Some
Ahhh... with an inbox full of press releases and roster cuts, and conversations of "what teams folded this time around" or "who moved to what league" swirling, opening night is finally here. An historical one, at that. The Tampa Bay Storm celebrated 25 years of Arena Football Friday night as it played host to the rival Orlando Predators in the AFL's 3,000th game.
Unfortunately for the Storm, the only history on display Friday night was that of the 2015 season. The Storm picked up right where they left off … by losing ugly to the Predators.
“25th season and we open up with Orlando. I thought Derrick (Brooks) did a great job of picking the schedule. We know we need to win at home and our guys are looking very forward to every War on I-4 this year," Storm head coach Lawrence Samuels said at the teams recent media day.
Something tells me Derrick Brooks was not envisioning a 76-25 blowout when he was handpicking the schedule. And this one was never even close. Never even competitive. A complete disgrace.
Another interesting quote from Coach Samuels just days before Friday night’s slaughter…err… I mean, opener, “These guys train with those guys up the road. You’ve got to understand that they’re all friends until that day. It’s been like that ever since I was a player here. We’re really looking forward to that day and just to having a good showing in front of our fans.”
Good showing? Not exactly.
Funny that Samuels should mention a good showing actually, considering the Storm went a whopping 0-3 last season against the Predators including an epic late-season collapse in Orlando. But hey, the Storm start this season with 21 veterans and three rookies on the opening day roster, compared to last year’s 15 rookies at the start. So the results should have been different on Friday night, right? Wrong.
The game took a dramatic turn for the worse when the Storm fell victim to a scoop-and-score on the first play of the second half. Storm quarterback Adam Kennedy then followed that up with a pass right into the hands of Predators DB Paul Stephens who had reservations for six and extended the Orlando lead to 48-13. Orlando cruised from there.
“A lot of the things we did do tonight… we are going to fix them. The guys know that”, Coach Samuels said after the game.
On his defense that gave up 76 points and the two plays that seemed to doom his team, a surprisingly well-tempered Samuels said, “Being the first game, guys will fix it. It was two bad plays…I’m not going to blame anybody. We will go back and watch the tape.”
While every team in the new look eight-team league will qualify for the postseason, marking it the first playoff appearance for the Storm since 2013 and the first under Samuels' subpar tenure, the Storm will need more than what they showed Friday night to say the least.
Regardless, there are still 15 more (possibly very long) regular season games to play and here are some things to keep an eye on as the season rolls on…
Newcomer Kennedy far from impressive in QB debut
Making his way down to Tampa Bay from the now defunct New Orleans VooDoo is quarterback Adam Kennedy. Kennedy spent the last couple weeks of Storm training camp battling it out with rookie Jonathan Bane out of Dakota Wesleyan.
“Both quarterbacks bring a lot to the table. It’s still a competition. We have a veteran from New Orleans, Kennedy, he’s been around this league, and he’s played at a high level,” Samuels said earlier in the week.
While Kennedy did get the start on Friday night against Orlando, it was frankly abysmal. Kennedy finished the game 12-of-25 for 150 yards and three scores. He threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a score. Kennedy was pulled in the fourth quarter.
Keeping it local
The Storm will travel outside the state of Florida just five times this season, two of which will come in the first three weeks of the season when they head to Cleveland and Arizona. The three team battle right here in the state of Florida will be key for the Storm this year.
Yes, T.T Toliver is still playing
Entering his 14th season in the AFL, and seventh with the Storm, Toliver is sure to play a large role in the Storm’s success in 2016. Not only does he provide that much-needed veteran leadership in the locker room, but his play on the field is unmatched.
“Just being back in Tampa, I call it home, just trying to bring a championship back here. We’re working hard, we’re just trying to get back out here and compete. I love what I see. Getting together with all the guys, we talk every day, just trying to get that team comradery going. I see that everybody is just trying to work hard,” said Toliver.
Toliver did have an impact in Friday night’s game hauling in two of the teams four total touchdowns. Yep, that’s one touchdown each quarter for the Storm. O-N-E
It can only go up from here?
While the Storm didn’t exactly pick the greatest of nights to celebrate their glory days of the late 90’s, it is Game 1 of 16. And that can’t be overlooked. However, with the team returning many players from last season, Friday night’s effort is nothing short of disappointing. But look on the bright side, any time you can lose by the largest margin in franchise history and still be playoff-bound… it’s a good night.
Here’s hoping for an exciting couple of months.