Playful pun could spark Preds-Sharks rivalry in 2015
Jacksonville Sharks' owner Jeff Bouchy once told me that he hoped he could play the Orlando Predators 18 times over the course of the season so it gave him 18 chances to beat up on the team he used to be a part-owner of. Naturally, there was a degree of hatred for Jacksonville fans, the likes of which followed their owner in their disdain for the City Beautiful. On Wednesday though, the Predators threw the counterpunch at the Sharks that, in spite of the fact that it amounted to nothing more than a playful pun, could end up being the spark this rivalry so badly needed on the field.
Things have been trending this way for the past couple years in this series. Part of the reason why the rivalry was never really in full swing between Orlando and Jacksonville is because the Preds have already been preoccupied with their neighbors from 80 miles due west on I-4. The rivalry wasn't exactly an equitable one either. In the first four years of the Sharks' existence, they went 8-1 in the regular season against Orlando, and the only claim to fame which the Predators had was a 73-69 win in Jacksonville in the 2010 playoffs. The Sharks won every Southern Division title in that stretch.
Typically, it takes some equity to make a great rivalry; just look at the War on I-4 for proof of that. Even to this day, the all-time record in games between the Predators and the Tampa Bay Storm is 28-27 in favor of the central Floridians.
The fact that Jay Gruden was a Hall of Fame quarterback on the Tampa Bay side of the rivalry for years and years and became the future Hall of Fame head coach on the Orlando side of the rivalry for years helped as well. Then you had guys like Pat O'Hara, Stevie Thomas, T.T. Toliver, B.J. Cohenů and the list could go on and on of players who donned both the black and red and the blue and gold.
There was the time in 1997 when Barry Wagner guaranteed a victory over the Storm, and he was backed by his owner, Will Maris with a guarantee that all of the fans in attendance that night would get free pizza if the Predators loss. Then there was the time when Tim Marcum said, in his words, Orlando fans were what happened when cousins married cousins and had babies. Then there was the time when Michael O'Quinn, a new member of the Tampa Bay ownership in the post-Woody Kern era, said that if the Predators ever beat the Storm, he would eat his hat. (Orlando went on to beat Tampa Bay in the first meeting of the season that year. O'Quinn still, to my knowledge anyway, has not eaten any hats.)
The fact of the matter is that the War on I-4 has had all of that for going on two and a half decades. So far, the shenanigans between the Sharks and the Predators have seemingly been more related to sibling rivalries between Jeff and Brett Bouchy than the actual play on the field.
The problems which started to build in this series internally all seemed to go against the Sharks. Aaron Garcia was the one who left Jacksonville and ultimately landed in Orlando in 2013. When the Sharks wanted him back, they had to give up Bernard Morris, Trevis Turner and Matt Marcorelle to do so. Garcia never reported. Neither did any of the Sharks to Orlando.
However, when Garcia announced that he was coming back to Jacksonville, Rob Keefe and the Predators wanted compensation. As a result, the Sharks also send off Tracy Belton to Orlando. Morris reported to the Predators shortly thereafter, and he ultimately generated a win in Jacksonville a few weeks later.
Bouchy's disdain for Orlando was heightened in this offseason when Aaron Robbins, who had played four seasons with the Sharks, elected to take his talents down to Mickey Mouse's house.
Bouchy and the Sharks put out a press release early in the day stating that fans holding #0 jerseys could come exchange them for a "loyal Sharks player." In that release, Bouchy also referred to Orlando as "that city in Central Florida.
Normally speaking, this would have been the type of move which would have fallen upon deaf ears in Orlando. However, the Predators surprisingly put out a press release hours later stating that fans who currently own Sharks season tickets can exchange them for season tickets for the Predators.
In said release, Jared Saft, the new team president under the ownership of David Siegel, came up with the perfect retort, stating that Robbins, Morris and Belton made the "informed and educated decision" to stay in Orlando. He also went on to mention the season sweep which the Preds hung on the Sharks last season, then followed it up by calling Orlando a "winning program," something that the Sharks, for the first time in their history, didn't have last season.
Well played, Orlando. Your move, Jacksonville.
The can of gasoline has officially been poured on this rivalry. The Sharks and Predators literally have everything in place to make this rivalry similar to the War on I-4. Bouchy is playing the role of Marcum as the antagonist. Saft is the new Maris. Morris and Belton were the players who were cast away from Jacksonville in an effort to bring in a 43-year old quarterback who ultimately played two games before moving on again. Robbins is the man who will immediately become loved in Orlando and booed to the hilltops in Jacksonville. Les Moss can play the role of his father, Perry, who rarely had anything to say about the rivalry but was a stalwart in it.
And now the most important part. Both teams are good again.
Friday, April 3rd is the day to circle on your calendar. The Sharks will open up their home schedule against Orlando, which will be playing its first game on the road. If the Predators come to Jacksonville with the same swagger they had last year, it could end up becoming a bloody night, just like the old War on I-4.