O’Hara – The Tormentor Becomes the Hero
He`d just absorbed the most crunching hit he`d felt in two years and two months, slowly ambling to the bench area, pain flooding his face. Yet the Storm had taken a time out in the hopes that he would return, and as Pat O`Hara handed him the football, Kaleo prepared to show his coaches that there was just a little more left in his body.
With a flick of his arm and a reach for his lower back, Kaleo`s day screeched to its conclusion. Unable to throw without pain, he shuffled to the bench area, leaving the Storm`s hopes in the hands of a man who hadn`t completed a pass since mopping up a win over the destined-for-doom Carolina Cobras on Jan. 31.
It seemed of little solace that Pat O`Hara`s resume included one ArenaBowl triumph - a win that came in the same building some five years earlier, when, as the Orlando Predators` starting quarterback, he led the team to a stunning 62-31 smashing of the Storm. But by the time the day was done, his background meant anything. Indeed, for the Storm, it was poetic justice that O`Hara stepped onto the field and steadied the Storm, keeping it afloat long enough to boost it to a 43-29 win.
Since Jay Gruden joined the Predators as their head coach in 1998, the team had tormented the Storm when it mattered most, with the quarterback of all the Storm`s world championships ending the team`s playoff runs in 1998, 1999 and 2000. It seemed that with Gruden`s departure for Orlando, the karma and magic that surrounded the Storm for its first six years had vanished forever.
Who knew that it would be the commensurate arrival of a Predators championship quarterback who would change that?
Who knew it would be O`Hara, a backup for his brief, 19-game career with the Storm, that fired the passes that saved the Storm at a desperate juncture in ArenaBowl XVII? It was a moment where the team held a 7-point lead but stared at an uncertain future with its starting quarterback out for good and no one to fill in should O`Hara have met the same injury fate as Kaleo.
Who knew, going into Sunday, that O`Hara would end up being the difference between a bitter ArenaBowl loss and a momentous triumph, a win that separated the Storm from the ghosts of the four-time champions of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Detroit Drive?
Kaleo set the table. O`Hara saved it from having the tablecloth pulled from under it, Ghostbusters-style.
"Coming into a situation like that, that`s what you expect the backup quarterback to do - take care of the ball," O`Hara said, "Don`t turn it over, try to make one or two good throws."
Early in the fourth quarter, he did just that. Tampa Bay led 30-22, but faced third-and-15 from its own 7-yard-line following a false-start penalty on offensive specialist Freddie Solomon. O`Hara faded back, and heaved a pass into the sky for Lawrence Samuels, then trying to extricate himself from tight coverage.
As the arc of the toss hit its apex, it seemed that there was no way the play could end successfully for the Storm - unless a Rattlers penalty came along to salvage the play. It was going too far. There wasn`t a way Samuels could get enough separation - let alone get under the pass in time to catch it. There wasn`t any way he could get to the ball, which seemed to be headed for the blue turf four yards deep into the end zone.
But O`Hara believed something else was at work - something beyond arm strength and accuracy, beyond foot speed and hands.
"I can`t help but think on that pass to Law-Dog over here, that kind of dropped out of the sky, that Fran (Papasedero) touched it on the way down, and Law went and got it," O`Hara said.
An Orlando coach, smiling down a little fortune on the Storm. An Orlando quarterback, pulling the Storm from the realm of uncertainty to a championship seven seasons in the making. Somehow, that made sense.
For the Storm, the day was magical. And on this Sunday, when the man who once broke the Storm`s hearts on this field became the toast of what more than one Storm player called the new Titletown, it was easy to believe that O`Hara had a little more than eight seasons of AFL experience and his Tampa Bay teammates on his side.
Andrew Mason was at the Tampa Bay Storm`s first home game on June 1, 1991 and has followed the game ever since. While in college, he served as content editor and co-founder of The Storm Shelter, a Web site which covered the Tampa Bay Storm on the Internet from 1996-99. He also volunteered with the team`s media relations department in 1998 and currently contributes to ColoradoCrush.com. He's covered the NFL for various on-line outlets since 1999.