The Good, the Bad, the Ugly - Wrapping up the 2016 Tampa Bay Storm Season
It was a fitting end to an absolutely abysmal 2016 season. The worst season in Tampa Bay Storm history, in fact. While Sunday night in Allentown, PA marked the 23rd postseason appearance for the Storm franchise, this one just felt a little different. In a year where all eight teams in the Arena Football League qualified for the playoffs, the Storm limped into their first round matchup against the Philadelphia Soul with a regular season record of 2-14. Let's take a quick look at just how the Storm got there. The diehards should look away here…
Game 1 vs Orlando Predators
It was a fresh start for the Storm and who better to kick it off against than the arch-rival Predators? Well, to answer that question… Anyone else would have been a better option. The Storm were blown out of their own building, 75-26 the final score. The most lopsided loss at home in Storm history. Certainly not the start that head coach Lawrence Samuels envisioned as he began his 3rd year at the helm on what was already a “warm seat” according to many. Unfortunately, this game was only the start of (bad) things to come.
Game 2 @ Cleveland Gladiators
I had the “pleasure” of traveling up to this contest in Cleveland, and while it was a much better effort from the Storm… It just wasn't quite enough again. In fact, it was more of the heartbreaking variety. Tampa Bay had a golden opportunity to win this game in the final minutes. With his team on the Gladiators one-yard line, Storm QB Jason Boltus was unsuccessful in a couple of attempts at sneaking it in and then threw a pick-six on fourth down. That was all she wrote. Yep, a walk-off pick-six. 49-21 Cleveland
Game 3 @ Arizona Rattlers
Not much to say about this one. The league’s best team hosting the league’s worst team. The Storm held their own for a quick minute, but as you might expect it got pretty ugly in Phoenix and the Storm dropped to 0-3 to begin the season. The Storm would exact some revenge later in the season, however. We will get to that later.
Game 4 vs Jacksonville Sharks
Dare I say it, this one was actually pretty fun. The game was close the entire way, and the final score indicates just that. The Storm were still in the Jonathan Bane era of quarterback play and that ended up being the difference as the Storm had a chance to win the game down just six points and with the ball. On 4th-and-goal, Bane just chucked the ball out of bounds, not giving any WR even a chance. 33-27 Jacksonville.
Game 5 @ Philadelphia Soul
Nothing to see here but another blowout. The Storm were shutout in both the second and fourth quarters of this game. Jonathan Bane had just as many TD passes as he did interceptions and this one was never all that close. 47-17 Philadelphia.
Game 6 @ Orlando Predators
The second time around between these two teams would prove to be a MUCH better contest as Jason Boltus made another appearance at quarterback for the Storm. It certainly didn’t look like it would be on paper, however. The Storm came into the game winless, while the Predators entered undefeated on the young season. The Storm defense held the Predators scoreless in the fourth quarter and again had a chance to snag the upset late in the game. Tampa Bay turned it over on downs at crucial points yet again though, and fell short by a couple. 42-40 Orlando
Game 7 vs Cleveland Gladiators
An overtime thriller! Another loss, but hey, an overtime thriller! Simply put, the Gladiators scored in overtime and the Storm did not. Despite Storm QB Jason Boltus throwing for nearly 400 yards and eight touchdowns, the Gladiators would hang on to win a high-scoring, wild affair. 70-63 Cleveland. Tampa Bay dropped to 0-7
Game 8 vs Arizona Rattlers
T.T Toliver!! Storm win! The ageless wonder, T.T Toliver hauled in a 28-yard touchdown pass from Jason Boltus with just 3 seconds left in the game and the Storm pulled off one of the biggest upsets, at least on paper, in years. The Storm outscored the Rattlers 28-8 in the final quarter and the score at the final horn would send the nearly 9,000 Storm fans into euphoria. This game also marked the now famous saying by head coach Lawrence Samuels postgame when he told the media, "The rest of this league better watch out now." Little did he know.... 63-56 Tampa Bay.
Game 9 @ Portland Steel
I still find myself at a loss of words talking about this one. Was it the cross-country travel? The short week of preparation? The Storm followed up the monumental upset of the powerhouse that is the Arizona Rattlers with a disturbing blowout loss the Portland Steel. This was, at the time, the newest low. The ultimate low. The moment I finally realized something was definitely not right behind the scenes. 68-35 Portland.
Game 10 vs Jacksonville Sharks
This matchup wouldn’t be nearly as exciting as the first between the teams. Jason Boltus struggled and Sharks WR Joe Hills continued to run all over his ex-team. One of these teams would actually fire a head coach a few weeks later, and it's not the one you would think. 67-34 Jacksonville.
Game 11 vs Los Angeles KISS
Pretty embarrassing, again. Sure, the KISS were a much improved team this season but for them to come cross-country and just smack you on your home turf? Yikes. The Storm scored six points the entire first half of the ballgame. Another very low point. 54-27 Los Angeles.
Game 12 @ Orlando Predators
This was a special night in Orlando as it was the first home game for the Predators since the mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub a few weeks before. An emotional Amway Center crowd of 13,000 strong willed their hometown team to yet another victory and season sweep over the rival Storm. The Storm didn’t win, and under the circumstances... You kind of didn’t want them to. 56-33 Orlando.
Game 13 @ Los Angeles KISS
For the second time in just a couple weeks, the Storm went up against the KISS this time from the left coast. Unfortunately, the Storm didn’t seem to learn much from the first time around and the KISS opened up a lead and never looked back. If you wanted to point out a single moment where this Storm team really fell apart... the final "play" of this game might just be what you're looking for. A massive, bench-clearing brawl that involved even fans in the stands and led to the game being called with 20 or so seconds remaining. 48-21 Los Angeles.
Game 14 vs Philadelphia Soul
Close, but no cigar. The Storm were able to give the Soul a big time scare in this one as Storm backup QB Adam Kennedy came in for the injured Boltus and really shined. Kennedy threw for 241 yards and 5 touchdowns. He would throw a very costly pick-six though in the fourth quarter that would prove to be the difference. 56-51 Philadelphia escapes.
Game 15 vs Portland Steel
Blocked! Blocked! What's more exciting than two of the worst teams in AFL history going at it? A blocked field goal to win that game, of course! While I'm sure it’s the Storm and Steel fans respectively that would like to "block" their memory of this season... this game did happen and the Storm did win their second game of the year. I got kind of excited, for what it’s worth. 41-40 Tampa Bay
Game 16 @ Jacksonville Sharks
This game meant nothing, really. Being that the Storm had never won a game in Jacksonville, you just knew this wasn’t going to be any different. Joe Hills continued to own the Storm and the Sharks built a healthy, safe lead early in the second half. The Storm finish the regular season with a 2-14 record losing this one 54-35.
Sunday night’s playoff game against the Philadelphia Soul doesn’t even merit a separate paragraph. The fact the Storm were even allowed to participate in any sort of playoff game is a complete disgrace as far as I'm concerned.
This is not the same franchise that won five ArenaBowls. This is not the same franchise that I grew up to love and root for and watch dominate the Arena Football League. With the exception of T.T. Toliver, 2016 was a year to forget. Never talk about again. It was a complete organizational failure from top to bottom. Something has to change. Heck, everything has to change.
Until next year... That’s a wrap.