Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa Bay's Arena football survivors shoot for title

TAMPA — They're playing for the championship of a five-team league. Yeah, and there were semifinals, too. Most of them don't even know the name of the trophy they'll be handed if they become champions Saturday night: the Foster Trophy.

"All I know is I'm going to drink from it if we win," Kendrick Ings said.

Here's to the Tampa Bay Storm, still alive and kicking, like its Lazarus of a league. The Storm is playing in ArenaBowl XXX on Saturday in Philadelphia against the defending AFL champion Soul.

REMEMBER WHEN? Arena Football League has evolved from a quirky afterthought into nation's fastest growing sport

"I don't care if it's two teams in the league, a championship is a championship," said Ings, a Storm receiver with 22 touchdown catches this season.

"This team has gone through things that have reminded me of things I went through on my championship teams in college and the Bucs," Storm president Derrick Brooks said.

The AFL seemed on the brink of extinction last year as it shriveled from eight teams to three teams. From the outside, it looked like curtains.

But Ted Leonsis, owner of the NHL Washington Capitals and NBA Washington Wizards, created two new AFL teams, the Washington Valor and Baltimore Brigade. He represents solid ownership, along with Lightning and Storm owner Jeff Vinik and Cleveland Cavaliers and AFL Gladiators owner Dan Gilbert.

REMEMBER WHEN? Storm wins a fantastic fifth ArenaBowl title

The Storm lives.

It went 10-4 this season, a robust turnaround from 2016, when it went 2-14. Mind you, 2-14 still made the playoffs. Oh, that nutty league. But here is the Storm's chance to win a record sixth ArenaBowl, though it would be Tampa Bay's first since 2003.

I mentioned this to Storm quarterback Randy Hippeard, a very nice man who has thrown 80 touchdowns this season, but, more important, wears No. 12. I suggested he could maybe stir interest in this ArenaBowl if he sat at the pool at the team's Philadelphia airport hotel and told media that he "guarantees" a victory over the Soul. The full Joe Willie.

Two problems.

"I'm not flashy," Hippeard said with a laugh.

Second problem: There would have to be media.

The Storm could use some love.

"These guys are putting their bodies on the line every week," said first-year Storm coach Ron James, a 20-year AFL man who will work at his first ArenaBowl. "The turf is unforgiving. The walls are unforgiving."

And the paychecks are unforgiving, roughly $900 per player per game, though QBs make a little more.

Storm receiver Joe "Superman" Hills has caught 36 touchdowns this season and holds the AFL record with TD catches in 81 consecutive regular-season games and counting. In the offseason, Hills works as a trainer at a YMCA in Bradenton.

"Playing is a labor of love," said Hills, who spent some time on the Bucs' practice squad.

There are still Storm fans. Fans like Tampa Bay Storm Surge Club president Cindy Wright. She has had Storm season tickets since the team moved here from Pittsburgh in 1990.

Wright said the club has about 35 members. It often sees the team off at the airport on road trips and meets it when it returns. She usually brings treats and over the years has made meals for players and helped them with errands. Nickname: "Storm Mom."

Last season, the AFL began shrinking.

"I was scared to death," Storm Mom said.

Now she's flying to ArenaBowl XXX.

The game, at 7 p.m. Saturday, won't be televised locally. But there will be a watch party at Amalie Arena. And there is radio (WHNZ-AM 1250). You also can watch on the Storm website ( tampabaystorm.com); the AFL's app, AFLNow; or Twitter ( afl.twitter.com). And feel free to meet the Storm's charter when it lands in Tampa on Sunday, American Airlines, around 6 p.m.. Actually, just go to baggage claim. The Storm never charters.

"Commercial all the way, middle seats, unless we get on early," Hills said.

By the way, the Foster Trophy is named for Jim Foster, who co-founded the Arena Football League and who was its first commissioner. The trophy is 28 inches tall, weighs 40 pounds and is topped by a silver bowl. That's right: You can drink out of it.

"That's all I need," Kendrick Ings said.

Here's looking at you, Storm.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly

Tampa Bay's Arena football survivors shoot for title 08/24/17 [Last modified: Friday, August 25, 2017 12:51am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Lightning journal: Ryan Callahan feels good after first game action since January

    Sports

    TAMPA — As veteran RW Ryan Callahan was riding a stationary bike before Friday's exhibition game, he felt nervous. There was anxiety.

    Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan (24) pursues Nashville Predators center Colton Sissons (10) during the first period of Friday (9/22/17) preseason game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Nashville Predators at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  2. FSU players rally around freshman QB James Blackman

    College

    TALLAHASSEE — For the first few minutes Saturday, Florida State's James Blackman looked like a true freshman making his first start at quarterback for a big-time program.

    Florida State Seminoles quarterback James Blackman (1) gets sacked during the first quarter of the Florida State Seminoles game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack on September 23, 2017, at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla.  Final score, North Carolina State Wolfpack 27, Florida State Seminoles 21.
  3. No. 12 FSU, defense struggle in 27-21 loss to N.C. State

    College

    TALLAHASSEE — It's easy to blame No. 12 Florida State's 27-21 loss to North Carolina State on the injury to starting quarterback Deondre Francois or the three-week layoff because of Hurricane Irma.

    It would also be wrong.

    Florida State Seminoles wide receiver Nyqwan Murray (8) carries during the first quarter of the Florida State Seminoles game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack on September 23, 2017, at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla.  At the half, North Carolina State Wolfpack 17, Florida State Seminoles 10.
  4. Trump tells Warriors star Stephen Curry that White House visit is off

    Nba

    SOMERSET, N.J. — Stephen Curry and President Donald Trump agree on one thing: The Golden State star is not going to the White House anytime soon.

    Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry poses for photos during NBA basketball team media day Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. [Associated Press]
  5. For starters: Rays at Orioles, facing another old friend in Jeremy Hellickson

    Blogs

    UPDATE, 3:29: Here is the Rays lineup, with Duda at 1B and Morrison the DH: