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. Once targeted by the Bucs, Dalvin Cook thrills for the Vikings

    Bucs

    How good would the Bucs be with running back Dalvin Cook?

    Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) slips a tackle by Steelers strong safety Sean Davis (28) to score a touchdown Sunday in Pittsburgh. [AP photo]
  2. Boxer LaMotta, immortalized in 'Raging Bull,' dies at 95

    Obituaries

    MIAMI — Jake LaMotta, the former middleweight champion whose life in and out of the ring was depicted in the film Raging Bull, for which Robert DeNiro won an Academy Award, has died, his fiancee said Wednesday. He was 95.

    Jake LaMotta, retired professional boxer, shakes hands with Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) on the field before the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg on Sept. 15, 2015. LaMotta was on hand to sign autographs in the Ted Williams Museum.
  3. J.R. Sweezy shows what Bucs were missing

    Bucs

    By Greg Auman

    TAMPA —- Sunday's season-opening win against the Bears saw the debut of 13 Bucs, a mix of rookies and free-agent veterans.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive guard J.R. Sweezy (73), seen at center, runs through drills during training camp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Monday, July 31, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times 

  4. Cannon Fodder podcast: Bucs-Vikings features a battle of top rookies

    Bucs

    Greg Auman looks at how much the Bucs have changed since the last time they played the Minnesota Vikings in 2014 in our latest Cannon Fodder podcast.

    Bucs tight end O.J. Howard (80) makes a reception as Chicago Bears free safety Eddie Jackson (39) tackles him Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  5. Late Holy Names swimmer Cailin Cannella was a fighter until the end

    Swimming Preps

    At swim meets, Cailin Cannella would race side-by-side with her breastroke competitors, their heads bobbing in near unison.

    Holy Names swimmer Cailin Cannella, here at age 13, still was practicing last year after finding out she had osteosarcoma (bone cancer). [Times 2016]