Tampa Bay Storm jack linebacker Alvin Ray Jackson will be making his third ArenaBowl appearance in the last four seasons when the Storm take on the Philadelphia Soul in Saturday’s Arena Football League championship.
Jackson has yet to win an ArenaBowl, however. Jackson’s Cleveland Gladiators went 17-1 during the 2014 regular season but suffered a 40-point loss at home to Arizona in the title game. A year later, Jackson returned to the ArenaBowl with the Jacksonville Sharks but again tasted defeat when the San Jose SaberCats rolled to a 21-point win.
Jackson’s hoping the third time is the charm this season with the Storm.
“I don’t want to be the Buffalo Bills,” Jackson said, referring to the franchise most known for championship game futility having made it to four-consecutive Super Bowls in the 1990s but failing to win one.
Jackson’s doing his part this week to reverse his personal ArenaBowl curse. As one of a handful of Storm players with previous ArenaBowl experience, he’s committed to imparting the lessons learned from those two prior defeats to his teammates this week as they prepare for what will be the biggest game of their career for many.
“The intensity of the ArenaBowl is totally different,” said Jackson, who was named First Team All-Arena on Monday. “The level of the game is going to go up, and you have to rise to that occasion. It’s kind of like when you’re riding a motorcycle. Fourth gear’s kind of fast, but you’ve got to get to fifth gear when you’re at the top.”
But other than the intensity level, the rest of the game remains virtually the same, Jackson said. And that’s another message he’s trying to impart to his teammates: Don’t get too caught up in the hype.
“It’s business as usual for us,” he said. “You can’t go in looking at it like it’s a bigger game than the others. It’s just another game. We’ve got to treat it like another game. We’ve worked hard every game this year, and we’ve just got to work hard this game and not worry about the bright lights, not worry about what game it is. It’s just the 16th game on the schedule.”
Storm defensive back Alfred Phillips also has ArenaBowl experience having made it to the championship game last season with Arizona. The Rattlers were heavily favored over their opponent and playing at home but were upset by Philadelphia.
“That was really tough because we went undefeated at home the whole season and we felt really confident,” Phillips said. “When we lost, it just didn’t feel right.”
There are parallels between Phillips’ situation in Arizona last season and the scenario the Storm face in Saturday’s matchup against the Soul, a team they’ve lost eight in a row to, including a first-round playoff game last season. Like Arizona, Philadelphia has yet to drop a game at home this season. The Soul went on the road as a heavy underdog in ArenaBowl XXIX but were able to jump on the Rattlers early and hold on for the victory.
The Storm are trying to follow the Soul’s example from last season to beat, well, the Soul.
“I tell the guys that (the Rattlers) were undefeated, and Philly came in there and won so there’s no reason why we can’t do the same,” Phillips said. “We’re in the same situation. We just have to come together as a team and put our best game plan together.”
Storm head coach Ron James will be making his first ArenaBowl appearance despite 20 seasons in the league. He understands how difficult it is to reach the pinnacle of the AFL and wants to appreciate the moment.
He also wants to win a championship for a Storm franchise looking for its first ArenaBowl title since 2003 and sixth overall.
“Getting to the ArenaBowl means a lot because I respect the history of the league and the people who have been here before me,” James said. “But more importantly than that, it’s what I owe this organization and this league is to give my best effort and hopefully bring a championship back to Tampa.”