Somewhere in the first quarter of Tampa Bay’s victory over Cleveland two weeks ago, Storm defensive back Arthur Hobbs was making a tackle when a Gladiators offensive lineman jumped into the fray and pushed the pile over. The unidentified lineman fell on Hobbs, knocking his helmet down onto his left eye.
The force of the blow left Hobbs with an eye swollen nearly complete shut.
“I couldn’t even see out of it,” Hobbs admitted.
The lack of 20/20 vision wasn’t about to keep Hobbs out of the game, however.
“Coach James was like, ‘Are you good? Okay, go in,’” Hobbs joked.
Hobbs mangled eye was good enough to see the Storm rally back from a 33-14 second quarter deficit, fall behind late following a successful onside kick and touchdown conversion by the Gladiators and Storm quarterback Randy Hippeard’s last-second run into the end zone for a 62-61 Tampa Bay victory.
Hobbs finished the game with six solo tackles, one assisted tackle and a pass breakup, even with only one eye.
For Hobbs, last week’s bye week, the first of the season for the Storm, couldn’t have come at a better time. The rest allowed his eye time to heal and his body time to recover from the bumps and bruises of the first three weeks of the season.
“For two days, the eye was pretty much swollen shut like I was in a boxing match. Coach kept calling me Ali,” Hobbs said. “It was a good bye week for us in the fact that we got to rest our legs. The eye, obviously, was a problem too, but the legs were the biggest thing. I’m refreshed now. I can see better than ever. I feel good. I was still able to finish the game, so the eye didn’t keep me from playing, which is a plus. I’m just happy to not have the other one get messed up in the same game.”
The bye week was a mixed blessing for the Storm (2-1). On one hand, it gave players like Hobbs a chance to recover from various ailments. But the week-long layoff also disrupted the momentum the Storm had built during their come-from-behind win over the Gladiators.
“You always want to get right back out there and play,” Storm center Raymond McNeil said. “It seems like it takes forever to come back around. We had to take a week off, but it felt like a month. Plus it’s a Sunday game, so that’s another day we have to wait. You definitely want to go into the bye week with a win. You never want it to be a loss because then you have to think about that loss for nine or 10 days.”
Tampa Bay head coach Ron James said his team was “rusty” their first day back to work on Wednesday in preparation for Sunday’s game at Baltimore, which will be the first-ever meeting between the Storm and the newly-formed Brigade. Thursday’s training sessions was much crisper. The Storm spent much of the practice week focused on playing a full 60-minute game. In the first two games of the season, Tampa Bay started slowly but improved as the contest progressed.
Against the Gladiators, the Storm got off to a better start but slipped in the second quarter before rallying for the win.
“We made that game so close and a lot of players on our team internally and our coaching staff, we felt like the game shouldn’t have been that close,” Hobbs said. “There were a lot of plays we left out there on the field that we should have made, and the game wouldn’t have been close in retrospect because of it. I think that we’re just anxious to get back on the field and prove that we can do it again and not make these games so interesting and just beat teams.”
The Brigade (1-2) are playing their first home game at Royal Farms Arena in franchise history after opening the 2017 season with three-straight road games.
“The game itself, we’ve seen how they play, they’ve seen how we play so now the strategy is pretty cut and dry, but the matchups are always something you can’t really glean from the film as much as you would like to because when you get out on the field you see how another team matches up with them but then your players are a little bit different,” Storm head coach Ron James said. “It does change kind of what you’re doing midstream sometimes in the game. We’ll find out early. We’ve got multiple different looks to try to figure that out as soon as we possibly can, and that’s part of the game. We know we’re going to play them multiple times, so being the first time out here, we’re not going to show them everything that we want to do season long, but we are going to add some new wrinkles coming out of the bye that they haven’t seen yet.”
McNeil said he expects the Baltimore crowd to be fired up for the team’s first home game and the Brigade to feed off of that energy.
But he also expects his teammates to have an answer.
“There probably will be a little juice in the building until we punch them in the mouth,” he said. “Then all that will die down a little bit.”