Wake-up call has Storm's full attention

Aug 14, 2017 Bryan Burns

The game hasn’t been talked about much in preparation for tonight’s Arena Football League playoff opener.

The film from that result has long been dissected, the mistakes highlighted and the lessons learned.

But make no mistake, when the Tampa Bay Storm host the Cleveland Gladiators tonight at AMALIE Arena in the AFL semifinals, a miniscule fragment of the collective psyche of the Storm will harken back to that Week 14 road encounter, when the Gladiators rode a hot start to an unexpected victory and became the only team not named Philadelphia to defeat the Storm in 2017. 

The Storm are determined not to let an upset happen again in tonight’s win-or-season-over playoff scenario.

“That game is behind us,” said Storm jack linebacker Alvin Ray Jackson, who led the AFL for fumble recoveries (five) during the regular season. “They’re a different team. It’s later on in the season. We’re a different team, and we’ve just got to come play this week like we’ve never played before.”

Cleveland opened up a 21-13 halftime advantage over the Storm on July 8 and scored twice more after the break to put up 27-consecutive points. A furious Storm, fourth-quarter rally fell two points short in a 41-39 loss to the Gladiators.

“We made some mistakes that we usually don’t,” Jackson said. “They capitalized off of it. They showed up to play that game.”

The result was a wake-up call for a Storm team that could be forgiven for coasting after playing – and winning – six of their previous seven games, all against Washington and Baltimore. The Storm were 8-2 at the time and one game out of a tie for first place in the league. They were also 2-0 against the Gladiators, winning in Cleveland 46-40 in the season opener and rallying from a 19-point deficit two weeks later in a 62-61 home win.

The loss in Cleveland not only effectively ended the Storm’s hopes of hosting a potential ArenaBowl, it sent a message there were more teams than just Philadelphia standing between the Storm and a league championship.

“We could have been in first place,” Storm wide receiver and special teams wiz Michael Lindsey said. “We could have been hosting the ArenaBowl this year, so it was a huge wake-up call.”

The Storm put together perhaps their finest performance of the regular season in the rematch against Cleveland at home on July 22, the 30-point margin of victory in the 57-27 win the Storm’s largest since May 2015. The Storm defense held the Gladiators to just two touchdowns, Cleveland’s remaining two scores coming off of turnovers.

“We had to make a point to the league. We had to make a point to everybody else that doubted us,” Lindsey said. “We had a wake-up call because we lost to them at their place, so we definitely came out in that rematch to make a point.”

Now, the Storm will try to make another more emphatic point Monday night with a berth in ArenaBowl XXX on the line. Philadelphia will host the AFL championship on Saturday, August 26 after defeating Baltimore 69-54 in Saturday’s opening semifinal game.

The Storm went 3-1 versus Cleveland in 2017, including 2-0 at home. But that ‘1’ in the loss column highlights the need to play focused and inspired from start to finish for the Storm.

“It’s win or go home,” Jackson said. “We can’t take a play off. We’re going to play every play like it’s the last play. We’re going to do our best to play a perfect game.

"We haven’t played a perfect game all season, and this is the best time to try to play one.”