Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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1991-2017 Tampa Bay Storm

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Tampa Bay StormArena Football League (1991-2017)

Born: November 15, 1990 – The Pittsburgh Gladiators relocate to Tampa Bay, FL
Folded: December 21, 2017

Arenas:

Team Colors:

  • 1994: Black, Silver & Royal Blue
  • 1998: Midnight Blue, Metallic Gold & White

Owners:

Arena Bowl Champions: 1991, 1993, 1995, 1996 & 2003

 

The Tampa Bay Storm were arguably the greatest franchise in the 30-year history of the Arena Football League(s). The Storm played for 26 seasons and won 5 Arena Bowl titles. For many years the team was among the most popular box office attractions in the AFL. The Storm’s closure, four days before Christmas of 2017, reduces the Arena League to just four remaining franchises and may mark the final nail in the league’s coffin after many near-death experiences.

The Storm started out as the Pittsburgh Gladiators, one of Arena Football’s four original franchises, in 1987. The team moved to Florida in the spring of 1991 under owner Bob Gries. The Storm made their debut at the Florida Suncoast Dome on June 1, 1991 with a 51-38 loss to the Orlando Predators in front of 10,354 fans. The game marked the start of Arena Football’s greatest rivalry. The “War of I-4” would last for a quarter century until the Predators went out of business in 2016. The Storm and the Preds combined for seven league championships during that time.

Tampa Bay Storm Arena Bowl VAfter that 0-1 start, the Storm lost only one more game that season. Crowds grew at the Suncoast Dome as the season went on. Built for baseball (and known today as Tropicana Field, home of MLB’s Rays), the seating could expand well beyond the capacity of an NHL and NBA arena. The Storm’s final two regular season games in 1991 drew announced crowds of more than 20,000 fans. On August 17, 1991 the Storm traveled to Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena and defeated the Detroit Drive 48-42 to win Arena Bowl V.

The great stars of the early Storm years were former University of Louisville quarterback Jay Gruden (Storm ’91 – ’96) and offensive specialist Stevie Thomas (Storm ’91 – ’99) out of Bethune-Cookman. The Storm would win four Arena Bowls between 1991 and 1996 with Gruden and Thomas fueling the offense.

The Storm also had the winningest coach in Arena Football history. Tampa Bay won their first two Arena Bowls under Fran Curci (1991) and Larry Kuharich (1993). In 1995, the Storm hired Tim Marcum as the team’s third head coach. Marcum already had four Arena Bowl titles on his resume as chief of the Denver Dynamite and the Detroit Drive. Under Marcum, the Storm would win back-to-back titles in 1995 and 1996 and another in 2003. Marcum coached the team through 2010, before a scandal related to content on the Storm coaching staff’s work email accounts forced his resignation. Marcum passed away in 2013.

The Storm passed through many ownership hands over the years. Founding owner Bob Gries won two titles with the team. In a sign of just how small potatoes the AFL was in the early 1990s’, he sold the team to minor league baseball investor Woody Kern in 1994 for just $447,000. Kern oversaw the Storm’s growth and relative stability for 13 years from 1994 to 2007. During that time, the team won three more titles and moved from the Suncoast Dome to the St. Pete Times Forum in 1997. In 2007, Kern sold the Storm to Tampa orthopedic surgeon Robert Nucci for $18.8 million. And then …. hoo boy.

Nucci, a professional sports novice, made a spectacularly ill-timed purchased. His deal with Kern called for a $9.6 million down payment in 2007 to acquire 51% interest in the team and additional installments through 2011. Nucci would own the team for just one season (2008). He never made the additional payments, as the Arena Football League’s house-of-cards financial model collapsed in late 2008. The league closed its doors and filed for bankruptcy in August 2009. Nucci soon filed for personal bankruptcy. He has spent much of the next decade filing lawsuits against Storm and AFL officials and his own legal advisors. Nucci alleged that by the mid-late 2000’s, the Arena Football League was little more than a “disguised Ponzi scheme” with a broken business model that was dependent on expansion fees from unwitting investors to fund its massive debt.

There was no Arena Football in 2009 as the original league moved into bankruptcy. In 2010, a group of former AFL investors and operators from its small market Arena Football 2 developmental league purchased the old league’s intellectual property and trademarks from the bankruptcy court. A new original football league launched in 2010, with a revived  but lower-budget Tampa Bay Storm re-taking the field under Marcum’s direction. The following year the owners of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning acquired the Storm and brought the team under its Tampa Bay Sports & Entertainment umbrella. Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers star Derrick Brooks was tabbed as President to run the team.

The new Arena Football League struggled badly over the next six seasons. The Storm were a relative beacon of stability, but Tampa Bay Sports & Entertainment finally gave up on the league in late 2017. The Storm folded on December 21, 2017.

 

Tampa Bay Storm Memorabilia

 

Storm Video

The Zubaz era. Tampa Bay Storm vs. Detroit Drive. Arena Bowl V at Joe Louis Arena, August 17, 1991.

Arena Bowl X. Tampa Bay Storm vs. Iowa Barnstormers at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines, Iowa.

 

In Memoriam

Lineman Al Lucas (Storm ’03) died of spinal cord injury suffered during an Arena Football League game on April 10, 2005 while a member of the Los Angeles Avengers. Lucas was just 26 years old.

Wide receiver Chandler Williams (Storm ’12) died of a heart ailment during a flag football game on January 5, 2013. He was 27.

Head Coach Tim Marcum (Storm ’95-’10) passed away on December 5, 2013 at the age of 69. Tampa Bay Times obituary.

Storm owner Woody Kern (Storm ’94 – ‘) died on January 7, 2014. Kern was 66 years old. Tampa Bay Times obituary.

Fullback-linebacker Cedric McKinnon (Storm ’95-’00) passed on May 23, 2016 at age 48. Bethune-Cookman University obituary.

Head Coach Lary Kuharich (Storm ’92-’94) died of brain cancer at age 70 on November 13, 2016.

 

Downloads

2013 Tampa Bay Storm Media Guide

2014 Tampa Bay Storm Media Guide

2016 Tampa Bay Storm Media Guide

2017 Tampa Bay Storm Media Guide

February 2015 Court Complaint Robert C. Nucci vs. Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, PC – Sheds light on final days of original AFL circa 2007-2008.

 

Links

Arena Football League Media Guides

Arena Football League Programs

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