TAMPA (FOX 13) - The Tampa Bay Storm open their 30th season – and 26th in Tampa – Saturday night in Cleveland against the Gladiators. It will be a whole new look, with 20 new players, a new head coach and a revamped league.
The Storm practice for their indoor games outside, a minor inconvenience for a team that's just happy they weren't left out altogether. The AFL is about to open the season with just five teams after nine clubs either shut down or jumped to a rival league.
"Anytime you have a new commissioner come in and close up shop on a few teams in your league, there are a couple doubters out there and you don't know what's going to happen with your league,” Storm quarterback Randy Hippeard told FOX 13 Sports.
"You're always kind of worried about your job stability when you play arena football,” admitted wide receiver Joe Hills. "But they put a good plan in place. They're building from the ground up and I'm happy to be a part of it."
Since the Tampa Bay Storm first came into the league as the Pittsburgh Gladiators in 1987, there have been 57 Arena teams that have gone defunct. The Storm have shown the ability to weather the storm as the only original arena team to survive.
"Anytime you can keep one of the original teams around, [it] does nothing but benefit the league,” said Hippeard. "To show the stability that Tampa has with the fans, the community the support they give, I think it was big that the league kept Tampa around."
Ron James takes over as the Storm’s new head coach. He's been in the Arena League for 20 years and he knows the importance of having the Storm as the anchor team to re-grow the league.
"You know what's great about this is the fan base is tremendous,” said James. "The Storm have always been a tough get. When you went down there, it was hard to win a game in Tampa Bay. Jeff Vinik is a tremendous owner. The commitment they've shown at the organizational level is phenomenal."
Having Vinik as the owner of the Storm is the model the league is looking for: Re-building the league with either NHL or NBA ownership is also part of the plan that's in place.