For the Tampa Bay Storm, the 2017 season was a series of ups and downs. A team that’s known past glory and recent struggle rebuilt and returned to prominence. The Storm went from a dismal 2-14 season in 2016 to a 10-4 season, their best since 2010. A transformation that went from a conference semifinal loss to their first ArenaBowl in seven years. While their first title since 2003 slipped through their grasp, fans and personnel alike can look towards 2018 with a lot to build upon.
The offseason saw a near clean sweep. The team mutually parted ways with head coach Lawrence Samuels parted ways after a 17-35 record in three seasons, and Ron James was brought in to turn the team around after his own struggles in 2016 with Portland. Ensuring the best possible job, the Storm brought in several key players to replace their roster. Quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker, every position was in play in a smaller, five-team league.
With the team now in place, the only thing left was to actually play the season. After a narrow Week 1 win against Cleveland, Tampa Bay faced their first early test against the defending champion Philadelphia Soul. While it ended with a loss, it spawned a six-game winning streak, ended with another loss to the Soul.
At 7-2 through the first twelve weeks, the Storm all but locked up a playoff spot. However, the road towards the end of the regular season was the roughest the team would face. Tampa Bay would end the regular season 3-2, losing to Cleveland and Philadelphia (again). But the headlines took on a more individual twist. Joe Hills, one of the league’s all-time receivers, left the team late in the season to play in the National Arena League with the Jacksonville Sharks, only to return after one appearance and a brief suspension and make history by breaking a long-standing, storied record for most consecutive games with a touchdown catch, a record that will continue into 2018.
While getting to the playoffs was a formality, performing in the playoffs was a different proposition. With only two playoff games since 2010 (both losses), it would take a major effort for Tampa Bay to beat Cleveland for the third time…the one occasion where it counted the most. Luckily, thanks to a couple key late stops, they did in primetime. Setting up the matchup that was months in the making.
Leading up to the game, the Storm had quite a bit to celebrate, as the team kept picking up awards. But, entering hostile territory against the defending champions, as an 11-point underdog, no less, the dream season ended just one win short of a record sixth title.
With talks of expansion for 2018, there’s a little more competition facing Tampa Bay ahead, especially with how Baltimore performed after assembling a team from scratch in just a couple months. Be it five teams, six, or even seven next year, the 2017 Tampa Bay Storm don’t have to rebuild…they’ll just look to reload. The early theme: unfinished business.