Off The Beaten Path – Arena Football


Orlando and Central Florida is internationally known for it’s famous theme parks and just recently it has been gaining headlines because it now has a Major League Soccer team in Orlando City SC.

Sport is slowly becoming another reason that visitors come to this part of the world as the region adds more and more varieties of sporting competition to the mix. A recent example of that is the fact that the United States Tennis Association broke ground on its new headquarters in Lake Nona just last week. The $60 million, 63-acre, 100-plus-court development, to the east of Orlando, will house and consolidate the USTA’s Community Tennis and Player Development divisions.

Cleveland Gladiators vs Tampa Bay Storm, Tampa, Florida - 27th March 2015 (Photographer: Nigel G Worrall)

Frequent readers of our website will see that we extensively cover most other sports in the Central Florida region but one sport we have never covered has been Arena Football. Well, that all changed a couple of weeks ago when we visited the Tampa Bay Storm’s season opening home game against the defending American Conference and East Division champion Cleveland Gladiators.

The Storm play in the Arena Football League where twelve teams currently compete in a league that was formed in 1987. The popular indoor gridiron football game is played exclusively indoors on a field that is half the length of a normal NFL field which then leads to a fast paced, higher scoring game.

The AFL is divided into two conferences  – the American Conference and the National Conference and each conference has two divisions of three teams each.

The regular-season is a 20-week schedule during which each team plays 18 games and has two bye weeks. Each team plays three games against the other two teams in its division, two games against the teams in its conference from the other division, and one game against each team in the other conference. The season currently starts during the last week of March and runs weekly to late August. At the end of each regular season, four teams from each conference (the division winners and two wild card teams) play in the AFL playoffs, an eight-team single elimination tournament that culminates with the championship game, known as the Arena Bowl.

Florida has three teams who play the game at this level and they are the Tampa Bay Storm, the Orlando Predators and the Jacksonville Sharks.

So, it was against this backdrop that we decided to take in a game and see what the sport was really like. We could of chosen to visit the Orlando Predators as they were the closest team to us but we were told that the best first experience would be to take in the Storm, who, we were told, were just a little more professional in how they delivered the experience. We weren’t going to be disappointed so Tampa is where we headed!

The first thing to say is that all of the staff were very friendly and welcoming. A good start.

Cleveland Gladiators vs Tampa Bay Storm, Tampa, Florida - 27th March 2015 (Photographer: Nigel G Worrall) Cleveland Gladiators vs Tampa Bay Storm, Tampa, Florida - 27th March 2015 (Photographer: Nigel G Worrall)

As we made our way to the field and to the end line, the place to get the best photographs we had researched, we weren’t exactly sure what to expect. Yes, we expected some razzamatazz and that came with the player introductions as they ran out to pyrotechnics and some very enthusiastic cheerleaders.

The game itself is different to NFL or USFL, as teams only field eight players (defense or offense) at a time from a 20-man active roster. This ensures the team can keep costs under control as the league and the teams have experienced some financial problems in the past. It also ensures the field isn’t overcrowded!

Cleveland Gladiators vs Tampa Bay Storm, Tampa, Florida - 27th March 2015 (Photographer: Nigel G Worrall) Cleveland Gladiators vs Tampa Bay Storm, Tampa, Florida - 27th March 2015 (Photographer: Nigel G Worrall)

As the game started, it was immediately apparent how fast the game was and how athletic the players were. The ball is kicked off from the goal line and the players then charge each other as they attempt to make ground. The team with the ball is given four downs to gain ten yards or score. Punting is illegal in this form of the game mainly because of the size of the playing field, however, a field goal that either misses wide (therefore bouncing off the nets surrounding the goalposts) or falls short, may be returned. A receiver jumping to catch a pass needs to get only one foot down in bounds for the catch to be ruled a completed catch, just as in college football. Practically, this means that one foot must touch the ground before the receiver is pushed into the boards by an opposing player. Passes that bounce off the rebound nets remain “live.” Balls that bounce off the padded walls that surround the field are also “live.”

The scoring is the same as in the NFL with the addition of a drop kick field goal worth four points during normal play or two points as a post touchdown conversion. Blocked extra points and turnovers on two-point conversion attempts may be returned by the defensive team for two points.

Cleveland Gladiators vs Tampa Bay Storm, Tampa, Florida - 27th March 2015 (Photographer: Nigel G Worrall)

A game has four 15-minute quarters with a 12-minute halftime and each team is allowed three timeouts per half.

The clock stops for out-of-bounds plays, incomplete passes, or sacks (when the quarterback is tackled behind the line of scrimmage before he can throw a forward pass) only in the last minute of each half or overtime (there is only a one minute warning, as opposed to the two minute warning in the NFL) or because of penalties, injuries or timeouts. The clock also stops for any change in possession, until the ball is marked ready for play; for example, aside from in a half’s final minute, time continues to run down after a touchdown, but stops after an extra point or two point conversion attempt.

During the final minute of the fourth quarter, the clock stops if the offensive team has the lead and cannot advance the ball past the line of scrimmage. This prevents the offensive team from merely kneeling down or running other plays that are designed solely to exhaust the remaining time rather than to advance the ball down field, as often occurs in outdoor football.

Cleveland Gladiators vs Tampa Bay Storm, Tampa, Florida - 27th March 2015 (Photographer: Nigel G Worrall)

In  overtime, each team gets one possession to score (first overtime only). Whoever is ahead after one possession wins. If the teams are tied after each has had a possession, true sudden death rules apply thereafter. Each overtime period is 15 minutes, and continues from the ending of the previous overtime period until the tie is broken. Succeeding overtimes are true sudden death.

Overtime wasn’t necessary in this game though as Cleveland dominated proceedings as they cruised to a 60-44 victory in front of some 9,727 spectators . The game started badly for Tampa as Cleveland capitalized on a pair of Storm giveaways in the first half to take control of the game. After scoring on its first two possessions, Cleveland got the ball back when Tim Cheatwood stripped Tampa Bay wide receiver Kendrick Ings on a jet sweep and Anthony Degrate recovered for the Gladiators at their own six-yard line. Five plays later, Cleveland quarterback Shane Austin found Andrae Thurman for a 24-yard scoring strike to put the Gladiators up 19-7.

Cleveland Gladiators vs Tampa Bay Storm, Tampa, Florida - 27th March 2015 (Photographer: Nigel G Worrall)

Tampa Bay scored on two straight possessions and got a stop in the second quarter to cut Cleveland’s lead to four and get back in the game. Boltus connected with T.T. Tolliver on a 10-yard strike to bring the Storm to within 11. After James Harrell ended a Gladiators drive with an interception in the end zone, Boltus found Ings from 28 yards out on the ensuing drive to make it 25-21.

With Tampa Bay trying to get points on the board before the end of the half, Boltus fumbled as he was sacked by Degrate and Phinisee again recovered, this time at the Storm 10. Austin hit Dominick Goodman in the end zone on the last play of the first half for a 39-21 Cleveland lead at the break.

Each team scored a touchdown in the third quarter: Austin finding Jackson from 20 yards out and Tampa Bay countering when Boltus hit a wide open Tolliver behind the Cleveland defense down the middle of the field for a 29-yard touchdown pass to make it 46-28 Gladiators.

Cleveland Gladiators vs Tampa Bay Storm, Tampa, Florida - 27th March 2015 (Photographer: Nigel G Worrall)

In the final quarter, Tampa tried desperately to rectify the scoreline but were unable to do so as Cleveland racked up another 14 points to clinch the game.

Overall, it was an interesting experience to watch another sport. It’s one that all visitors to Florida should take a look at. It’s fun, it’s exciting and it’s fast paced.

The Storm play again this Friday, 17th April as they take on the New Orleans VooDoo at 7.30pm at Amalie Arena in Tampa. If you’ve never been to a game before, now might just be the best time to do so!

More photos from our visit at



One Response to Off The Beaten Path – Arena Football

  1. excellent post I’m a big football nerd from Norway

    May 20, 2015 at 7:16 pm

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