Sixteen years ago, Bill Clinton was in his first term as president, O.J. Simpson was leading the police down a California freeway and Forrest Gump was playing to packed theaters across the country. And 1994 was the year a soon-to-be local icon first pulled on a Storm jersey.
Receiver Lawrence Samuels, now in his 15th season with the Storm and 16th in the Arena Football League, has spent the past 11/2 decades catching balls, setting records and capturing championships with the league's most successful organization. Signed on April 12, Samuels returned to game action April 16.
"It feels great to be back," he said. "Anything I can do to help this team win, I'll do."
Take a quick look at the top four receivers in professional football history: Jerry Rice (1,549 catches), Marvin Harrison (1,102), Cris Carter (1,101) and Tim Brown (1,094). No. 5 on that Mount Rushmore of receiving greats is Samuels at 1,028, though stats have always taken a backseat to a player coach Tim Marcum refers to as "No. 22."
"(Samuels) is team first all the way," Marcum said. "He fights for the (Storm) logo."
Samuels is fifth in Arena league history with 11,717 receiving yards and has led the Storm to three titles. He holds the league record for consecutive games with a reception (136), was named to the all-Arena team five times, the all-Ironman team three more and earned MVP honors in Arena Bowl XVII in 2003, the Storm's most recent title.
"Whatever we ask of Lawrence," Marcum said, "he gladly does … and does well."
At the beginning of the season, however, it didn't look like Samuels would be in a Storm uniform this year. The team went through training camp and the first two weeks of the season (the Storm had a bye in Week 2), including a season-opening 69-58 loss to Tulsa, without Samuels.
"We had kept in touch, and we were talking with him the whole time," Marcum said. "I felt it was a matter of time before he got back out here. It couldn't have come at a better time."
Samuels, who remained in good shape, practiced with the team a week before helping the Storm to its first win of the season, 54-41 over Dallas on April 16.
"I felt pretty good out there," said Samuels, who caught six passes for 50 yards. "I'm not quite there physically yet, but I'm close."
Though Marcum is tickled to have Samuels back in the fold, injuries remain a concern. Samuels will turn 40 on Saturday and saw considerable action at linebacker against Dallas, recording four tackles.
"He's a special guy. That's for sure," Marcum said. "You don't see a whole bunch of 39-year-olds running around making plays like that guy can."
Samuels joins a talented but young receiving corps. Tyrone Timmons looks like a star in the making while Hank Edwards and Cleannord Saintil have excellent hands and game-breaking potential. None of the three is older than 26.
"I'm still a work in progress right now," Samuels said. "But I look forward to helping this organization any way I can and helping these young receivers get better."