TAMPA — Tampa Bay's long-standing rivalry with Orlando ranks as the greatest in Arena Football League history, and few know the "War on I-4" better than the Storm's rookie coach.
"It's always something special," Lawrence Samuels said.
Samuels faced the Predators at least twice a season as a receiver and linebacker with the Storm (1994-2000, 2002-10). But one particular meeting trumps all others in the AFL Hall of Famer's mind.
"The memory that sticks out to me is that first championship I won with the Storm when we beat Orlando (48-35 in ArenaBowl IX)," Samuels said. "It had been awhile since I won a championship at any level, so that one meant a lot to me."
Samuels said having nine players back from last year's team has been a factor in the week leading up to tonight's game against the Predators at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
"We'd had a lot of turnover and guys leaving the past few years, but having a number of guys back from last year's team is big," he said.
"They've been able to provide that leadership and talk to the other guys about how big this rivalry is and what it means."
Even Steven: This will be the 53rd meeting between the Storm and Predators, with the all-time series tied at 26. The teams have 22 wins apiece in the regular season and four each during the postseason.
Hot Start: Tampa Bay is off to its best start since going 2-0 in 2008. A win against unbeaten Orlando would put the Storm in sole possession of first place in the South Division and make it 3-0 for the first time since 2001.
Nose For the Ball: DB Chris Smith was named AFL Playmaker of the Week following the Storm's 48-45 win last week against San Antonio. Smith recorded five tackles, two interceptions, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup against the Talons. Smith also had an interception and a 42-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the Storm's season-opening win against New Orleans.
Transactions: The Storm signed DL Rashad Dukes on Friday. Dukes was a three-time Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association selection for Division II Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C. To make room on the roster, the team placed OL Carl Johnson on injured reserve. He injured his Achilles tendon this week in practice.
Rankings: Tampa Bay moved up two spots to No. 3 in this week's coaches poll. Orlando also slid up a pair of places into the No. 5 slot.