TAMPA — It all comes down this.
The Storm will be fighting for its playoff life tonight when it hosts Cleveland at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in its regular-season finale.
"It's about finishing strong and on a good note," first-year coach Lawrence Samuels said. "We want to play well in front of our home fans on fan appreciation night and get into the playoffs."
Tampa Bay (8-9) must beat the Gladiators (16-1) and get help to reach the postseason for the second straight season. The Storm also needs Pittsburgh (14-3) to beat Philadelphia (9-8), which would secure for it the No. 4 slot in the American Conference playoffs. The Storm holds the tiebreaker with Philadelphia should both finish with the same record.
"Cleveland is a veteran team that plays like a veteran team, and we can't afford to make any mistakes against them," Samuels said.
Adding to the drama is the timing of the schedule. The Philadelphia-Pittsburgh game kicks off at 5, meaning the Storm will likely know if its game counts for anything more than pride during the first quarter.
"I'm sure I'll have someone in my ear keeping me updated, but honestly, I'm going to be focusing on what we need to do," Samuels said. "But I'm sure the guys are going to be following what's going on regardless of what we tell them."
Scoreboard-watching aside, the Storm will have to find a way to bounce back following a short week and a cross-country trip. Tampa Bay lost 55-52 at Spokane on Monday night and is on a three-game losing skid that started with a 48-41 loss at Cleveland.
"Yes, it was a tough loss (at Spokane), and the short week is rough with the travel," Samuels said. "We tried to give the players more rest than usual this week. At this time of the season, the game is more mental than physical."
The Storm has lost the past three games by a combined 19 points, and all three of its opponents have locked up playoff slots.
"It's not like we have been playing bad," Samuels said. "To be honest, it's really just been one or two mishaps that have cost us."
Samuels expects quarterback Randy Hippeard to play. Hippeard, who has been battling knee injuries all season, twice was helped off the field against Spokane and spent much of the second half on his backside.
"All we can do (tonight) is control what we can control,'' Samuels said. "Whatever is going to happen in Pittsburgh is going to happen, so there's no point of worrying about it."
end of an era: A man widely considered one of the greatest Indoor Football League quarterbacks in history is calling it a career. Sioux Falls' Chris Dixon, 32, said in a statement Thursday he is retiring after a decadelong career, during which he threw for more than 25,000 yards, 600 touchdowns and only 70 interceptions. He cited his age and family considerations. Dixon, who has five IFL titles and was named the league's most valuable player three times, is on the roster of the Storm, joining Tampa Bay after leading Sioux Falls to its third IFL crown June 28.
Information from Times wires was used in this report.