TAMPA — Lawrence Samuels won three Arena Football League championships as a player with the Storm. Each one of his rings has a large stone and engraved on it the year of the title and the Storm's record that season.
What if the Storm, which he now coaches, can pull off the unlikely feat of winning the title this year?
"I'd request not putting the records on these rings" said Samuels.
Despite finishing with the worst record in team history, 2-14, the Storm begins its quest for the franchise's sixth AFL title when it plays at Philadelphia tonight in the playoffs.
"They're going to get our best, and I think our best give us a real good shot," Samuels said. "I'm telling you, don't ever count this team out."
For the first time in league history, all eight teams qualified for the playoffs. That meant the regular season amounted to nothing more than jockeying for postseason seeding.
"We're starting a whole new season, and the guys understand that," Samuels said. "It's a three-game tournament right now."
In a league predicated on offense, the Storm was by far the worst team in the regular season. Tampa Bay scored a league-low 568 points, 102 behind No. 7 Portland and 500 behind Arizona's AFL-best 1,068.
"We've done so much changing in terms of lineups and personnel throughout the season, but I think we have the right group in place right now," Samuels said. "We've been building the last couple games, and we have some weapons that can cause some people some trouble."
Philadelphia, on the other hand, has been historically consistent of late. The American Conference champion Soul scored a touchdown in each quarter the past two years, becoming the first team in league history to accomplish that feat in back-to-back seasons.
But all the Soul's regular-season success — and the Storm's failure — is now meaningless.
"We're all 0-0 right now," Storm linebacker Jimmy Gordon said. "No matter what your (regular-season) record was, if you lose now, you go home."
Tampa Bay flashed enough this season to buoy fans' hope heading into the playoffs. It narrowly lost to the Soul 56-51 on July 23 in a game it probably should have won. One of Tampa Bay's two wins came against National Conference champion Arizona, and the Storm had 12-4 Orlando pinned down on the road before a fourth-quarter collapse.
"We've shown we have the ability to play with the best teams in the league," Gordon said.
And the pressure is squarely on the favored Soul.
"We have nothing to lose," Gordon said. "It's like a fight and they are the big guy. If the big guy wins a fight against a small person, he looks like an idiot because he was supposed to win. If the small person wins, the big guy looks like an idiot because the small person beat him."
If Tampa Bay can go 3-0 to win the title, Samuels said he plans on engraving that record into this year's ring.
"You know what would be perfect on there instead?" he said. "3-0."