TAMPA — Quarterback Brett Dietz stood in the media room after the Storm's 63-62 win over Orlando in the American Conference Championship and awkwardly looked around. Perpetually poised, the even-handed Dietz shifted his weight from left to right before leaning toward the microphone.
"I've never stood at a podium before," Dietz said. "I went to (Division III) Hanover (Ind.). We didn't have podiums."
Dietz can expect an even bigger stage after tonight's game when Tampa Bay travels to Spokane (Wash.) Veterans Memorial Arena to face the Shock in ArenaBowl XXIII.
"This is what we all came back for," Dietz said. "We came back to win a championship and now we're a game away."
Tampa Bay is seeking its record sixth ArenaBowl win and first since 2003. This is the Storm's eighth trip to the title game, and coach Tim Marcum said coming home with anything less than the championship trophy "would be more than disappointing."
"Forget all the stuff that happened last week and the conference trophy presentation and all that," he said. "We are not satisfied."
This is the first year in the AFL for the Shock after a promotion from the AF2 following the 2009 season, when play was suspended. Spokane, which finished a league-best 13-3 during the regular season, appeared in the playoffs in all four AF2 seasons and won ArenaCups in 2006 and '09.
"Make no mistake about it, this is a very good football team," Marcum said. "They won 13 games for a reason."
Marcum said Spokane should not be thought of as a team promoted from the minor leagues.
"There are no more AF2 and AF1 teams," he said. "We all play in the same league, and I'm guessing we're going in there as the underdog."
Dietz, who was briefly with the Shock in 2006 before signing onto Kansas City's practice squad, agreed with Marcum.
"Spokane proved how good they are and they are going to be legit," he said. "They have a lot of AFL talent on that team."
Tampa Bay's biggest challenge will be slowing Spokane's talented, and tall, wideouts. Former USF receiver Huey Whittaker, a Spring Hill native, and Markee White are 6 feet 5 and 6-7, respectively. Whittaker, who played for the Storm in 2006 and part of 2007, caught 144 balls for 1,653 yards and 37 touchdowns. White had 66 catches for 925 yards and 18 scores in 10 games.
"They're big and physical and will be a problem," Marcum said.
Though the Storm holds the edge in experience — receiver DeAndrew Rubin and defensive linemen Kelvin Kinney and Jermaine Smith have appeared in an ArenaBowl — the Shock will enjoy a rowdy home crowd. The league said the game is a sellout.
"Up there it's all Spokane football and Gonzaga basketball," Dietz said. "It should be a great atmosphere."