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Ex-Storm Bowden makes run at NFL spot

Published Jul. 13, 1994|Updated Oct. 7, 2005

Down this road, the invisible sign usually reads "One Way." The rule is simple: Going the other way is rarely permitted.

Well, former Tampa Bay Storm linebacker and fullback Andre Bowden is getting ready to commit a moving violation. He is about to break the rule, defy the odds, go where few have gone before.

Bowden, 26, has been given the chance to turn his Arena Football League stardom into a spot on the New Orleans Saints of the National Football League. And he says his chances are as good as anyone else's in camp.

In late February, the Saints signed Bowden to their training-camp roster as an inside linebacker. The AFL's 1994 All-League running back says he will join the NFL club at its camp in La Crosse, Wis., July 20.

"This is a great opportunity for me," Bowden said. "Hopefully, I can be a trend-setter and pave the way for a lot more guys who have stood out in the Arena League.

"Throughout my years with the Storm, I knew that all I had to do was to stay focused and keep working hard. I got a great chance at playing in the NFL; I just have to work harder now. I knew my break would come."

After three steady years with Tampa Bay, including a 15-touchdown, 32-tackle season in 1993, Bowden got his break: He was contacted by the Saints' director of player personnel, Bill Kuharich, younger brother of Storm head coach Lary Kuharich. Bowden's dream of playing in the NFL got one step closer.

"It's a great challenge for Andre," Lary Kuharich said. "I think that by playing linebacker and special teams with us he will be well adapted to the NFL.

"Defensively, we used him primarily as an inside linebacker, and he was a leader on our special teams, so he'll be well suited for either role. The foundation he received in college (Fayetteville State, in North Carolina) and in the Arena League will be a tremendous help."

While the AFL is full of ex-NFL players, the list of Arena players in the NFL is, well, minute. At the top of that list is Dallas Cowboys running back Lincoln Coleman, who was picked up from the Dallas Texans of the AFL in the middle of the 1993 season and became an instant contributor for the eventual Super Bowl champions.

"No doubt about it, his play has shown a few people that we can play with the best of them," Bowden said.

"The main difference between the Arena League and the NFL is that in the NFL offenses have many more options. There are many things they can do to you. That's the adjustment I'll have to make."

"Andre can be a pioneer for the Arena League if he gets a chance to show his stuff in camp and in preseason," Lary Kuharich said.

Former Storm teammate Tony Chickillo, who was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1985 and went on to play four seasons with the San Diego Chargers and New York Jets, says Bowden will be faced with two major hurdles.

"The biggest thing he'll have to deal with is the size and speed of the NFL linemen," Chickillo said. "These guys are a lot bigger than the Arena League linemen, and they're real quick. The NFL is a speed game now. Andre is a big guy (6 feet 4, 240 pounds) and he has all the attributes to play in the NFL, but he'll need to prepare for those guys.

"The other question is whether the Saints are really interested in him, or are they using him as just another body in camp? He'll want them to get a good look at him, and that means he has to play the numbers game. If he gets playing time in the preseason games, then things will work out."

The Saints have 11 other linebackers in camp.

"Players can't play in the league forever. Eventually they have to step down," Chickillo said. "If that is the case with the Saints, then this could be the perfect timing for him."

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