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ARENA FOOTBALL 1997 PREVIEW

May 02, 1997

NATIONAL CONFERENCE

EASTERN DIVISION

Nashville Kats

Record in 1996: First season.

Home Arena: Nashville (Tenn.) Arena (capacity 16,161)

Head coach: Eddie Khayat.

Key players: Andy Kelly, quarterback; Corey Fleming, receiver/defensive back; Fran Papasedero, lineman.

Changes for 1997: Kelly and Fleming were teammates in college and could be one of the top tandems in the AFL. Kelly completed 23 of 36 for 336 yards and six touchdowns in a preseason victory over Portland. Fleming caught six passes for 97 yards, including the game winner with six seconds left.

*

Albany Firebirds

Record in 1996: 10-4, lost to Iowa, 62-55, in playoff semifinals.

Home Arena: Pepsi Arena, Albany, N.Y. (13,652).

Head coach: Mike Dailey.

Key players: Eddie Brown, offensive specialist; David McLeod, defensive specialist; Pete Elezovic, kicker; Mike Pawlawski, quarterback.

Changes for 1997: Coach Mike Hohensee left for Anaheim, quarterback Mike Perez and receiver Fred Gayles are in New York. The Firebirds should still be competitive, but all the changes in personnel and coaching could be tough to overcome.

*

New York CityHawks

Record in 1996: First season.

Home Arena: Madison Square Garden (capacity 18,000).

Head coach: Larry Kuharich.

Key players: Mike Perez, quarterback; Fred Gayles, wide receiver/defensive back.

Changes for 1997: The CityHawks are the first new franchise owned and operated by Madison Square Garden since 1946, when the Garden took over the Knicks. Perez should give New York fans some excitement. He led Albany to a league high 62.4 scoring average last season.

*

New Jersey Red Dogs

Record in 1996: First season.

Home Arena: Continental Airlines Arena, Carlstadt, N.J. (capacity 19,500).

Head coach: John Hufnagel.

Key players: Terrence Barber, receiver/defensive back; Aaron Garcia, quarterback; Alvin Ashley, receiver/defensive back.

Changes for 1997: Garcia was picked up from the now-defunct Connecticut franchise where he passed for 1,779 yards and 31 touchdowns. Former New York Giants Joe Morris, Carl Banks, Harry Carson and Jim Burt are part owners.

SOUTHERN DIVISION

Orlando Predators

Record in 1996: 9-5, lost in first round of playoffs to Arizona, 65-48.

Home Arena: Orlando (Fla.) Arena (16,613).

Head coach: Perry Moss.

Key players: Barry Wagner, receiver/defensive back; Alex Shell, receiver/defensive back; Pat O'Hara, quarterback; Webbie Burnett, lineman.

Changes for 1997: The Predators had a great preseason and could challenge Arena Bowl Champion Tampa Bay for first place. O'Hara, a former USC Trojan and San Diego Charger, passed for 2,934 yards and 45 touchdowns. Wagner is a five-time winner of the Ironman Award, given to the league's top two-way player. Former Ram Jack Youngblood is the team vice president.

*

Florida Bobcats

Record in 1996: 6-8.

Home Arena: West Palm Beach Auditorium (capacity 5,000)

Head coach: Babe Parilli.

Key players: Scooter Molander, quarterback; Jake Kelchner, quarterback; Cleveland Pratt, receiver/defensive back.

Changes for 1997: The Bobcat franchise is in financial trouble. The team announced it will play two of its games at Corel Centre in Ottawa. They played an exhibition game in Fresno, which is being considered for a franchise next year.

*

Tampa Bay Storm

Record in 1996: 12-2, won fourth Arena Bowl, 42-38, over Iowa.

Home Arena: Ice Palace, Tampa, Fla. (capacity 20, 282).

Head coach: Tim Marcum.

Key players: Kent Wells, lineman; Tracey Perkins, defensive specialist; George LaFrance, offensive specialist; Peter Tom Willis, quarterback; Stevie Thomas, offensive specialist.

Changes for 1997: Willis, a rookie from Florida State, is the key to Tampa Bay's season. He must replace Jay Gruden, who passed for 3,626 yards and 70 touchdown passes last year. The Storm is still probably the favorite to win the Arena Bowl because of Marcum and the talent already in place.

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AMERICAN CONFERENCE

WESTERN DIVISION

Arizona Rattlers

Record in 1996: 11-3, lost in the semifinals of the playoffs to Tampa Bay, 55-54.

Home Arena: America West Arena, Phoenix (capacity 16,932)

Head coach: Danny White

Key players: Hunkie Cooper, wide receiver/linebacker; Calvin Schexnayder, wide receiver/defensive back; Randy Gatewood, wide receiver/defensive back; Sherdick Bonner, quarterback.

Changes for 1997: The Rattlers won the Western Division last year and were a play away from the Arena Bowl. They should be one league's best teams again. They have kept their top skill people and added former USC linemen Keith Browner (6-7, 270), a former Tampa Bay Buccaneer and Los Angeles Raider, and Mark Tucker (6-3, 295), to beef up their line. White, a former All-Pro quarterback with the Cowboys, led the Rattlers to an Arena Bowl title in 1994.

*

San Jose Sabercats

Record in 1996: 6-8.

Home Arena: San Jose Arena (capacity 16,929)

Head coach: Todd Shell.

Key players: Pat McGuirk, defensive specialist; Titus Dixon, receiver; John Kaleo, quarterback.

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