February 29, 2008
Orlando Predators still rockin' in 'Jungle'
Cocoa-based team owner hoping team stretches playoff streak to 17
BY HILLARD GROSSMAN
FLORIDA TODAY ADVERTISEMENT
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Well-armed. Former Connecticut quarterback Shane Stafford threw for more than 4,000 yards last year for the Orlando Predators. Courtesy of Orlando Predators
The Predators will open their season Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Philadelphia Soul. The game can be heard on 540-AM radio. Orlando's first home game is March 14 at 7:30 p.m. against Utah. Tickets: 1-407-44-PREDS.
At 4 p.m. each day, Ron Howse's phone starts playing Guns N' Roses' heavy-metal hit, "Welcome to the Jungle."
It's been the theme of the Orlando Predators indoor football team since it was formed 17 years ago, and serves as a wakeup call for the club's majority owner to take care of his daily business before everyone else goes home at 5.
The Cocoa resident actually has been taking care of the Predators' business for the past six years, re-energizing an already-explosive Arena Football League team that somehow lost part of its fan base after the franchise "cleaned up" its act of flashers, boozers and sometimes-bawdy rebels.
"It was a cross between football and a big party," said Howse, laughing. "Now, it's just a fun crowd . . . with real good football. We wanted to draw the line to what was ethically and morally correct. Now, we even have a family section. I have a 13-year-old daughter, and I know I want her to watch the game."
The Predators, who open the season at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Philadelphia Soul, have attracted 11,000 season-ticket holders (511 of those in Brevard County) for the 13,500 available seats in Amway Arena. Tickets range from $10 to $250.
"It's gaining momentum," Howse said. "There is so much talent. These guys are amazing."
The Predators, who have a collective 173-97-0 (.641) record and have won two Arena Bowl titles (1998 and 2000), have been to the playoffs 16 consecutive years, matching the NHL's Detroit Red Wings for the longest active sports streak -- nine years away from the St. Louis Blues' all-time record.
"It shows we've put together a good football team, and that credit goes to Jay Gruden and the coaches before him," Howse said.
Jay, a former star quarterback in the league, is the younger brother of Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden and remains an offensive assistant coach for the NFL squad during the Predators' offseason.
"Jay's been phenomenal, and his brother is an amazing guy," Howse said. "Jay can pick up the Bucs' leftovers, and they can pick up our guys."
The Bucs, for instance, have signed Predators kicker Jay Taylor and defensive end Greg White, who last season was one of the league's sack leaders.
Recently, the NFL has been inching closer to the Arena Football League in terms of a feeder program -- especially after disbanding its Europa league last summer. There are eight NFL owners among the 17 arena teams, including Denver's Pat Bowlen, New Orleans' Tom Benson and Atlanta's Arthur Blank.
NFL connections also include Mike Ditka, a part owner of the Chicago Rush, Ron Jaworski with the Philadelphia Soul, John Elway with the Colorado Crush and Doug Plank with the Georgia Force. Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Danny White coaches the Utah Blaze.
"It's a different set of skills," said Howse, regarding his two-way players in the 8-on-8 game. "But we've become a transitional league."
While the NFL requires its players to be three years removed from high school, the AFL can take players who left college early. One such player was Florida State quarterback Adrian McPherson, who became the 2004 AFL Rookie of the Year for the Indiana Firebirds, despite a troubled past.
There are three other indoor leagues -- the World Indoor Football League, the National Indoor Football League and the AFL 2 circuit, which includes the Daytona Beach ThunderBirds franchise, coached by Merritt Island's Leon Bright.
But, as Howse points out, his players (23 on the roster) are earning an average of $70,000 for a season that stretches from February through July
Accused of being a Cyber Terrorist by Joe Newman.
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