It’s do or die. And if the Arizona Rattlers, who are five games under .500 despite a win Saturday against Austin, want to qualify for the postseason for the 14th time in 15 years, they’ll have to assume that stance the rest of the year.
“We’ve got to set the mantra,” Rattlers coach Gene Nudo said. “We’ve got to go right now.”
Now is tonight in Tampa, where Arizona (3-8) will find a team that is almost its mirror image: a one-time dominant franchise that, in recent years, has slipped into mediocrity.
The two have combined for seven Arena Football League championships and 13 Arena-Bowl appearances, meeting once in 2003, when Tampa defeated Arizona 43-29.
“When you think of Arena Football, you think of Tampa and you think of Orlando and Arizona and the Detroit Drive throughout the years,” Nudo said.
However, the Rattlers and the Storm now find themselves in a different situation, both trying to cope with a losing record and the reality of being just another franchise after years at the top.
Each has reason for optimism as the season enters the homestretch.
For one, the Arena League’s generous playoff format — 12 of the 19 teams qualify — means that virtually every team with the exception of Las Vegas (1-10) remains alive for a postseason berth.
Also, there is the case of the Chicago Rush, which last year finished the regular season 7-9, but got hot down the stretch and went on to win the Arena-Bowl.
It was the first time a team won a championship with a losing record — music to the ears of Tampa, which at 4-6 would be a playoff team in the National Conference if the season ended today.
Arizona, meanwhile, is just two games behind Utah for the final spot in the American Conference.
At practice on Tuesday, however, Nudo was in no mood to talk playoffs.
“We’ve got to worry about this week,” he said.
Casting a pall over tonight’s game is the death of Caroline Wiren, the wife of Storm linebacker Nyle Wiren.
Caroline, 34, died Wednesday after experiencing complications following the birth of the couple’s first child on Tuesday.
“To have a 34-year-old woman die giving birth, obviously, that’s a tragedy,” Nudo said.
The child, a 9-pound, 3-ounce boy, was born healthy, according to a statement released by the team Thursday.
EXTRA POINTS: Wide receiver Jeremiah Pope (ankle) is eligible to come off the injured reserved list but will be a game-time decision, Nudo said. … The Rattlers have not won back-to-back games since April 2006. … Keyou Craver, the only defensive back to play in all 11 games, is third in the league with 71 tackles.
Rattlers at Storm
When: 4:30 p.m., today
Where: St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa, Fla.
Radio: KMVP (860 AM)
Records: Arizona 3-8, Tampa 4-6