Adam Shackleford knew that if his Tri-Cities Fever was going to win the Indoor Football League championship this year, it would have to face the Sioux Falls Storm.
After all, it was last season that the Fever lost 37-10 to the Storm in Sioux Falls in the United Bowl.
“The reality of it is I knew before this season started that Sioux Falls was going to be in the championship (this year), and I knew the game was going to be there,” said Shackleford.
So Shackleford asked Fever owner Teri Carr to make sure Tri-Cities got to play a home-and-home series with the Storm this season.
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“They’re the best team in this league, and we wanted to see where we were,” Shackleford said. “Most teams in this league didn’t want to play Sioux Falls at all.”
Shackleford got what he asked for, and the Storm responded with two victories — a 55-16 trouncing in South Dakota, and a 73-72 overtime win in the Toyota Center.
And now here we are, a rematch set for this Saturday in the United Bowl, Tri-Cities (14-2) at Sioux Falls (16-0), with kickoff at 5:35 p.m.
The Fever players will know what is coming when they get inside the Sioux Falls Arena, with a very loud crowd.
“We know what to expect,” said Shackleford. “But that doesn’t mean we’re automatically going to go out and play well. If we can play well, we can play with them. We certainly can’t say we haven’t had our chances against them.”
Shackleford feels like this Sioux Falls team is better than the one that won the title last year.
“Whether they’re better across the board athletically, they have more experience,” he said. “I think those three offensive linemen (Gerald Davis, Charlie Sanders and Myniya Smith) and (quarterback) Chris Dixon have won every championship in this league.”
The Fever practiced last week on Monday and Tuesday, then took Wednesday and Thursday off before having light workouts over the weekend.
“I think we’re going to have everybody available too,” said Shackleford. “This time of year, I’m not sure what’s healthy for some guys. We only have six guys on the team right now who played (in the title game) last year. Most of our guys last played college ball, and a lot of these guys haven’t played 14 or 15 games in a season like they have now.”
And when it comes to preparing for the Storm after playing it two games, it comes down to basics.
“Basically at this point, we don’t have a lot of new stuff left,” Shackleford said. “I think the team that gets back to fundamentals in this game — blocking, eliminating turnovers — is going to win this game.”
Note: Carr said she scrambled to find enough seats on flights this week to get the team to Sioux Falls.
“We’ve got four different flights Thursday, all out of Spokane,” she said.
Then team has one final practice in the Tri-Cities: today at 10:30 a.m. in the Toyota Center, where half the field is available to the team with the Jehovah’s Witness setup takes up the other half of the arena.
Then everyone will drive up to Spokane on Wednesday and stay at a hotel near the airport.
“We’ll practice at the Spokane Shock facility on Wednesday,” said Shackleford. “(Shock coach Andy) Olson has been very gracious to us.”
Everyone will go to Shackleford’s house Wednesday night for a team dinner before flying out Thursday.
There is a league press conference Friday in Sioux Falls.
Note: The Fever will also hold a team mixer at 5:30 p.m. today in the old Founders Club upstairs at the Toyota Center. It’s mostly a chance for season ticketholders to see the players together as a unit one last time because everyone usually scatters after the season ends.
Players will come back and check out of their apartments, take physicals and have exit interviews with the coaching staff.
Shackleford also hopes to find jobs up the football ladder for as many of his players as he can.
Note: Shackleford said all Fever players should be available for Saturday’s contest. That includes Pasco High product Ryan Tolar. The big offensive lineman had to leave the last regular-season game with a staph infection on his arm. He missed the team’s two playoff games.