Kats cruise past Florida

Monday, June 4, 2001 at 1:00am

This game was for more than a victory. It was show of respect and love for Nashville Kats coach Pat Sperduto.

The Kats stopped the Florida Bobcats Friday night, 51-41, in front of 10,882 fans at the Gaylord Entertainment Center (GEC). The Kats, 6-2, have tied for the best start ever in franchise history. Their 4-0 record at home is a franchise best. The Bobcats, winless in eight meetings with the Kats, fell to 2-4. Both teams play in the Southern Division of the Arena Football League.

But for the Kats the victory was secondary to what they tried to do for Sperduto, who arrived at the GEC less than an hour before game time. He had been in the Boston area attending the funeral of his mother. During the funeral, Sperduto's father, Cosmo, passed out due to exhaustion and stress.

"I spoke to my sister as I was walking into the building," Sperduto said. "She told me my father was fine and was sleeping. As soon as she told me that, I felt a sense of relief. Then I went back to thinking about my mother, and I put that to bed. She is smiling.

"I've accepted it. I'm proud of my family. They did a good job of understanding it was a celebration of the time she was here."

Rupert Grant scored the first touchdown for the Kats and gave the ball immediately to Sperduto. Each of the other players followed suit. Following the postgame prayer in the dressing room, the team gave Sperduto the game ball.

"We are a family," Sperduto said. "That is something I've always promoted. These guys are like my children. They showed me that they care about me, and I appreciate that. It makes it all worthwhile. We are a very fortunate group. I hope we all go a long way together."

Grant had planned all along to give Sperduto the ball if he scored. He just didn't expect to have it happen so soon, less than five minutes into the first period when he scored from 2 yards out.

"I was going to make sure I got the ball to Pat," Grant said. "It started to railroad, and everybody started giving the balls to Pat. When we came in here for the team prayer, I made sure that Pat knew everybody was behind him.

"When something like this goes on, you try to do what you can to be there for that person. There was nothing much I could do, but I wanted Pat to know I was thinking about him. We wanted to do the best we could for him, and I think we accomplished that."

The Kats defense, rated the best in the league, had its share of accomplishments as well. The unit showed just how good it can be in the second half when it twice stymied the Bobcats inside the 5-yard line. The first stop came on the 1-yard line in the third quarter when quarterback Rickey Foggie's fumble was recovered by Kats lineman Ben Crosland.

"It came down to making plays," Crosland said. "It came down to a crucial moment. We made that stop, and we got some offense from it. Someone caused the fumble, and I was in the position to get it. I got lucky.

"There is so much offense in this game that the defense has to take it play by play. We focus in on one play and make sure we execute the defense called. And then we go to the next play. You put yourself in the right position and hope the other team messes up. That's what happened."

The second stop came in the fourth quarter when the Bobcats

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