A Youthful In-Fusion in Fort Wayne
Fusion majority owner Jeremy Golden is only 31-years-old, but even he is not the youngest executive on the team. At the age of 29, Fusion General Manager Mike McCaffrey is, quite possibly, the youngest GM’s in all of sports.
But don’t let his age fool you; McCaffrey has been around the block a time or two in the league. This is not the first time that he has been involved in getting an af2 team off the ground and he is certainly no stranger to Fusion head coach Eddie Brown.
McCaffrey grew up in Albany, New York and attended AFL Albany Firebirds games while he was in high school. He got to watch WR/DB “Touchdown” Eddie Brown earn his nickname first hand with his hometown team.
“The nickname was given to him in Albany,” said McCaffrey. “It seemed like every second the announcer was saying, ‘Touchdown! Eddie Brown! Touchdown! Eddie Brown!’ That was my first introduction to Arena Football.”
From there, McCaffrey went on to college at Old Dominion in Norfolk, Virginia where he studied Sports Management. In 2000, the AFL launched its own 15-team developmental league, arenafootball2. While he was still in college, McCaffrey took a job as an intern with the new local af2 team, the Norfolk Nighthawks. He was hired on full-time by the team after he graduated.
Meanwhile, back in Albany, the Firebirds moved to Indianapolis and became the Indiana Firebirds in 2001. Eddie Brown, who had been with the Firebirds since 1994, remained with the team for a couple more years after the move to Indiana.
The two men’s paths crossed briefly in 2004. McCaffrey took a job with the Firebirds while Brown was still a member of the team. However, during the 2004 preseason, Brown was cut by the team and his 10-year playing career came to an end.
The Firebirds folded after the 2004 season. McCaffrey returned home and took a job with the af2 Albany Conquest, a team that replaced the Firebirds in 2002.
“I was very disappointed with the way (Eddie Brown’s) career ended in Indiana,” McCaffrey said. “So when I went back to Albany, one of my main duties was to have his jersey retired in the Pepsi Arena. We did that last year.” In celebration of the league’s 20th season last year, Brown was selected as The Greatest Player in Arena Football League History.
The chance to come to Fort Wayne this year and become a general manager, as well as being reunited with Eddie Brown, was an offer that was just too good for McCaffrey to pass up. Brown had already been hired by the Fusion as the team’s head coach. In fact, it was Coach Brown who suggested to af2 president Jerry Kurz that he hire McCaffrey as the team’s GM.
“I’ve been in af2 since it started,” said McCaffrey. “I’ve done everything else there is to do in Arena Football front offices, but this is my first time being ‘the guy’. Coming to Fort Wayne was the culmination of the last seven years for me. I’ve been working since I got out of college to be a general manager in professional football. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime. Obviously the combination of Eddie Brown being here and having a strong ownership group was a key to me coming here. They had a strong staff, but they just needed someone like me who has been through it before and I’ve been through everything in this league you can go through, so it was a nice situation.
“A lot of things had to happen for me to end up going to school in Norfolk to begin with,” recalled McCaffrey, “and to have me graduating school at the same time as the af2 was starting. For me, in my career, the stars have aligned quite a bit. I’m not going to sit here and say that everything I have accomplished is because I have worked very hard to make it happen. There have been some lucky breaks along the way and I am not ignorant to that fact. But when those opportunities have come, I have been able to get the job done and prove that I was worthy of it, so that’s where I can step in and say that I feel good about it.”
Does McCaffrey feel that his age will be a disadvantage to him in his new position? “If I were 22 or 23 it might be a disadvantage, but I’ve been a professional now for almost 10 years. I’ve certainly learned a lot from a lot of different people and I don’t look at age as having any effect on how I can perform my tasks. If it was just Jeremy and I coming into Fort Wayne as a couple of young hot shots, no, I don’t think that’s the best formula for success. I think having guys like (team minority co-owners) Chuck McClory and Jim Fitzpatrick, who are here locally, and having them to lean on when I’m in town, is certainly an advantage for me.”
And what about his relationship with his equally young team owner? “In our phone conversations you could certainly tell that we were both young guys. I think one of the comments that Jeremy made to me was, ‘I feel like I’m talking into a mirror.’ We had a lot of the same enthusiasm and love for Arena Football.”
So youth is definitely on the side of the Fusion this season. Whether it will translate into a winning season or not remains to be seen, but one thing is certain. If the team plays with the same enthusiasm as their General Manager, fans in Fort Wayne are in for an exciting inaugural season.
Randy Snow covered the Grand Rapids Rampage of the Arena Football League for ArenaFan from 2003-2008. He also covered the Fort Wayne Fusion of arenafootball2 in 2007. From 2004-2008 and in 2010, he was a member of the Arena Football League Writer’s Association and, since 2011, has been a member of the Professional Football Researchers Association. Randy lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan but will travel just about anywhere for a football game or a great football story. He runs the web site www.theworldoffootball.com and hosts a podcast with his son, Adam, called “This Week in The World of Football.”