Albany AFL Opens its Doors
Seventeen years after it left, Ron Jaworski declared on Tuesday evening, “Professional football is back in Albany!”
This declaration was made in front of a few hundred in attendance at the Albany AFL Open House at the Times Union Center. Season pass holders were invited to the event to mingle with team ownership, the coaching staff, and Arena Football legend “Touchdown” Eddie Brown. Fans enjoyed free popcorn and discounted snacks and beverages. Fans who attended were able to see the new façade of the arena, which had undergone a $19 million-dollar, year-long renovation.
The evening kicked off (no pun intended) with season pass holders having the chance to meet and greet team owners Ron Jaworski and Marques Colston as well as have the chance to talk with head coach Rob Keefe. Local media also had the chance to broadcast live from the arena and to introduce fans who were not in attendance to the new franchise group.
At 6:30, fans were properly introduced to members of the front office, ownership, and Coach Keefe, who made his first public appearance with the team since being announced as head coach on November 7. Those who had the chance to speak had the same enthusiasm and vision: to be active members of the community and to bring a competitive team to Albany with the goal of winning an Arena Bowl title.
At 7pm, Coach Keefe gave a tutorial called “AFL 101,” which introduced a new generation of fans to the Arena Football, from dimensions to formations. Keefe was assisted by several members of the Troy High School football team, who recently repeated as New York state champions.
I had the opportunity to speak with Keefe, Colston, and Brown briefly after the tutorial about what fans should expect this coming fall.
Head coach Rob Keefe
Q: What style of play should fans expect to see?
Keefe: “We’re intense, we’re going to be aggressive, but we’re going to be fun. We’re going to be up-tempo. I think that’s what Arena Football is all about. We want to embody everything that Arena Football is. So, when people ask me, ‘Hey, what style of football are you going to have in Albany?’ the style that Arena Football deserves; intensity, passion, fun-loving, high energy, and a lot of energy.”
Q: How important is community involvement for the team?
Keefe: “As an athlete, as a sportsman, community involvement is huge: it’s what you need to do. I believe in what is called ‘servant leadership.’ Any time I’m a head coach of a football team, I try to embody what that city is all about. I want to learn all about the city. I want the players to know that we are representing a community and at the same time, we’re winning for the community that’s winning for us. They’re welcoming us here in the community, so community involvement is huge! We want to get to know as many high schoolers and elementary schoolers and middle schoolers as we can and representing the community to the fullest. Community involvement is going to be a staple of what the Albany Arena football team is all about.”
Group owner Marques Colston
Q: What attracted the league to come back to Albany?
Colston: “I think there were a lot of factors that came together at the right time. The renovations here at this arena were a big factor. I think our willingness to and wanting to expand our league lead our search here and we got a chance to hook up with a local ownership group and really form a really good partnership that hit it off from day one.”
Q: When should fans expect a roster to be announced?
Colston: “We’ve still got our work ahead of us. We’re looking to having open tryouts here coming up soon. Fans can expect to see that process started here within the next month or two and in quick order, we’ll be able to build a good team based on the open tryouts and on some of the relationships that our existing coaches have. Once we get the process rolling, it’ll speed up and in quick order and we’ll be ready to field a team come week one.” (Open tryouts will be held at Halfmoon Sportsplex on January 27th at 9am.)
Q: What are your greatest hopes for the new franchise in Albany?
Brown: “To bring the community together and win a championship.”
Other Odds and Ends: Team president John Adams announced during the open house that the franchise was working on filing paperwork for the new team name and an announcement could be made as early as next month. The Albany Times Union held an online vote in November to determine the team name. Over 10,000 fans who voted were able to choose from for one of four names: Fire, Phoenix, Empire, and Machine.
Team vice president George Manias announced at the open house that 850 season passes have already been sold. According to the team website (albanyafl.com), the team had secured over 500 deposits for season tickets in the first week alone.
Ryan McCarthy has been an on-and-off Internet columnist and blogger since 1997. He has been an avid follower of Arena Football since 1990 when the Albany Firebirds were established. Ryan currently attends Regent University, where he is pursuing his Bachelors degree in Communications with a Journalism concentration. He anticipates graduating toward the end of 2019. You can follow Ryan on Twitter at @rwhoisryanmcc