The last time football fans in the #Mighty518 saw football at the Times Union Center, the Albany Empire won ArenaBowl XXXII. Fans at the Times Union Center mobbed the field as the confetti rained down. The Empire were awarded the Jim Foster Trophy. A few months later, the Arena Football League declared bankruptcy and folded. The six remaining teams – including the Empire – dissolved. Would indoor football return to Albany? On August 13, 2020, the National Arena League announced its intentions to field a team in Albany and a couple months later, an Empire was reborn.
Scrambling to Put Together a Season
Because #CoronaSZN was still ravaging our nation, there was doubt as to whether a season would take place. New ownership of the Albany Empire hired head coach Rob Keefe and assistant coach Les Moss – who coached in Albany in 2018 and 2019 – to the same positions. But Keefe and Moss both left for Iowa of the Indoor Football League as uncertainty loomed in Albany. The league pushed the season up from April to late May and shortened the league schedule from 14 to eight games. Finally, the Empire announced that it came to an agreement with state and local health officials to host games at 25% capacity. It was game on!
The Search for a Coach with Experience
With Keefe and Moss being hired away to another league and the surety of play, Albany Empire management needed to find a new head coach. They didn’t have to look far: the club hired Tom Menas as their head coach on April 16. Menas is no stranger to football; he’s served as linebacker and running back coach for the Detroit Fury from 2001 to 2004. Prior to becoming the Empire’s head coach, he served as assistant head coach on the Jersey Flight in 2019.
The Search for Players
Now that the season was on and the Albany Empire had their head coach, the search for players was on. The Empire went work, signing some familiar Arena Football names. Kicker Craig “The Leg” Peterson (who played soccer locally for Burnt Hills/Ballston Lake High School), wide receiver Darius Prince, defensive lineman Harold Brantley, and quarterback Tommy Grady were all signed to the roster. Several other Arena Football veterans, including defensive lineman Shawn Lockett and fullback Derrick Ross, who was the Arena Football’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns. One notable name is quarterback David Pindell, who played for the Glacier Boys in Fan Controlled Football. The Empire weren’t done. Joe Sykes, Arena Football’s all-time sack leader, agreed to become the team’s defensive line coach.
The season is set to start on Saturday night and the Albany Empire were thrown another curve ball. The Ontario (CA) Bandits announced they would go dormant for the 2021 season. So, the league reformed the schedule and the Empire will play the Columbus Lions on Saturday night. There are some additional names known to Albany football fans coming to play for the Lions: quarterback Mason Espinosa and cornerback Maurice Leggett. The last time both men were at the Times Union Center was ArenaBowl XXXII.
While capacity is limited, I’m excited for Saturday night. Fans attending will be loud and will try to make the arena sound like there are over 13,000 rocking the Times Union Center.
Just like old times.