In­au­gu­ral sell­out crowd be­fit­ting of an Em­pire

The Record (Troy, NY) - - SPORTS - By Mike Gwiz­dala mg­wiz­dala@dig­i­tal­first­ @MikeGwiz­dala on Twit­ter

AL­BANY, N.Y. » Af­ter the fi­nal horn sounded, on the score­board, to para­phrase Billy Joel, it was all about Soul. Aside from the out­come which saw the ex­pan­sion Al­bany Em­pire fall to the two-time de­fend­ing cham­pion Philadel­phia Soul, by a fi­nal count of 56-35, the fans came out in droves, to the tune of a sell­out crowd, sport­ing 13,648 strong.

Who says Al­bany can’t sup­port its pro sports teams?

As the late Buf­falo Bills an­nouncer Van Miller would put it, it was pan­de­mo­nium, it was fan­de­mo­nium. The fans, mu­sic and fire­works were loud. The Em­presses were rock­ing out and the play­ers were pumped.

“It’s un­be­liev­able. They came out and showed sup­port,” de­fen­sive line­man Joe Sykes said. “Al­bany, they love their arena ball, that’s for sure! I was proud. They got us pumped up, ready to go. Like I said, from the kick­off to the end, I loved it.”

The sixth-year vet­eran has a great deal of ex­pe­ri­ence to draw upon when it comes to play­ing in front of rau­cous crowds.

“They came out and they didn’t dis­ap­point, that’s what I ex­pected from the crowd,” Sykes said. “The com­mu­nity is great here. The fan base is prob­a­bly the best ever I’ve seen and I’ve been around for some years. I just can’t wait to get back to prac­tice so we can get some wins, just keep work­ing.”

“As far as my first ex­pe­ri­ence, I loved it. I loved ev­ery minute of it,” rookie wide re­ceiver Malachi Jones said. “Al­bany re­ally came out tonight, we ap­pre­ci­ate that they took the time to buy tick­ets and come to the game.”

Jones brought the crowd back to life, stretch­ing the 50-yard in­door floor, about as far as one can go, scor­ing Al­bany’s fi­nal touch­down of the evening on a nice 48-yard catch and run for pay dirt. Jones’ third quar­ter score pulled the Em­pire within 14, trail­ing 49- 35 headed into the fourth.

As Jones and his team­mates learned, on a con­densed field in the Arena Foot­ball League, life comes at you fast.

“It’s not the out­come that we

wanted. We def­i­nitely have to go back this week and re­group and just fig­ure out the lit­tle things we did,” Jones said. “We’re not that far off though, just a few mi­nor mis­takes that in Arena Foot­ball, can re­ally change the tide.”

“It’s quick, it’s fast paced, you got to be alert at all times. That fum­ble, I picked it up lit­er­ally ten yards away from the ini­tial con­tact,” Jones said of his chan­nel­ing Don Bee­bee’s hus­tle late in Su­per Bowl XXVII. “Over­all, it was a great night just ex­pe­ri­enc­ing that but ob­vi­ously we want to get the “W,” so that’s where we’re at.”

Em­pire Vice Pres­i­dent of Busi­ness Op­er­a­tions Ge­orge Ma­nias was equally im­pressed with the show of sup­port.

“This has been fan­tas­tic. We had such a great night tonight. It would’ve been nice to walk away with a “W,” but un­for­tu­nately we’ve got some work to do there but I know the coaches will be all over that. I couldn’t be hap­pier with the fan sup­port,” Ma­nias said. “Start­ing with the block party, all the way into the build­ing, the nos­tal­gic op­por­tu­ni­ties we had with “Touch­down” Ed­die Brown and some of the guys from the ’99 team and the fans came out in full force and re­ally showed what they’re in­ter­ested in and that they’re in­ter­ested in an Arena Foot­ball team com­ing back and I couldn’t be hap­pier with the sup­port we re­ceived and I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate that from the fans.”

The nos­tal­gia cer­tainly added a nice touch at half­time, when the arena for­merly known as the Knicker­bocker and the now Trans­finder field, be­came the “birds nest” again. “Touch­down” Ed­die Brown, his son and Pitts­burgh Steel­ers star wide re­ceiver An­to­nio Brown, along with his daugh­ters and sig­nif­i­cant other, were on hand. Also there for the cer­e­monies were former Al­bany Fire­birds le­gends in their own right, iron man and wide re­ceiver Greg Hop­kins and of­fen­sive line­man Mark Valvo.

Chants of “Ed­die-Ed­dieEd­die,” poured in from the crowd, as No. 17 was un­furled in the rafters, along with the reap­pear­ance of the 1999 Arena Bowl XIII cham­pi­onship ban­ner.

There were cer­tainly goose bumps for those who re­mem­ber his Hall of Fame Arena Foot­ball League ca­reer, which started out with a bang as league MVP in 1994.

As for what the Em­pire ex­pect go­ing for­ward, they’re hop­ing for sus­tained suc­cess at the box of­fice and im­prove­ments on the field with a team still look­ing to jell.

“Our goal nowis to main­tain this from a stand­point of putting on the show that we put on tonight. Hav­ing great op­por­tu­ni­ties out at the block party with the bands and just re­ally hav­ing a great en­ter­tain­ment fac­tor,” Ma­nias said. “We hope to get some “W’s” at home and we be­lieve in our coach­ing staff and they’ll do that. They’ll re­group, that’s no­prob­lem there. At the end of the day, we just want to do more of the same we did to­day, to put on a good show and have the fans come out, sup­port us and we’ll give them ev­ery­thing that we’ve got to have a good en­ter­tain­ment fac­tor for them.”

If Al­bany im­proves with some more team bond­ing over the next two weeks on the road, there’s a good chance those fans will keep com­ing back for the en­ter­tain­ment on May 5 against Wash­ing­ton.


Al­bany Em­pire head coach Rob Keefe stands with sev­eral play­ers in­tro­duc­ing the squad’s uni­forms dur­ing Mon­day’s me­dia day at the Times Union Cen­ter.

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