Since 1986 the AFL has been the standard of arena football. Have they had their fair share of ups and downs? They sure have, but in a market that is as hard to get into as football, the Arena Football League has found ways to make it work for 33 years. We could go into the nitty-gritty details of suspended seasons or teams that have folded or departed for different leagues, but I want to focus this article on the future, in particular, the upcoming 2019 AFL season!
Before I get into the teams and such, I want to explain why I love leagues like the AFL (and other arena leagues such as NAL, IFL, AAL). For starters, it gives more opportunities to the players that don’t make it to the NFL level. According to ncaa.org, only 1.6% of NCAA athletes make it onto NFL rosters. That leaves an incredible amount of talented players without a place to play. The NFL is a cutthroat business. You need to perform quickly, or the league will move onto the next man. The AFL and other leagues provide a place for these athletes to get professional experience with hopes of catching the eye of NFL executives.
We have probably all heard the feel-good story of Hall of Famer and Super Bowl XXXIV MVP Kurt Warner (also two-time NFL MVP) and how he played for the Iowa Barnstormers (now apart of the IFL). Warner is definitely the exception, not the rule, but regardless, the opportunity is always there. And if you are a fan of college football, if you tune in to Arena leagues, you might be surprised at how many familiar faces you will see.
So we have talked just a little about the benefits of the AFL, let’s move on to the upcoming season! The league kicks off on Friday, April 26th at 7:00 PM EST with a matchup between the Washington Valor and Baltimore Brigade. Three games will be held each week, except for weeks 11 and 12 for BYEs, on any combination of Friday, Saturday, or Sunday (week nine does have a Thursday night game).
If you are not familiar with the AFL and want to know which team will be “your” team, stick around and learn a bit about the six teams currently in the AFL.
The Albany Empire finished the 2018 regular season with a record of 8-4 and a regular season title. All that was for nothing as the Empire fell in the playoffs to the Washington Valor. A quick aside, the playoffs utilize a home-home series and the team with the higher aggregate score advances to the ArenaBowl. Albany was outscored 103-97 and subsequently was eliminated as the one seed.
Albany is hungry this season, and ready to show their early playoff exit was a fluke. They were able to bring back Malachi Jones (most recently played in the AAF for the Atlanta Legends) who was a rookie sensation for the Empire last year. Jones brought home 2018 awards for Rookie of the Year and Receiver of the Year, becoming the first rookie to receive both awards. Jones finished his season with 1,156 receiving yards and 29 touchdowns. Albany touted the highest points scored total in the regular season and was second in points against last season.
The Atlantic City Blackjacks are the newest kids on the block. They just joined the league for the 2019 season and is operated by Trifecta Sports and Entertainment, the same group that owns the Albany Empire and is a partner owner of the Philadelphia Soul. Atlantic City will be led by former MVP quarterback Randy Hippeard and head coach Ron James.
The ArenaBowl XXXI runner-up Baltimore Brigade will look to improve upon last season and not just visit the promised land, but lay claim to it! Led by head coach Omarr Smith, 2018’s Marcum-Moss Head Coach of the Year, the Brigade has brought in some serious receiving power in 5x All-Arena and 2017’s Receiver of the Year, Joe Hills. I will let this excerpt from http://www.baltimorebrigade.com/articles/free-agency-7 describe Hills.
Hills is one of the most accomplished wide receivers in the AFL. In 2016 and 2017, he led the AFL in touchdowns, receptions and receiving yards. In 2018, despite missing one game, Hills still led the AFL in points per game (18.2), receptions per game (8) and reception touchdowns (33). Hills has scored a touchdown in the last 92 consecutive games he has played, which is an active streak and an AFL record.
The Brigade has also brought in defensive lineman Darryl Cato-Bishop, Joe Goosby and was able to re-sign defensive lineman Robert Hayes and defensive back Michael Knight.
New phone, who this? The Columbus Destroyers are back for the 2019 season! The Columbus Destroyers started in 1999 as the Buffalo Destroyers but moved to Columbus in 2004. Sadly, the Destroyers folded in 2008. On February 22nd, the AFL announced the re-launch of the Destroyers creating a sixth team for the 2019 season. Columbus was given a redesigned logo and will be led by head coach Matthew Sauk.
The Philadelphia Soul is the longest tenured AFL team in the league, being founded in the 2004 season. The Soul has three league championships, including back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017. Philadelphia entered the playoffs as the third-ranked seed but was ousted by the Baltimore Brigade by dropping both games in the playoffs and was outscored 110-86. Head Coach Clint Dolezel leads the Soul.
From 2-10 to ArenaBowl XXXI Champions, the Washington Valor are the reason fans love to watch Arena Football! Washington, by all accounts, shouldn’t have even been in the playoffs, they even lost their first game playoff game against the Empire. That is the beauty of the home-and-home series format and aggregate scoring criteria for the AFL playoffs. Being down one point after an overtime thriller in game one of the playoffs, the Valor defeated the Empire by a touchdown to secure their first ArenaBowl appearance and subsequent win. Head coach Benji McDowell will look to build upon the postseason success and make a push for a regular season title!