Twenty years after the city’s top arena football moment, ArenaBowl 32 is coming to Albany Sunday.
The arena football championship was last held in Albany in 1999 when the Albany Firebirds won the title. The city’s new team, the Albany Empire, has dominated the league this season and will bring the title game back to the Times Union Center on Sunday.
Albany County Executive Dan McCoy: "This is the first Arena Superbowl we've had in 20 years, you know since the Firebirds and 'Touchdown' Eddie Brown. It's so exciting and I'm happy for Coach Keefe and what he's doing and all the team players. It was an exciting build-up to this. Obviously, last year we didn't get this far. This is the second year that the Empire's been around and the fan base has just been through the roof."
Officials say the Empire’s crowd is notorious for being deafening and disruptive to opposing teams. "Come down and watch a great football game or you can watch the crowd going crazy and you see a 3-year old to a 90-year old going crazy and you get all excited for the game. It's gonna be a great Super Bowl this Sunday."
McCoy notes the Empire have been filling over 8,000 seats a game. It's been a long journey: Word came in October 2017 that arena football was returning to Albany after an eight-year hiatus. The Times Union Center hosted the Albany Conquest and the Albany Firebirds at two different levels of arena football. But Albany hadn’t had a team at the top level since the Firebirds moved to Indianapolis after the 2000 season.
At the time, Times Union Center general manager Bob Belber joined local business and government leaders hailing arena football’s return as a "family-friendly, affordable, high-tech sporting experience." "Little did I know that we'd be able to not only bring a team back, but we've have shared ownership from the AFL Arena Bowl Championship team in Philadelphia in back-to-back years, where they're actually going to own a piece of Albany and our local Albany group will also own a piece of the Philadelphia team."
Ironically, Sunday's championship pits Albany against the Philadelphia Soul, who make their third ArenaBowl appearance in the last four seasons. McCoy promises a day of downtown family fun: "We're staring the festival Sunday at 3. So the street will be closed down. People can come down, enjoy great food, enjoy great entertainment, to the build-up of the arena bowl that night, and the impact that it's gonna have on the economic development for restaurants in downtown Albany, hotels in the Capital District. It's a win-win situation as County Executive, because, economically it's gonna have a good impact, and most importantly it gives something for people to do in the Capital Region to come here and to enjoy a good time."
In the most recent matchup against the Soul, the final game of the regular season, Albany won 72-27.
There's also a little side action going on. Jill Delaney is President and CEO of Discover Albany. "So when we found out, not surprisingly, that the Albany Empire had moved into the championship game and that we'd be playing against Philly, we thought, well, what a great way to engaged, it would be to actually challenge the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Philadelphia to a little wager. A very friendly non-economic wager. And we challenged them and said the losing city has to send some iconic food to the winning city. So if Albany were to lose, we would be sending Visit Philly a gift basket of Cider Belly donuts, and, as we're hoping, the Philadelphia team loses, we will get a package of Philly Cheesesteaks."
The two organizations have been bantering back and forth on Twitter.
Sunday's game begins at 8 and will be broadcast live on ESPN2. Officials say "a limited number of great seats" are still available.