Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that canceled the 2020 season, the National Arena League (NAL) has still been making headlines with a bevy of expansion announcements.
From July 22 onward, the league has added franchises in Albany, Louisville, and Tampa Bay, bringing the current number of franchises in the NAL to nine. Keep reading for a primer on the history of arena football in the three confirmed expansion cities joining the league in 2021, starting with…
ALBANY, NEW YORK
Along with being the capital of New York State, Albany has also been a bastion of Arena Football for several decades. The Capital Region’s passion for Arena Football began in 1990 when the Albany Firebirds first called the city home.
The Firebirds had a successful run for 10 seasons from 1990 to 2000, winning six division titles, making nine playoff appearances, and taking home ArenaBowl XIII in 1999 on the performance of team stars like Wide Receiver and Defensive Back “Touchdown” Eddie Brown.
Following their championship win, the Firebirds moved to Indiana, where they would play before folding in 2004. The next team to take a crack at the Capital Region was an AF2 squad, that went by the name of “Albany Conquest” before switching back to the Firebird's name in their final season. They would disband in 2010.
After that, it would take another eight seasons before the Albany Empire joined the Arena Football League in 2018. They had two successful seasons, culminating in last summer’s ArenaBowl 32 championship before the AFL folded from outside financial pressures.
Right off the bat, it’s a guarantee that Albany fans will be loud, passionate and rowdy as all get out. They love their teams and will be more than ready to bring the energy at the Times Union Center. The ownership group will be announcing the team name and logo soon.
Albany is the second state capital to join the NAL, with the Jersey Flight playing in Trenton, the state capital of New Jersey. The Capital City Clash will be a matchup of New Jersey vs New York like we’ve never seen before. Albany and Trenton have never shared a league before and this rivalry is a great addition to the NAL schedule.
“The addition of this market is tremendous for the NAL,” stated Commissioner Chris Siegfried. “Adding Albany, the recent AFL champions, into our league is going to make for a ton of excitement in 2021. I’m really looking forward to all of the great matchups next season.”
The first arena football squad to call Derby City home was the Louisville Fire, who played in the AF2 from 2001 until 2008, making one Arena Cup in 2005. Two members of the Jersey Flight were on the Louisville Fire in 2008, offensive coordinator Anthony Payton and quarterback Danny Southwick. Southwick went on to sign with the Oakland Raiders following his time in Louisville.
The next and current team to call Louisville home is the Louisville Xtreme, previously known as the Kentucky Xtreme. The Xtreme have been a member of multiple leagues before joining the NAL this summer, including spending time between the CIFL and AAL.
The Louisville Xtreme will be led by veteran head coach Mark Stoute. Stoute most recently coached for the Cedar Rapids River Kings of the IFL. Stoute has previously coached in the NAL, leading the Jacksonville Sharks to an 8-0 start in 2017. The Xtreme’s defensive coordinator is long-time San Jose Sabercats and Baltimore Brigade defensive coordinator Cedric Walker.
Much like the thoroughbreds that thunder down the home stretch at nearby Churchill Downs in the Kentucky Derby, the Xtreme will be ready to harness the speed and power of arena football bringing the action fans crave.
“We are honored to add the Louisville Xtreme to our 2021 lineup,” Siegfried noted. “Victor Cole has been working tirelessly for a number of years to make this happen, so it’s great to see his hard work pay off. Cole has also surrounded himself with some great partners, and we look forward to seeing them compete in 2021. I’m also very happy to see Coach Stoute back in the NAL.”
Last but certainly not least, we have the…
TAMPA BAY TORNADOES
For fans of arena football, the city of Tampa Bay conjures up a winning legacy, one of constant success. The Tampa Bay Storm, the city’s original team, started life as the Pittsburgh Gladiators, one of the four founding members of the AFL.
After moving to Tampa Bay in 1991, the Storm would go on to capture five division championships, one conference championship and five titles in ArenaBowls V, VII, IX, X and XVII. The team also played in ArenaBowls XII, XXIII and XXX, before folding in the winter of 2017.
With the Tornadoes joining the NAL, the legendary War on I-4 rivalry has been revitalized. Dating all the way back to 1991, there has never been a greater rivalry in arena football than Tampa Bay vs Orlando. The two South Florida cities have faced off in a number of iconic games, including eight playoff games and two ArenaBowl championships.
The Tornadoes head coach Freddie Solomon played for the Tampa Bay Storm from 2003-2006. Solomon was a member of the ArenaBowl XVII championship team. Solomon joined the Storm after spending three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles from 1996-1998.
“This is a big announcement for the National Arena League.” stated Siegfried. “Alton and his team have worked very hard to make this happen, and the best part is the NAL gets to reignite one of the biggest rivalries in any sport, Tampa Bay vs Orlando, aka the War on I-4.”
The Jersey Flight are a professional Arena Football team based in Trenton, New Jersey. The Flight are a member of the National Arena League (NAL). Home games are played at Cure Insurance Arena in Trenton. The team is owned by New Flight Enterprises, LLC. Follow the team @JerseyFlight on Instagram & Facebook, and @JerseyFlightFB on Twitter.