|AF2 kicks off, Firebirds celebrate 10 seasons with ArenaBowl triumph
On August 24, 1999, the AFL Board of Directors approved the final four applications for arenafootball2 or af2 - the AFL’s Triple A - to begin play in April 2000. The original 15 teams consisted of mostly midsize cities in the southeast and Midwest, operating in arenas with capacity of 6,000 to 12,000.
The 1999 season saw the Arena Football League field 15 teams, an all-time high, with the addition of the expansion Buffalo Destroyers. The Albany Firebirds, celebrating its 10-year anniversary, celebrated in style by winning ArenaBowl XIII, the league’s title game, over the defending champion Orlando Predators, 59-48, on August 21. For the second consecutive season ABC Sports televised the championship game live as over two million people viewed the contest. The Arizona Rattlers once again led the league in average attendance with 15,055 fans per game. The 1999 season saw Albany’s Eddie Brown win his third Offensive Player of the Year Award, while Arizona’s Hunkie Cooper garnered his first Tinactinâ Ironman of the Year trophy. The year also saw the league eclipse the one million-attendance mark for the fourth straight season.
A record 17 teams competed in 2000, including the expansion Los Angeles Avengers and the Carolina Cobras. The Detroit Fury owned in partnership by The Palace Sports & Entertainment group and William Ford Jr. of the Detroit Lions, chose to compete in 2001. The Arena Football League also granted an expansion team to a group backed by Peter and Alan Levin and the late Walter Payton - the Chicago Rush - that would begin play in 2001. Washington Redskins owners Daniel Snyder and Fred Drasner were awarded an expansion team for the DC area that will begin play in the 2003 season. Former 17-year NFL veteran QB and current ESPN broadcaster Ron Jaworski teamed up with former AFL Commissioner Jim Drucker in a group that has been awarded a team to begin no later than the 2002 season in a city to be determined.
af2 Kicks Off:
On August 24, 1999, the AFL Board of Directors approved the final four applications for arenafootball2 (af2) - the AFL’s “Triple A” - to begin play in March 2000. The original 15 teams consisted of mostly midsize cities in the Southeast and Midwest, operating in arenas with capacities of 6,000 to 12,000. The vision was a part of Commissioner Baker’s strategic plan for the new millennium of providing fans in medium sized markets with the game of Arena Football.
af2 Launches into stardom with inaugural “Kickoff 2000” Game:
With over a year of planning and organizing, af2 becomes a reality on March 31, 2000 at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center as the Tennessee Valley Vipers (Huntsville, AL) take on the home-standing Birmingham Steeldogs in front of a frantic 14,831 fans on opening night. The game, which was televised regionally on Comcast Sports, was a huge success both on and off the field. OL/DL Heath Springer of Tennessee Valley scored the first ever points in af2 history on a safety in the first quarter, which sparked the visiting Tennessee Valley Vipers to victory, 58-19.
af2 Becomes a League of Opportunity for its Players, Coaches, and Officials:
The movement of af2 players to other leagues began on April 19, 2000 and finally ended on January 5, 2001 when a total of 70 af2 players were moved up to the CFL, AFL, or NFL throughout the inaugural season. Tulsa Talons’ lineman David Camacho started the first wave of player movement when he was signed by the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, showing that the af2 is a “league of opportunity” for its players. Almost 20% of af2 players on rosters for the 2000 season moved up to another league.
Two af2 head coaches also got opportunities at the next level as Tulsa Talons’ Head Coach Jon Norris signed on to be an Assistant with the AFL’s Oklahoma Wranglers and Augusta Stallions’ Coach of the Year Mike Neu is now an assistant with the Carolina Cobras.
The excitement of af2 caught on to the officials as eleven total officials who were on af2 crews in 2000 were moved up to officiate in the AFL for the 2001 season. The growth of af2 has spawned a new generation of athletes, coaches, and officials.
af2 is Proves to be a “Hit” at the Turnstiles:
Through a vigorous 120-game, 18-week schedule, af2 fans across the league turned out in bunches to cheer on their respective teams. The Arkansas Twisters proved to everyone that the game of Arena Football can work in mid-sized communities. The Twisters led af2 in attendance in 2000 with an average of 13,766 fans per game including two games this season with over 16,000 fans.
In total, arenafootball2 averaged 7,239 fans per game and over 900,000 fans walked through turnstiles in af2 venues throughout the regular season and playoffs. Besides the NFL, NHL, and NBA, af2 was the only other professional sports league to fill its buildings to over 70% capacity in 2000 (af2 was at 72%).
A National Television Audience Witnesses ArenaCup 2000 on TNN:
The stage was set as the undefeated Quad City Steamwheelers looked to finish off a historic first season in ArenaCup 2000 against the hungry Tennessee Valley Vipers. In front of a sellout crowd of 9,201 fans at The Mark in Moline, IL and a national television audience on TNN, the two teams played the most exciting game of 2000. Back and forth they went until Quad City finally pulled ahead for a 68-59 victory and a record-setting 19-0 unblemished mark and Championship.
Over 300,000 fans tuned in to the TNN broadcast by Eli Gold, Mark May, and Jill Arrington, to provide the perfect end to a historic season. Players, who played for the love of the game and to keep their dream alive, coaches, officials, and especially the fans worked together to make af2’s first season an overriding success.
13 Expansion Teams Added for the 2001 Season:
There is no rest for the wary in af2 as 13 new expansion teams are added for the 2001 season. Baton Rouge, LA; Bossier City, LA; Columbus, GA; Ft. Myers, FL; Lincoln, NE; Louisville, KY; Lafayette, LA; Memphis, TN; Macon, GA; Des Moines, IA; Peoria, IL; Rochester, NY; and Wichita, KS will all try to lay claim to the ArenaCup trophy.
The list includes five owners of AFL teams and eight new teams. The league announces a new two Conference and 4 divisional alignment. Each division will be made up of 7 teams. The 2001 schedule will include a record 224-game, 17-week schedule with ArenaCup II to again be televised on TNN.