Advance tickets for Saturday’s game are $10
By Kevin Hogencamp
No one seems to know when – or if — Albany has ever won a professional sports championship.
That may change Saturday.
Either way, when the stars aligned and it was determined that the Albany Panthers would host the Southern Indoor Football League finale, after all, after winning 75-61 at Columbus on Saturday.
“One thing’s for sure: After we won, and then Louisiana won, I had one happy owner,” said Panthers General Manager Will Carter.
That’s because not only was the Panthers’ season extended to the championship game, with all of its glory, the Panthers may have saved more than $10,000 in team travel expenses, in addition to benefitting from unexpected ticket and concession revenue.
If Houston had won, it would have hosted the championship game.
“Now all we need to do is seal the deal,” and win Saturday, said Carter, whose career as an arena football executive in Albany spans five years. “Then that will be the perfect ending to a great ride.”
Owner Rod Chappell said Carter, coach Lucious Davis and the Panthers’ front office and coach staff have worked wonders to get the Panthers to the championship game in what is effectively the team’s first full season. Last year, Chappell and Carter scrambled to put a team together weeks before the opening kickoff.
“This season has been quite an enjoyable ride,” Chappell said. “It truly shows how hard work and commitment pays off. When compared to last year’s fast introduction to Albany and early exit from the playoffs, the 2011 season has been amazing.
“The organization’s mantra is ‘winning on the field, winning in the community and winning with our partners.’ We had our first full off-season to plan and we are now more aligned with this mantra. I am extremely happy to have a chance to bring an SIFL championship to Albany … We have a great team across the board.”
Carter and Chappell noted that Davis and his staff assembled a championship-caliber team, overcame the adversity of losing to defending champion Columbus twice in the season, and then brought momentum into the playoffs with a critical season-ending road win at Alabama.
“Last year (when the Panthers finished as the SIFL’s regular-season champs) we went into the playoffs with no momentum,” Carter said Tuesday. “We finished strong and last night (when Louisiana defeated undefeated Houston, securing a home game Saturday for the Panthers), it seems like the stars were aligned.
“I’m sure everybody in Albany was a Louisiana Swashbucklers’ fan last night, but that won’t be the case Saturday.”
Indeed, it was underdog Louisiana that knocked the Panthers out of the playoffs last year.
“It’s a great story when you realize that they beat us in the first round of the playoffs last year, when we were expected to go to the playoff game,” Carter said. “Of course, we got a little bit of redemption when we beat them (30-27) the first game of this year, but what a great way to finish that would be, beating them to win the championship.”
Carter noted that Albany’s 50 or so fans in Columbus were raucous – and symbolic of the community spirit that the Panthers have created.
“Sometimes when our fans were yelling ‘defense,’ it was so loud that I thought it was their fans,” he said. “That’s the way it’s been all year. We have had great support from the fans, the sponsors and the season ticket holders this year.”
Carter says the Panthers have priced all advance tickets at $10 this week to ensure that “we pack the house.” Game-day tickets are $12.
“The people here need a championship. There’s never been a championship game to my knowledge here in Albany,” he said. “The people here deserve a championship.”
The Panthers (12-2) play the Swashbucklers (10-4) at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available by contacting the Albany Civic Center Box Office, going online to Ticketmaster (www.ticketmaster.com) or by calling (877) 544-8499.