There's a line in Toby Keith's I Love This Bar where he says 'I like my truck,
an' I like my girlfriend, but I love this bar!'  There's a similarity with Capital Region sports fans.  We like college basketball, an' we like amateur baseball, but we LOVE the Arena Football League.  After witnessing my first arena game in almost 20 years at the TU Center Saturday night, it's obvious that the love affair we have for this game is real, palpable, and as passionate as ever. And hopefully here for the long haul.

If you were at the game on Saturday - or the franchise opener a few weeks ago - you heard the Albany Empire fans yelling, waiving towels, and going nuts like we used to do during the glory days of the Albany Firebirds.  When the 'Birds were yanked from us following their championship season in 1999, we were bitter and heartbroken.  We supported the Firebirds, but greed took them from us. Spring and Summertime football was a way of life for thousands of Capital Region sports and entertainment fans.  And just like that - after we supported the hell out of that team AND won a title - they were yanked from us.  There was no more 'Touchdown' Eddie Brown, no more block parties, no more '50 yard indoor war on the floor'.  I can't lie...it sucked.

All these years later and with new ownership and team name, Albany has arena football once again.  It's like welcoming back the love of your life who left you some time ago for someone else.  How would Capital Region sports fan react? Do we go in with guarded optimism and hope they've changed or dive right in?  Well, it appears as though area sports fans have not only dove in, but we did so head first.  The new ownership for the Albany Empire has shown us arena fans a tremendous amount of respect.  They immediately payed homage to our previous team and it's glorious history by honoring Firebird players, putting up banners etc. They've even done some nice subtle things like playing Right Now from Van Halen at kickoff - something that the Firebirds did for many years -  it's a small thing that means a lot to a fan base that lost a lot.

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but we didn't need to lose the Firebirds to realize how much we simply love this sport. We've always loved it.  It just didn't love us back.  Until - cue the Van Halen - Right Now!

We like our hoop.  We like our baseball.  But we love our Arena Football.