The journey — or "unfinished business," as they called it — began right around this time last year. The Albany Empire were in training camp for their second Arena Football League season, which culminated in August with an ArenaBowl championship.
Beyond a block party held a few days later in front of Times Union Center, there was no postseason commemoration of the achievement. The AFL shut down operations of its six teams Oct. 29 and officially filed for bankruptcy Nov. 27, a day before Thanksgiving.
The Empire did receive at least one perk from winning the city's first Arena Football title in 20 years. The players all received their rings, courtesy of owners George Hearst III, Daniel Nolan and Ed Swyer. (Hearst is the publisher of the Times Union.)
“The owners are just class acts, from top to bottom," Rob Keefe, the Empire head coach in their two seasons in Albany, said by phone from his apartment in Orlando, Fla. "It was, in my opinion, by far the best organization that I’ve worked in in the Arena Football League.”
Keefe, 18-6 in his two seasons leading the Empire and 75-35 as an Arena head coach, was at the helm for the final game in AFL history, a 45-27 victory over the Philadelphia Soul on Aug. 11 in front of 12,042 at Times Union Center.
All energies were geared toward a repeat in 体彩app官方网站, dreams that were dashed when a multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed against the league led to its closure.
“What an awesome year," Keefe said. "It was unfortunate how everything ended as a league status, but that ownership group, to keep their commitment to the players and able to get the rings to the guys, that was awesome.”
Had the AFL not suspended operations, the Empire likely would have had training camp scheduled for this month. Of course, concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic have shut down all sports, but that hasn't slowed down the energetic Keefe.
After winning his third ArenaBowl championship (including one as a player), Keefe was defensive coordinator and "football commissioner" of the East Orlando Predators, who won the . He continues to work in his spare time as global hygiene ambassador for Clean The World, which recycles soap for distribution to needy communities throughout the world.
“We’re all hunkered down in our apartments," he said. "Other than going to the grocery store once every two weeks, I’ve been in the apartment, trying to find creative ways to work out and keep my mind active. A lot of emails, a lot of conference calls. Just doing what everybody else is doing.”
Keefe's hope, especially once the AFL dissolved, has been to find a coaching job at a major college or in the NFL, but the current coronavirus restrictions have put those plans on hold.
“I had a couple of interviews, which I was proud about," he said. "I keep them close to the cuff as to who they were. I had a couple this month that I was going to travel to, and the next thing you know, it’s Zoom meetings. You can’t travel out there.
"I want to coach in the NFL. That’s always been my dream. Now that I have enough connections in the NFL, I want to further that, whether it be through a camp, internship or as an analyst or a low-level assistant. Whatever I need to do to get my foot in the door, I’m not opposed to any of that.”
The pandemic also has prevented players from furthering their careers, according to Keefe.
“That’s where it’s unfortunate," he said. "I keep in touch with all of them. It’s great to see the guys that want to continue to play. We had a little bit of an older team, so you saw a lot of guys transitioning into their next careers. A lot of them were prepared for (NCAA) spring ball. A good way for these players to get started, they become volunteer coaches. The best way to do that is in spring ball. Spring ball allows the head coach to see a new volunteer coach, ‘Hey, this is somebody I want to bring on staff.’ A lot of those guys didn’t have that opportunity.”
Malachi Jones, the AFL's Offensive Player of the Year, signed with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, which is on hiatus. Among former Empire players trying to catch on with the National Arena League, also currently in limbo because of the coronavirus, are Maurice Leggett (Columbus), Tevin 体彩app官方网站r (Massachusetts), Cheatham Norrils (Toledo), Mason Espinosa (Columbus) and Jakobi Smith (Massachusetts).
“I hope the Canadian Football League, for Malachi, doesn’t get canceled," Keefe said. "I hope the guys that are playing in some of the other levels of arena football still have the ability to play. I don’t want them to lose a year of their athletic ability to something like this.”
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