By Matt Popchock
Not only do we now know the Arena Football League will have a somewhat different look this approaching season, but we also now have an early hint of where the Pittsburgh Power might begin their 2012 campaign.
After 12 seasons, two ArenaCup titles in the old AF2 developmental league, and a 2010 Southwest Division crown, the Tulsa Talons franchise has relocated to San Antonio, citing poor attendance and ticket sales. Revolutionary Sports CEO Jason Lohe and his ownership group will run the San Antonio Talons, who will play their home games in The Alamodome.
Two Tulsa area newspapers, the Tulsa World and the Express-News, claim to have learned of the move with the help of a rough draft of the 2012 AFL schedule. This schedule reportedly has the Power visiting the Talons in the season opener for both.
The AFL schedule is not expected to be released by the league until late October, and league officials, including commissioner Jerry Kurz, say that an official 2012 schedule does not currently exist.
The Talons finished 8-10 in their final season in Tulsa, missing the postseason for the first time in franchise history, though they did own a 45-22 win over the Power at CONSOL Energy Center.
Meanwhile, those same reports say the rough draft of the schedule excludes the Dallas Vigilantes. This points toward rumors that franchise will temporarily cease operations next year and move to Nashville in 2013, leaving the league with 17 teams. The league has not affirmed those rumors either.
That city held two franchises in the original AFL, both of which were called the Nashville Kats. This is not San Antonio’s first rodeo either; the San Antonio Force played in the AFL during the 1992 season, and own the dubious distinction of being the one and only shutout victim in league history.
OTHER ARENA FOOTBALL LEAGUE NEWS:
Not long after settling into their new home, the Talons served notice how serious they are about returning to relevance by signing Jacksonville Sharks quarterback Aaron Garcia, who opted for free agency after leading that team to its first ArenaBowl title back in August.
For Garcia, who produced a 73-70 win over the host Arizona Rattlers on the last play of ArenaBowl XXIV, it was his first championship amidst a 17-year career that has spanned six different franchises, including his newest one (ironically, he debuted with the Rattlers). Expressing a desire to be closer to his family, Garcia comes to the Talons as the all-time leading passer in AFL history, with over 50,000 yards and 1,000 touchdowns.
In 2010 Garcia played under Power head coach Chris Siegfried, who worked in Jacksonville as the Sharks’ offensive coordinator before taking his current job.
Here are a few other prominent free agents who have found new AFL teams:
Dan Raudabaugh (QB, Philadelphia) – He’s a pro-style quarterback who, even in defeat, found ways to torture the Power when they squared off in Dallas, and did the same to plenty of other opponents. He’s accurate, he’s consistent, and he should help a Soul squad that already has a great deal of solid veteran leadership.
Nick Hill (QB, Tampa Bay) – Although the Power didn’t have to face him this past summer (he was unexpectedly benched for their July 1 meeting), he’s a deadly dual-threat quarterback who is taking his game from Orlando to the other side of Interstate 4. He gives immediate credibility to the Storm’s offense.
Tim McGill (DL, San Jose) – The Sabercats, with Mark Grieb at the trigger, already have one of the most capable offenses in the league, but they lacked toughness on defense last season. Power head coach Chris Siegfried once called McGill, a past All-Arena selection with Tampa Bay, perhaps the best nose guard in the AFL.
Dwayne Eley Jr. (WR, Orlando) – Some of the best receivers in arena football played for the Predators last year, and they’ve added one more to the mix. Eley Jr. was a fixture in the Milwaukee Mustangs’ offense in 2010 while playing alongside all-time AFL receiving yardage leader Damian Harrell.
Chris Leak (QB, Jacksonville) – If you’re a college football fan, this name should certainly ring a bell. With Garcia gone, the Sharks will turn to the rookie Leak, who led Florida to a national championship in 2006 and later had a cup of coffee with the Chicago Bears, to help them defend their title.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)