ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — On Thursday, former Super Bowl champion and seven-time Pro Bowler Antonio Brown was announced as the newest part-owner of the Albany Empire. Brown is no stranger to the Albany area, as his dad, “Touchdown” Eddie Brown, made a name for himself with the Albany Firebirds from 1994 to 2000.
Before the Albany Empire came to town in 2018, Albany played host to a different indoor arena football franchise, the Albany Firebirds.
The Albany Firebirds played in Albany from 1990 to 2000. According to Arenafan.com, the team was 88-60 all-time, including playoffs, with one ArenaBowl Championship appearance and win in 1999. In 1995, the team had its highest average attendance of 12,240, playing their home games at the then-named Knickerbocker Arena.
Season by season
End-of-season records and year-by-year information were found via Firebirds Online, Fun While it Lasted, and ArenaFan. Stats were also found via StatsCrew.
According to Firebirds Online, the team was introduced to the league on April 19, 1990. Arena Football Commissioner and Founder Jim Foster announced Joe O’Hara and Glenn Mazula as co-team owners after being presented with an Arena Football License. Their home games would be played at the newly constructed Knickerbocker Arena.
In their inaugural season in 1990, the Firebirds finished with an underwhelming 3-5 record. Despite finishing with a record below .500, fans showed out with the team averaging 10,151 fans in attendance per game. They tied with the then-Pittsburgh Gladiators for fourth place. The following season, the team saw improvement not only on the field but with a higher average attendance to match. The team finished above .500 at 6-4, making it to the playoff semi-finals, ultimately losing to the Detroit Drive 37-35. The average attendance grew to 11,005 fans a game heading into the 1992 season.
Changes were made in the Firebird organization in the ’92 season. Co-team owner Joe O’Hara sold his rights to Glenn Mazula due to him becoming President of the AFL. The team saw a continual rise in attendance but finished with a 5-5 record. The Firebirds played their first-ever home playoff game, losing 48-45 to the Dallas Texans.
1993 would be the last season Rick Buffington lasted as the Firebirds’ head coach. Despite breaking the AFL record for pass attempts in a single season with 455 and ranking third in net yards, the Firebirds took a step back, finishing with a 5-7 record. However, they would go on to make the playoffs but would lose in the first round to Tampa Bay. During his tenure as head coach for the Firebirds, Buffington had a 19-21 record from 1990-1993. The Firebirds never won a playoff game under him, going 0-3 in the postseason during his tenure.
Mike Hohensee would take over the reins as the Firebirds’ head coach in 1994. The Firebirds went on to have a great season, finishing with a 10-2 record and averaging 53.5 points per game, which lead the league. The team would go on to win the American Conference Championship.
Firebirds’ wide receiver “Touchdown” Eddie Brown solidified himself as a premiere player in the Arena Football League that season, winning the MVP award. Brown finished the season setting the record (at the time) for touchdowns in a season with 48, points with 288, and receptions with 101.
1994 was a flagship year for the Firebirds, despite falling short of the ultimate Arena Bowl title. They set single-game and single-season attendance records and set or tied 15 Arena League records with 49 franchise marks. Mazula was also named Owner-of-the-Year.
In 1995, the Firebirds resurged, finishing with a 7-5 record and winning the Eastern Division title. They broke their own AFL season records in points with 649 (54.1 points per game). 1995 also happened to be the year the Firebirds had their highest average attendance per game with 12,240 fans on average in attendance.
The Firebirds finished the 1996 season with a 10-4 record, again leading the way in points scored with 873, breaking their previous record. Running back and Albany native Chad Dukes lead the team in rushing yards with 75 and six rushing touchdowns. The Firebirds would go on to lose in the semi-finals of the playoffs to future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner and the Iowa Barnstormers. 1996 would also be the last season Mike Hohensee would be the head coach of the team, handing the reins over to Mike Dailey.
Dailey would lead the Firebirds to a 6-8 record in his first season as head coach. They’d finish in third place in the Arena League’s East Division of the National Conference. In his second season with the Firebirds and first real shot as starting quarterback, Mike Pawlawski passed for 4,272 yards. Dukes once again led the way rushing with a team-best 364 yards on the ground. Brown continued his dominance in the league, this time catching 135 passes for 1,650 receiving yards. This would also be the first year the Firebirds would see a dip in attendance.
The Firebirds bounced back in 1998, finishing with a 10-4 record, and making it back to the playoffs. They finished first in the AFL’s East Division of the National Conference. Eddie Brown recorded 1,673 receiving yards in ’97, more than 1996 on fewer catches. Dukes ran for a team-best 364 yards, the same amount he ran for in 1997. Pawlawski passed for 3,795 yards en route to the quarterfinal. That would be where the road ended for their season, falling short 66-59 to the New Jersey Red Dogs. Despite a solid year from the team, fan attendance continued to fall.
1999 was the best year on record for the Albany Firebirds, finishing 11-3 and winning ArenaBowl 13. The Firebirds would once again lead the league in points with 822. Eddie Brown again led the way for receivers, recording 1,858 receiving yards on 138 passes. The Firebirds defeated the Orlando Predators 59-48 in ArenaBowl 13. Brown caught 12 passes for 185 yards and had four touchdowns in the game. He was named the game’s most valuable player.
2000 would be the last season the Firebirds played in Albany, finishing 9-5 and losing in the first round of the playoffs. The team rebranded and relocated to Indiana, going by the Indiana Firebirds. The Indiana Firebirds made the playoffs only twice before folding in 2004. Albany saw the brief return of Arena football in 2002 with the Albany Conquest of the Arena Football 2 League, which was a small market minor league serving the original AFL. The Albany Conquest played from 2002 to 2008 and re-adopted the old Albany Firebirds logo and name for their final season of play in 2009.
Hall of Fame inductees/Notable players, owners, and coaches
The inductees were found in archives from AFL’s website.
Glenn Mazula, team owner. Inducted in 2000. Owned the Firebirds from 1990-2002
Fred Gayles, WR/LB. Inducted in 2002. Played for the Firebirds from 1990-1997
Reggie Smith, WR/DB. Inducted in 2002. Played for the Firebirds in 1990
Eddie Brown, WR. Inducted in 2011. Played for the Firebirds from 1994-2000, then the Indiana Firebirds until 2003
Sylvester Bembrey, OL/DL. Inducted in 2011. Played for the Firebirds from 1990-1993
Mike Dailey, head coach. Inducted in 2012. Coached the Firebirds from 1997-2003
Mike Hohensee, head coach. Inducted in 2012. Coached the Firebirds from 1994-1996
Darryl Hammond, WR/LB. Inducted in 2013. Played for the Firebirds from 1991-1994
Greg Hopkins, WR/LB. Inducted in 2013. Played for the Firebirds from 1996-2000, then the Indiana Firebirds until 2001
Kyle Moore-Brown, OL/DL. Inducted in 2014. Played for the Firebirds from 1995-2000, then the Indiana Firebirds until 2003