The Fort Wayne Freedom is Back
by Randy Snow
Originally posted on OurSportsCentral.com, Sunday, October 25, 2007
The Fort Wayne Freedom has been resurrected, this time as an expansion team in the Continental Indoor Football League. The original Fort Wayne Freedom was a member of the National Indoor Football League from 2003-2004 and then moved to United Indoor Football from 2005-2006. They were replaced by the Fort Wayne Fusion of arenafootball2 in 2007. The Fusion folded after just one season.
A group of owners has come together to form Fort Wayne Sports Partners, LLC. The front man for the group is Todd Ellis, an Atlanta, Georgia businessman and a former part owner of the Mississippi Mudcats in the American Indoor Football Association.
"I didn't find Fort Wayne," Ellis said, "Fort Wayne found me. My wife and I were in Indianapolis and an article came out in The Business Journal about Fort Wayne being the number one minor league sports city in the country. Not too long after that I got a call from a friend who said he heard that the (Fusion) was not doing so well. So I called (General Manager Randy) Brown at the Coliseum and he put me in touch with (Fusion GM) Mike (McCaffrey)."
Ellis was so impressed with the Fort Wayne community after visiting here a few months ago that he has decided to move to the northern Indiana city in order to devote his full time to running the team.
The new Fort Wayne Freedom will have a new look on the field and new ownership, but there are a couple of people involved with the team that also have ties to the Fusion. Former Fusion GM Mike McCaffrey, will be the GM of the Freedom as well as a part owner of the team and former Fusion is head coach "Touchdown" Eddie Brown is also returning as the head coach. Both men summed up their return to Fort Wayne in two words, "Unfinished Business."
"From my perspective, this community has been robbed and I've been a part of the robbery," said Brown. "I've been robbed myself, so I think being able to come back and give this community what they deserve (a stable football team) I think it's very important for me to be a part of that."
McCaffrey also felt that he owed the fans in Fort Wayne after last season and wanted to return the kind of football to the city that they remembered and loved in years past.
"I came here and, as part of an organization, promised a lot of things. But at the end of the season, some of those things weren't fulfilled," McCaffrey said. "We finished the season and we put on a great product, so it doesn't have any reflection of the on-field product, which is a testament to Coach Brown. There are a lot of people in this town that I've met since January that I've leaned on, who have offered me support and got us through last year. When there wasn't an opportunity to keep the same (af2) franchise, and keep building on what we had started, I just didn't want to leave here the way things ended.
"Since January, I was a part of the Fusion," said McCaffrey. "I'll leave it at this, but Eddie and I have unfinished business. I was brought out here to run a successful professional football team in the city of Fort Wayne. Just because it didn't happen the first seven months that I was here doesn't mean that I was ready to give up. Thanks to Todd and thanks to some of the other partners that we have met, Eddie and I are going to get a chance to do exactly what we set out here to do, and that's win a championship and keep a football team here that this community can be proud of."
McCaffrey had been working for the Arena Football League and its developmental league, arenafootball2, for several years, but when the opportunity to stay in Fort Wayne presented itself, McCaffrey jumped at the chance to stay.
"It would have hurt me to leave (Fort Wayne)" he said. "I didn't want to leave. I stayed here for a month and a half without a job just seeing what was going to happen. I'm a guy who used to be very loyal to a league (af2) that did a lot of good things for me and I'm now a guy who is loyal to a city who's done some good things for me.
"I could have taken another job in the af2, but it's not me. I owe a lot of people around here a lot of thanks, and the only way that I could do it was to get a football team back here and know that it was going to be run the right way. That's the best way that I can give back to the people that I've met since I've been here that have done so much for me."
Running back Rocky Harvey, a member of the Freedom from 2003-2006 and a Fort Wayne fan favorite, has already agreed to return to the team for the 2008 season. He spent the 2007 season playing for the Bloomington (Illinois) Xtreme of United Indoor Football. Another returning player is wide receiver/kick returner Luther Stroder, who also played for the Freedom from 2003-2006. The team wants to emphasis talented, local players on its 2008 roster and will hold its first open player tryout on December 1 at The Fort Wayne Golf Dome on Engle Road. The Dome is also the official practice facility of the Freedom.
A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN
Ellis and McCaffrey looked at a couple of indoor football leagues before deciding to join the CIFL. In the end, it all came down to geography. A majority of the teams that the Freedom will be playing are in cities that are already familiar to Fort Wayne fans. Cities like Kalamazoo and Muskegon, Michigan. The Fort Wayne Komets, the city's minor league hockey team, has been playing teams in those cities for years so the rivalries are already in place.
NOTE: The playing field and a good share of the team's equipment are coming from a recently defunct team in the AIFA, the Danville Demolition. The Demolition was around for just one season.