A Tale of Two (CIFL) Cities
by Randy Snow
Originally posted on OurSportsCentral.com, Sunday, January 13, 2008
Kalamazoo, Michigan and Fort Wayne, Indiana are roughly 90 miles apart as the crow flies, and for many years, the two cities have been fierce rivals in minor league hockey. But this year, that rivalry will extend to the indoor gridiron as well.
This past weekend, the indoor football teams in both cities held open player tryouts in hopes of adding to their team rosters for the upcoming seasons.
Last season, the Kalamazoo Xplosion came within one play of going to the Continental Indoor Football League championship game and finished their first season in the League with an 11-3 record. A change at the head coaching position occurred at the end of last season, but many of the core players from the 2007 team will be returning for the 2008 season.
The Xplosion held the second of three open tryouts on Sunday, January 13 at the Soccer Zone in Oshtemo. Head coach Mike Sparks says he is still looking for offensive linemen. "We're sitting pretty solid with our returning players," Sparks said after the tryout, "but we haven't found that next guy.
"I saw some real good things today. The guys we invited back from last month's tryout did a great job in preparing themselves and they actually performed a little bit better today. And some of the veterans that we didn't see at the last workout looked really good. All in all it's been a great day for us."
From 2003-2006, Fort Wayne had an indoor football team known as the Fort Wayne Freedom. The first two years the team played in the National Indoor Football League and the last two years they were members of a different league known as United Indoor Football. Last year, Fort Wayne was awarded a franchise in arenafootball2, the developmental league of the Arena Football League. The af2 Fort Wayne Fusion posted a 5-11 record during the season, but due to ownership problems, the team folded at the end of the season.
Two of the most visible people in the Fusion organization last year were team general manager Mike McCaffrey and head coach "Touchdown" Eddie Brown. After the Fusion folded, McCaffrey felt that he owed the city of Fort Wayne another shot at fielding a successful football team, so he sought out new ownership and, because of the number of teams in the region, it was decided that the new team would join the CIFL. McCaffrey also brought back Coach Brown to lead the team. The new CIFL expansion team will also be called the Fort Wayne Freedom.
The Freedom held their final open player tryout on Saturday, January 12 at The Plex in Fort Wayne. Like Coach Sparks in Kalamazoo, Coach Brown in Fort Wayne is also looking to bolster his offensive line. "My main focus is the O-Line and solidifying the secondary, in case we face any injuries," Brown said. "I think that's the mistake I made last year (with the Fusion). I just banked on that first group (of starters) and had some O.K. backups, and when guys got hurt, those so-so backups really weren't ready to step in. I don't want to make that same mistake again."
Coach Brown did see some players during the workout that he was impressed with. "I saw some guys that can help us strengthen our secondary, as well as our receiving corps, with a little more speed. I also saw a couple of linebackers I liked that can also help us with our team speed."
Both teams feel good about their respective skill position players and both teams have their coaching staffs set for the upcoming season. It is clear that both coaches are looking for speed and depth on their respective teams for the 2008 season. Whichever team does the better job of accomplishing its objective will have the best chance at winning the division.
The Xplosion open the 2008 season with a road game against the Chicago Slaughter on Friday, March 7. The Xplosion and the Slaughter met in the playoffs last season with Kalamazoo coming out on top 51-40 and advancing to the division championship game. The Freedom begin the regular season on Friday, March 21 when they host the Miami Valley Silverbacks.
The two teams are both in the CIFL's Great Lakes-East Division and will meet twice during the regular season. Their first game will be on Thursday night, March 27 at War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne and the rematch will be on Saturday, June 7 at Wings Stadium in Kalamazoo.
The Xplosion still have one more open tryout scheduled for the first weekend in February. Training camp for Kalamazoo will begin the following week. Fort Wayne has no more tryouts scheduled and begins its training camp at the end of February.
SON OF FORT WAYNE COACH PLAYING AT CMU
Fort Wayne Freedom head coach Eddie Brown's son, Antonio, is a freshman at Central Michigan University. He plays wide receiver and returns kicks for the Chippewas and played well in the Motor City Bowl in Detroit on December 26.
In the game, Brown had two rushes for 14 yards as well as four receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown catch went for 76 yards. He also had five kickoff returns for 79 yards and he even threw a pass that was almost caught or another touchdown.
CMU lost the Motor City Bowl game 51-48 when Purdue kicked a 40-yard field goal to win the game as time expired.