2007 Fort Wayne Fusion Season in Review
by Randy Snow
Originally posted on ArenaFan.com, Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Will the Fort Wayne Fusion be back in 2008? Will another arenafootball2 team take its place? What will happen to the unpaid bills left behind by the team’s previous owner? These are just a few of the unanswered questions right now surrounding the 2007 af2 expansion team. But for all of the problems encountered by the team during the past season, let’s not forget that the Fusion did play some exciting football at times.
Fort Wayne was one of the last teams added to the arenafootball2 schedule prior to the 2007 season. On November 16, 2006, the League announced the addition of the Fusion along with the Tri-Cities Fever. The Fever had played in the National Indoor Football League the previous two seasons, so they already had a staff, players and experience in operating a minor league football team and that helped to carry them into their first season in a new league. Tri-Cities finished the season 8-8 and qualified for the playoffs.
The Fusion had to play catch up right from the start as they prepared for their inaugural season. It didn’t help that two of their first three games were scheduled against the two teams that participated in the ArenaCup championship game last season, the Spokane Shock and the Green Bay Blizzard.
The Fusion brought in AFL legend “Touchdown” Eddie Brown as its first head coach, even though he had never been a head coach before. In 2006, Brown was voted the Greatest Player in Arena Football League History from his days as a wide receiver playing with the Albany/Indiana Firebirds.
The Fusion then hired Mike McCaffrey to be the General Manager of the team. McCaffrey was not even 30 years old at the time, but he had been in many front office positions in the AFL and arenafootball2 over the previous seven years.
Fort Wayne surprised everyone by starting out the season with impressive wins over both Spokane and Green Bay, but four straight losses after that left the Fusion with a 2-5 record. Two of those four losses could have easily been wins, however.
Fort Wayne dropped a road game to the winless Cincinnati Jungle Kats 35-32 on May 5. It was the only win the Jungle Kats had all season. The other Fusion loss during that stretch was at home to the Louisville Fire on May 11. The game was tied 42-42 in the closing seconds of regulation and it looked like Fort Wayne would be playing its first overtime game. But the Fire scored on the final play of regulation with no time left on the clock. Many Fusion fans who were in attendance at the game thought that the ball carrier was run into the boards and stopped short of the goal line as time expired, but the officials saw it differently and signaled a touchdown. The Fusion suffered a heartbreaking 48-42 defeat.
After a bye week in their schedule, Fort Wayne took to the road and defeated the Tennessee Valley Vipers 56-33 on May 26, but then they suffered consecutive losses to the Albany Conquest and the Quad City Steamwheelers.
Fort Wayne got back on the winning track and avenged their earlier loss to Louisville when they traveled to Kentucky and came away with a 52-34 road win on June 16. After a road loss at Green Bay the following week, the Fusion returned home and took care of Cincinnati 47-25 in a rematch.
Fort Wayne’s record was 5-8 with three games left in the regular season. They still had an outside chance at an 8-8 record and possibly a shot at the playoffs, but the undefeated Wilkes-Barre\/Scranton Pioneers were coming to town the very next week.
Surprisingly, the Fusion held their own against the best team in the league. Trailing by one point in the final seconds of the game, Coach Brown opted to go for a two-point conversion and the win rather than kick the extra point. The play failed and the Pioneers escaped town with a 48-47 win.
The same scenario occurred in the season finale at Quad City. Trailing 56-55 in the final seconds, Coach Brown again called for a two-point conversion to win the game. Again, the play was unsuccessful and Fort Wayne suffered its second one-point loss in the final three games of the season. The Fusion finished its inaugural season with a 5-11 record.
It is tough for an expansion team to be successful in its first year, but if the ball had bounced a little differently for the Fusion in their four close losses this season, they could have easily been looking at a 9-7 record!
The Fusion drew a total of 34,455 fans to its eight home games this season. That’s an average of 4,306 per game and ranked them 18th in the 30-team league.
And then there was the off-field issue of primary owner Jeremy Golden being removed by the league in mid-July for not living up to his financial responsibilities. It all made for an interesting season in Fort Wayne.
Will new ownership be found in time to return an af2 team to Fort Wayne next year? We will all find out very soon. Stay tuned.