Baltimore City will officially have a new pro sports team to cheer for when the Baltimore Brigade of the Arena Football League kicks off its inaugural season on April 7.
The Brigade is one of five teams that will represent a fresh start for the AFL. Once 19 teams deep, the AFL experienced internal issues in 2009 that caused several teams to slowly fold and depart from the league over the last seven seasons. Only three teams remained following the 2016 season, leaving room for the Baltimore Brigade to join as one of two new expansion teams in 2017. The other expansion team to join this year, the Washington Valor, is located just south of the beltway in Washington, D.C.
The Brigade signed former Baltimore Ravens receiver LaQuan Williams. The Baltimore native player for Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and also played for University of Maryland Terrapins from 2006 to 2010. He went undrafted in 2011 but signed to the Ravens as a free agent that year, made the practice squad and was on the roster when they won the Super Bowl in 2012-13 season. He was released the following year and has bounced around to a couple different pro teams; he played for the AFL’s Los Angeles KISS last year.
Ted Leonis, the owner of the NBA’s Washington Wizards, owns both the Brigade and Valor franchises. Leonis told local reporters that he views Baltimore, Md. and the District as one super community, and according to a Baltimore Sun report, he expects the D.C.-Maryland Metropolitan area to extend more than 100 miles, from the northern parts of Baltimore, down in to the Richmond, Va. area.
“I’ve always felt that Baltimore and Washington were one community,” Leonis told the Sun. “I fly BWI [airport] as often as I fly Dulles [airport]. I probably have gone to as many [Baltimore] Ravens [of the NFL] games as I have [Washington NFL] games.”
With only five teams total, the Brigade will face off against the other four teams multiple times over a 14-game regular season schedule. Baltimore will take on the Valor four times this season, including in the season opener on April 7 at the Verizon Center in D.C. at 7 p.m.
Brigade head coach Omarr Smith hopes to have the team ready to compete for a championship by then. Smith, 39, has just three years of AFL coaching experience, but he won seven Arena Bowl championships as a former player and was inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame in 2014, so he knows what it takes to win in the indoor football league.
Smith also has a veteran player in the locker room in receiver Reggie Gray, whom he can rely on to help show the new Baltimore-based team how to win a championship. Like Smith, Gray, 32, has also won an Arena Bowl title.
“I expect us to win it all, Gray told the Sun. “If we put the players around that we need to put around, that’s not a far goal for us.”