As franchise debuts for both teams, the Washington Valor and Baltimore Brigade met in Washington, D.C., on Friday night, April 9, at the Verizon Center in front of a raucous Opening Night crowd of a reported 15,579 fans. The crowd was entertained by a new football product in the return of the Arena Football League.  Most fans had no idea what to expect when they walked through the doors.  Once the game began, the Valor treated their new crowd to a show as they opened the game on a 27-0 run, highlighted by the quarterback-wide receiver duo of Erik Meyer and Mike Washington. The two players connected for three touchdowns through the air. 

The home crowd certainly created the atmosphere that seemed to definitely produce early momentum for the Valor.  

“We expected a good crowd but nothing like this,” Meyer said. “They came out and they supported us and they were loud. They got into it. They were just as much a part of the victory as we were.” 

“It was an exciting game,” Meyer continued. “The crowd was live. I think they said about 15,000 people, so it was loud in there. They were just as much a part of that win as we were, so it was awesome to be in front of the home crowd—live, loud . . . it was an exciting win.” 

A 34-yard pass to Washington marked the first scoring play of the 2017 season and gave the Valor a 7-0 lead just more than two minutes into the contest. It was a precursor of things to come for the Valor.  Fans cheered as The Valor closed out a strong first quarter as Meyer found Washington yet again, this time for an 8-yard touchdown. Meyer led the Valor to a 20-0 lead and finished the opening frame 7-8 for 67 yards and two touchdowns. 

Baltimore seemed a tad discombobulated early on, which is to be expected being a brand new franchise and on the receiving end of jeers from the crowd.  Rookie quarterback and former East Carolina Pirate Shane Carden entered the game for the Brigade, replacing the ineffective Chase Cartwright. On his first AFL possession, Carden found veteran wide receiver Reggie Gray for a 27-yard touchdown, cutting the Valor lead to 27-6.

After being down 34-6 at the half, the Brigade engineered a solid comeback to shave the lead down to 37-26.  The Valor would go on to score two more touchdowns late in the fourth and put the game out of reach as the Valor would defeat Baltimore, 51-38.

“This was our plan to come out of the gate and present a product of what this league can be. We’re the model. I tell you what, this was playoff atmosphere in our league,” Valor head coach Dean Cokinos said of the reported 15,579 fans in attendance. “It was pretty exciting.”

Dion Johnson

Special to the AFRO