Two years ago, the Baltimore Brigade didn’t exist. The Arena Football League announced the team in December 2016, along with its head coach, Omarr Smith.
A decorated player and assistant coach, as well as an AFL Hall of Famer, Smith had faced the difficult task few professional football coaches ever had — how was he going to create a competitive franchise from scratch as quickly as possible?
In its first season, the Brigade went 4-10 and lost to the then-12-season-old Philadelphia Soul in the playoff semifinals
This year, the Brigade rebuilt, adding a new starting quarterback, kicker and a slew of offensive and defensive players, many from teams that folded or went on hiatus for the 2018 season. Quarterback Randy Hippeard, 2018 AFL Kicker of the Year Mark Lewis and a significant handful of other players came by way of the Tampa Bay Storm. Wide receiver Brandon Thompkins, who earned second-team All-Arena honors in 2015, 2016 and 2017, arrived from the Cleveland Gladiators.
The Brigade avenged last year’s playoff show, beating Philadelphia two weeks in a row to earn their first ArenaBowl berth.
Coming up I-95 is the Washington Valor, who despite posting a 2-10 regular-season mark managed to upset the top-seeded Albany Empire to continue to the championship game. Led by quarterback Arvell Nelson, the Valor pushed the Empire in the first week, losing by only a 57-56 overtime score, and then knocked them out 47-40 the next week.
The only person who definitely won’t be losing Saturday is Ted Leonsis. The majority owner of the Washington Capitals, Wizards and Mystics also owns half of the AFL — the two teams clashing Saturday.
“It’s one of the rare times in sports I can sit back and say I can’t lose because we own both teams,” Leonsis said, via WTOP’s Dave Johnson. “We are very, very focused helping to restart and reimagine what the Arena Football League can be.”
Here’s how to watch ArenaBowl XXXI:
When: Saturday at 7 p.m.
Where: Royal Farms Arena, Baltimore
Game coverage: CBS Sports Network