The Arena Football League's Alabama Vipers are moving to Gwinnett, Georgia. They'll take on the identity of the former Georgia Force, which played in the AFL's first iteration from 2002 to 2008.
The original Force were owned by Arthur Blank and bounced back and forth between downtown's Phillips Arena and Duluth's Gwinnett Arena. Their best moment was their 2005 conference championship and trip to Arena Bowl XIX. Much like the 1998 Falcons the Force lost their only title-game appearance to a John Elway-led team from Colorado: the Crush, owned by Elway. They've also featured a few noteworthy local players, including former UGA quarterback Eric Zeier and wide receiver Troy Bergeron, current Falcons roster hopeful.
“We had a wonderful fan base in Huntsville, some great sponsors, another facility that just did some tremendous things for us in terms of cooperation,” Evans said. “But the new AFL is growing by leaps and bounds. And frankly, the new AFL outgrew a market that size and an arena that size.
“(Gwinnett) was always the first choice. We looked at, actually, two other markets just briefly. I think this is the best market for a team to move to right now, and it was always our priority to try to come here.”
The team will retain the old Georgia Force name and color scheme, which was prominently featured in Monday’s news conference with the slogan, “Back In Black And Blue,” and was secured when officials with the new AFL purchased them from the old Force ownership group — headed by Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank — last winter.
After the AFL closed up shop in 2008, the Force disbanded as well. The league got the gang back together for another go-round this year, with a fluctuating number of teams eventually settling at 12. The Spokane Shock won Arena Bowl XXIII (there have been 23 Arena Bowls!) on August 20 (there's been football happening all this time!), and the Huntsville-based Vipers went 7-9 and missed the playoffs.
The AFL is expanding this offseason, with four teams returning from the old AFL and a new Pittsburgh team. The league is set to return in April 2011.
[Image credit: Flickr user johntrainor]