Ninjas ready for af2 under Buffington
by Fran Stuchbury
March 18, 2002 - Arena Football League (1987-2008) (AFL I)
Rick Buffington has been a long-time Arena football coach. He started his career as head coach with the expansion Albany Firebirds in 1990 and has also been a head coach for the Connecticut Coyotes, Charlotte Rage and the Florida Bobcats. Recently Rick Buffington accepted a position to coach the expansion New Haven Ninjas of the arenafootball2. OurSports Central contributor Fran Stuchbury had a chance to ask the coach about the two leagues.
Fran Stuchbury: What interested you in taking the coaching position for the New Haven Ninjas?
Rick Buffington: The first thing that interested me was to be closer to home, (Massachusetts). Also I wanted to be involved with the Charles Wang design of sports franchises and his vision to expand Arena football. Also New Haven is a similar market as Albany and we put 11,000 people the first year in those seats so we can put 8,800 in ours. The game sells itself.
FS: Have a lot of players tried out for the team? What exactly are you looking for in a player?
RB: We have had a great turnout of players and I am really surprised at the talent level. There are a lot players the caliber of AF1 but who have serious jobs and families so we can now give them both worlds, and they can continue their dreams. Of course we look for the two-way player, but this year we wanted to find the big offensive linemen to protect the QB and tall receivers. Well, we have accomplished this.
FS: Connecticut has been home to two former AFL teams, the Connecticut Coyotes and New England SeaWolves. Can the af2 be successful there?
RB: We will be successful, I guarantee that. Our goal is to put 8,800 in the seats. Just this past Friday at our Fan Fest we had 2,000 fans and sold out all our merchandise.
FS: Is the af2 similar to how Arena football first started with players playing for little money and playing for the love of the game?
RB: I anticipated that it would be like the beginning days, but I have been extremely pleased at the level of talent that is in the area of a two hour (driving) radius. Some of these players are much better than we had in those first three years.
FS: Will a good rivalry develop with the Mohegan Wolves?
RB: We will have a lot of fun with our rivals up north, just 40 minutes away. We scrimmage them this Saturday the 23rd and look forward to visiting their venue. It's too bad we only go there once. It reminds me of when we were in Las Vegas in '94.
FS: Will the Ninjas be active in the community so more fans will embrace the team?
RB: We are already active in the community. For the last three months we have been everywhere, so we are off to a great start.
FS: Are you happy to see Albany once again have a team? Did you enjoy coaching in Albany?
RB: I am extremely happy for the Albany fans and I look forward to going there twice. You have to remember when I was there starting in 1990 I was just a schmuck. Nobody ever heard of me, but I went out and promoted all over and the fans were great to me and my family. There will always be a tear in my eye when we return. Those fans in Albany really appreciated us and I always tried to share the excitement with them
FS: What are your thoughts about the AFL's television deal with NBC?
RB: I am very excited that NBC is coming in. Its means a lot to me for all the hard work and belief we had for this League all these years. Hey, it is still something when people say you are one of the pioneers, I'm still a kid, just like it was the first time, and I have a lot of years to stay involved and still help a lot of people get into it and have good jobs.
FS: Why is Arena football such an exciting sport?
RB: I cannot go out there and sell insurance or plumbing supplies, but I can sell Arena football. It is affordable, great family fun. It's not a game, it's an event. It is an intimate sport where fans can interact and be on the same level as the head coach and the players, and what better place is there to take the kids, interact with players and get autographs?
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s), and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of OurSports Central or its staff.