I love Albany.  It's where I was born.  It's where I have lived pretty much all my life,  including now.  But I have to admit it felt like Albany was sagging - losing to all of the major cities that comprise the Capital Region - and it was getting a little depressing.  There's a different feel here now, at least on Saturday's in the spring and hopefully summer.  For that, we can thank the Albany Empire.

Everyone talks about how hoppin' Troy is with its cool industrial-style restaurants and fun Riverfront activities. Schenectady got a major boost with the casino and that breathed some new life, and Saratoga has just about everything under the stars; the best nightlife, world-class concert venue, arguably the top horse racing track in the country, the finest restaurants and an 'out of town' feel.

Albany's Convention Center is really nice and useful, but not exactly 'sexy' and while plans for the Albany Skywalk seem like an ambitious and positive step in the right direction, it's still a bit of a head-scratcher.  When it was announced that Albany would get Arena Football for the first time in nearly two decades it was the shot of adrenaline to a city that just needed something positive.  And it's been just that.  Albany has something unique and exciting again that people are willing to drive to for the experience.

The games I've been to have been exceedingly entertaining, fast-paced, loud and fun! Albany Empire football is a party.  Football fans from all over the Capital Region that fell in love with the Firebirds back in the day are coming into Albany again - many for the first time since the early 2000's - while new fans are quickly becoming hooked.  The pre-game block parties are once again a way of life and local businesses around the TU Center are reaping the benefits before and after games.  Saturdays in May, June, and July mean something once again in the State Capital.

And as far as the team goes; they're really, really good.  The Empire currently sit in first place and their team is loaded with talent, including a player in wide receiver Malachi Jones that some say could be in the NFL sooner rather than later.  They have a head coach in Rob Keefe whose infectious passion and enthusiasm make me as a fan want to strap on the pads and knock the snot out of a Baltimore Brigade player.  It's just awesome.

I may be an Albany guy, but I have love for all of the surrounding cities, towns, villages and hamlets here in the Capital Region.  Arena football is entertainment, it's a diversion, it's something to do on a Saturday night and it's a chance for all of us here in the area to have some pride in a professional sports team that plays its games in front of a national audience and in front of 10,000 fans.  And while wins and losses certainly do matter,  the scoreboard is almost irrelevant.

Thanks to the Empire, Albany has already won.