(Long Island, NY) The New York Dragons were looking for a fast start to the AFL season in defense of their 3 straight division titles. They welcomed the Nashville Kats to the Nassau Coliseum on Saturday night for their season opener in front of 11,126 fans. Too bad the crashers ruined the party.
Dragons star quarterback Aaron Garcia was sacked 7 times by the tough Nashville defense. He managed to throw 4 touchdown passes in between. The Kats dominated on both sides of the ball and had a momentum changing score on a 58-yard kickoff return following a Dragons touchdown, erasing a 14-7 NY lead.
Dragons head coach Weyland Harding could not have been happy with his offensive line. In addition to the 7 sacks (one of them resulting in a 2-point safety), Nashville intercepted Garcia twice and knocked him down 14 times. The offensive line had some changes in the off-season, losing veterans Richard Harris (retired) and Jermaine Miles (not re-signed). The Dragons receiving corps could not get into the flow of the game because of the pressure on Garcia. Ex-Jet Kevin Swayne, Mike Horacek, Will Holder, and Chris Anthony were held in check by the Nashville’s defensive unit.
Aaron Garcia, 35, is in his 13th AFL season. He is possibly the best Arena League quarterback of all time. This season is the league’s 20th anniversary and the AFL released a list of its 20 best players in celebration. Garcia ranked number 11, just ahead of the man he replaced at QB for the Iowa Barnstormers. Number 12 on the list is none other than Kurt Warner, the current Arizona Cardinals quarterback who was the NFL and Super Bowl MVP for the St. Louis Rams. Prior to the game on Saturday, Garcia holds the AFL record for single-season touchdown passes with 106 in 2001 and career touchdown passes with 725. All the individual accomplishments are impressive, but Garcia’s ultimate goal is to win the Arena Bowl.
The Dragons have had success the past 3 seasons qualifying for the playoffs on 2 occasions. The season they missed the post-season they actually won the division but had less wins than teams in the other divisions. The AFL subsequently changed their playoff format to include all division winners first and then wild card teams.
The Dragons look to shake this loss off Friday night when they travel to Chicago.