Brigade pack Kemper, but lose home opener

? Tyler Prochnow threw his arms up in Suite H inside Kemper Arena on Sunday after quarterback Andy Kelly hit wide receiver James Jordan in the end zone to give the Kansas City Brigade an early lead over Austin.

Prochnow might just as well have been celebrating the Arena Football League franchise’s highly anticipated home debut. If not for an errant throw as time expired, Prochnow might also have been celebrating the team’s first victory.

Instead, the Wranglers escaped with a 37-33 victory.

Kelly drove the Brigade (0-3) the length of the field in the final minute. But with five seconds to go and the ball at the three-yard line, Kelly’s pass slipped through Jordan’s outstretched hands and time expired.

“We showed spurts of being good,” said Kelly, who threw for 217 yards in a low-scoring game by league standards. “Obviously it wasn’t enough. Hopefully (the fans) know we played hard.”

Prochnow, the team’s president and principle owner, spent most of the day shaking hands with a sellout crowd of 16,523 – more than half of them season-ticket holders and several hundred over capacity. Even a last-second loss to the league-leading Wranglers (3-0) would not deter his enthusiasm.

“This has exceeded our expectations. They’ve already embraced it,” he said, waving to the crowd. “They already know the rules. They know when to be loud. There’s just enough difference in this game that it’s not all the same.”

The parking lots opened three hours before game time, and in a sight rarely seen during the arena’s 32-year history, barbecue grills were lit and footballs tossed between rows of cars. Some fans likened the atmosphere to a slightly subdued Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Jeremy Ford of Independence, decked out in a Brigade shirt and toting an official AFL football, was among the first to arrive Sunday morning. He bought his season tickets in December, two months after the team announced it was coming to Kansas City and three months before Sunday’s home opener.

“How many times do they pack Kemper for anything else? Not many,” Ford said. “Kansas City is going to support something like this, or at least give it a shot.”

There were plenty of questions about this new breed of football. Stranger asked stranger in the packed arena concourse why the clock kept running between plays and how balls ricocheting off the uprights could be in play.

In row 201, high above the field and nearly in the rafters, Bill Holmes of Kansas City, Mo., acknowledged he knew little about the arena game. But he was among the first inside when the doors finally opened some 35 minutes later than scheduled.

“I think it’s going to be a good thing for Kansas City,” said Holmes, who went with his son Danny. “I don’t think they’ll sell out every game, but we’re a football town. I think we’ll give them a chance. I really do.”

That’s exactly what commissioner David Baker hopes. He said the league, now in its 20th season, has gotten to the point where new franchises are no longer a roll of the dice. The fan response has proven that.

“We thought they’d be doing this in 2007,” Baker said, referring to Kansas City’s inaugural season, which was moved up a year after Hurricane Katrina displaced the New Orleans franchise. “They’ve come so far in such a short time. They’ve exceeded my expectations.”

Tom Gluth brought his family from Blue Springs to the game as special guests of the Brigade organization and the commissioner.

His family had lived in Mandeville, La., just across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, when Hurricane Katrina wiped out their home. Fans of the New Orleans VooDoo arena team, the Gluths spent six weeks living in hotel rooms before moving to the Kansas City area.

For Gluth and his 10-year-old son Matt, having a hometown team meant more than usual.

“You’re a part of the game. You don’t get that in any other sport,” he said. “We walked around early and the fans could not wait to get in. I think they’ve already won, by looking at the fans.”