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Excitement in the air

Photo by Mike Phillips

Photo by Mike Phillips

ALBANY -- Saturday cannot get here fast enough.

But the fans who attended the Albany Panther's Meet and Greet Party at the Albany Civic Center on Tuesday will tell you it's not because of college basketball.

They will tell you that Saturday will be all about seeing their beloved Panthers step on the indoor turf for the opening game of the 2011 season.

"I just can't wait for the guys to get playing again," said Julie Bean, who has been a fan of the team since the days of the Wildcats. "They are just the greatest bunch -- they really are."

Bean, along with others in attendance, mingled over pizza and soda while in the company of the Panthers Dance and Promo team before ultimately digesting their food in the arena seats as they got a behind the scenes look at a Panthers practice.

There was tons of chatter, which resembled a high school cafeteria, but long-time fans like Brett Wilson relished the opportunity to alk Panthers football.

"With the NFL lockout looming and this area being rich in college football, this is a shot in the arm as far as what we need right now," Wilson said. "We are all excited about it."

The hype about Saturday's season opener was even recognized by the city government.

"Albany is always looking for great entertainment, and I think they are good for our community," said Assistant City Manager for Public Services James Taylor, who was also among the many who came to enjoy the event. "They bring a lot of people out (from all over the region) so that is good economically, and it's a fun event. It's all wonderful entertainment, and Albany deserves that."

The event was also the site for fans to pick up their season ticket packages that came along with a T-shirt.

"This event was really nice" said season ticket holder Felisha Williams. "I'm excited about seeing the team taking over and bringing everything back home this year."

On the other side of the coin, the Panthers players saw this event as a great moment to show appreciation for the fans' support, and they wanted to put on a good showing as a preview of things to come.

"It means a lot to the team because we play for the fans, "said quarterback Cecil Lester who was last year's MVP of the SIFL. "We like to be up close and personal with our fans---they are our biggest supporters."

Even newer players embraced the idea of meeting the fans with open arms.

"It's a great experience," said quarterback A.J. McKenna who was named starting quarterback this season after a more than productive senior season at Albany State two years ago in which we was named MVP of the SIAC.

"The fans get to meet the players and a personal level and see

what type of person they are--I'm real excited to be blessed to be put

in a position like this."

Moreover, this event meant more to the fans than anything.

"It's important to have community involvement," said Panthers GM Will Carter who also excited about interacting with the fans. "It's great to see them come out and support us and help us kickoff out 2011 season."

With the conclusion of this event the fans were able to take with them

some reassurance that the team that stole their hearts last year is

back and ready to show the city what they are worth.

"They are excited about the product on the field," Carter said. "They

can't wait until Saturday and I can't either."

A big reason for the fans' excitement was how well the Panthers did last year when the Panthers won the regular season itle before falling in the playoffs in their first season.

"I thought they had a great year last year," said Johnny Bush who was

among the fans in a attendance. "I'm expecting this year to be a carry

over."