MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - With plenty of food and heaters to stay warm, fans braved the cold and rain Saturday to tailgate the first Memphis Express home game for the new Alliance of American Football.
They celebrated the first return of professional football since the XFL in 2001.
Fans hoping for a better result than the shutout loss to Birmingham last week were satisfied--for about three quarters.
Memphis held the Hotshots scoreless until deep into the third, building up a 12-point lead twice in the game.
But Arizona would not be denied, taking advantage of an Express offense that struggled to move the ball through the air. Arizona completed the comeback with a 20-18 win.
Memphis endured another tough game from quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who completed 14 of his 25 passes for just 102 yards. He did run in a touchdown, though, enduring a hard hit as he walked into the endzone.
The Express were led by running back Zac Stacy, who rushed for 101 yards on the night.
Stacy had the distinction of scoring the first touchdown in Express history in the first quarter--a welcome sight after last week’s shutout loss.
Head coach Mike Singletary was disappointed in the way his team closed out the game.
“Well, obviously disappointing. Our first home game got off to a good start and we simply did not finish the game," he said. "We just have to do a better job. We have to regroup, continue to get our guys healthy and be ready to go next week.”
Singletary said his defense lost steam in the fourth quarter and his defensive line was tired by the end of the game, leading to some big plays.
The coach stood behind his quarterback once again despite the struggle.
“I was proud of the way he kept battling back. Just couldn’t make it enough plays to win the game, but I thought he did a lot of things that go a long ways towards helping him get better and feel very good about him finishing that game and helping us win.”
Hackenberg said while his team made plans and did things better this week, they need to continue building and get better.
“We just have to keep at it, keep going to work, and that’s what it comes down to, just having everyone with a great attitude and just pushing forward,” Hackenberg said.
Through it all, the Express faithful showed up to support their squad.
Monte Quarles and his brother, Harold are the founders of the first Memphis Express fan club.
“Our slogan is ‘Express yourself!’ We want everybody to understand that we are excited about Memphis Express,” Monte Quarles said.
Inside, the Liberty Bowl was not full or even packed, but fans said they were having a good time. Especially, after the Express scored their first touchdown in franchise history.
“It’s a lot of fun you can tell that the city is very excited about having professional football here,” Harold Quarles said.
The Express is trying to offer different experiences other than football to entice fans.
For the home opener, there was a silent disco with live DJs. Fans were able to dance in the stands all while still watching the Express.
A different in-game activity is promised for every home Express game.
Only time will tell if the Alliance of American Football or the Express will be successful. However, the fans say they will be passionate supporters no matter what.
There are a total of five home games scheduled for the regular season.
The next Express home game is March 2 against the San Diego Fleet.