CEDAR RAPIDS – A night three years in the making finally came for the Cedar Rapids Titans last night.
The third-year Indoor Football League franchise arrived in Cedar Rapids in 2011, and was forced to wait for its permanent home due to renovations being done on the U.S. Cellular Center.
Well, wait no longer.
“It’s a great venue, it really is. I was skeptical, I was one of those guys that was skeptical (about the fan experience),” said Titans general manager and co-owner Chris Kokalis. “Now, having experienced the game, having the drumline – it feels just like how we left off.”
The Titans hosted the Bemidji Axemen for the exhibition – and won, 22-11 – in the first game action for Cedar Rapids in the U.S. Cellular Center.
Kokalis, who is also co-owner of the Axemen, had said at the time of the official announcement that the team would finally be moving into the arena that he expected fans to not only continue their strong support, but do so in droves with the new digs.
He wasn’t disappointed last night.
“It does mean a lot to me,” Kokalis said of the success of the evening. “I get to sit back and kind of take it all in, and that’s what we did tonight. It’s good to finally have this game behind us, and now we get set for the regular season.”
For the fans, the experience is somewhat different – the Ice Arena had a sardine-can feel to it, in a good way – but enjoyable nonetheless.
Three-year season-ticket holders Russ and Annette Koons enjoyed the exhibition victory from their second-row seats. The Cedar Rapids couple – who own and operate RAM Flooring, a floor covering contracting business in town – were nervous at first about the switch, since they so enjoyed the proximity to the field at the Ice Arena.
The verdict after one game at the U.S. Cellular Center?
“The new arena, it’s a little different,” Russ Koons said. “We came down (for the move-in announcement), and we looked at the size of the arena and were worried they would lose a certain amount of cohesiveness of the spectators to the team because you felt closer (at the Ice Arena). But now this is such that it will be good. We’ll get used to it, and I think we’ll enjoy it very much.”
On Wednesday, players and coaches downplayed the effect a new arena would have on game play. Running back Laron Council invoked the “Hoosiers”-like attitude that the field doesn’t change size because the arena does.
That being said, it was impossible for the players and coaches not to notice their new surroundings with 4,895 fans in the stands.
“It’s good to be here, but we had a lot of mistakes and have a lot of work to do to try and win some games,” said Titans Coach Mark Stout. “That’s cool to see (so many fans show up). We knew, except for the snow, that they’d show up. They stayed true and showed up and it’s a great start for us here.”
So no more waiting, no more looking forward, no more wondering. The Titans are home, and by all accounts couldn’t be happier about it.
With folks like the Koons showing up in strong numbers, the early returns appear to predict a bright future for the team and the arena.
“We bought four season tickets instead of two, and we’re always inviting people because we want it to be very successful,” Annette Koons said. “The other thing that helps (tonight) is we’ve had so much snow, people have been screaming to get out of the house and get rid of the cabin fever. And what better way to do that than to become a Titans fan?”
The Titans are next in action at the Texas Revolution on Friday at 7:05 p.m.