ATLANTIC CITY — The Atlantic City Blackjacks of the Arena Football League will play their first game against the Philadelphia Soul on Saturday with a roster that features a mix of experience and youth.
Fifteen of the 24 players who will face the Soul at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center have previous AFL experience. The Blackjacks also have nine rookies, which, according to coach Ron James, is the second most in the six-team AFL. The Columbus Destroyers, the league’s other expansion franchise, has 12 rookies.
“We have some veteran talent and veteran leadership,” James said Monday during a news conference at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall, where the team will play its home games. “That’s important when you’re putting together a new franchise. But it’s also important that you continue to grow as a franchise with young talent.”
The Blackjacks also unveiled the uniforms they will be wearing this season. They feature three color combinations — white with black lettering, black with red lettering, and red with black lettering, black helmets and red gloves that when held together form the Blackjacks logo on the palms.
A reporter for the AFL Fan Zone ranked the Blackjacks uniforms as the best in the league.
“We’re following the motto that if you look sharp, you play sharp,” James said.
Of the Blackjacks’ 15 AFL veterans, approximately a dozen played for James on other Arena League franchises. The Blackjacks are his sixth AFL stop following previous stints with the Las Vegas Gladiators (2005-06), Utah Blaze (2009-13), Pittsburgh Power (2014), Portland Steel (2016) and Tampa Bay Storm (2017).
His former players include quarterback Randy Hippeard and place-kicker Mark Lewis. Hippeard was James’ quarterback in Tampa Bay when the Storm reached the Arena Bowl, losing to the Soul in the championship game. Lewis, 40, played for James with the Gladiators in 2005 and the Storm. Lewis, who played for the Baltimore Brigade last season, is entering his 16th Arena League season.
“I had a few other offers, but I wanted to play for Atlantic City,” Lewis said. “This is a quarterback-driven league and I tend to hang out with quality quarterbacks who are also quality guys like Randy.”
Tickets for the Hall
After opening their season on Saturday at the Soul, the Blackjacks will play the Destroyers at 3:30 p.m. in their home opener. The 12-game regular-season schedule also features home games against Baltimore on May 18 (7 p.m.), the Albany Empire on May 25 (7 p.m.), the Brigade on June 1 (3:30), the Soul on July 6 (7 p.m.) and the Brigade on July 21 (4 p.m.).
Season tickets range from $80 to $4,800. For the home opener, the Blackjacks are offering a deal that includes two tickets and two Blackjacks T-shirts for $60 to $90.
The Blackjacks hope to succeed where other franchises in other sports have come up short. Atlantic City played host to the Surf (baseball), Boardwalk Bullies (ice hockey), Seagulls (basketball) and Cardsharks (indoor football) in previous years, but none lasted. The Surf came closest, enjoying a 10-year run at the Sandcastle before folding before the 2009 season.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Boardwalk Hall general manager Jim Wyncoop said. “Summer is a good time for events down the shore in general and this is the top indoor football league. But minor league sports has not had a good track record here. It’s all going to come down to whether people buy tickets. As everyone knows, this is a fickle audience.”