After two weeks of league play, the Orlando Apollos (2-0) are arguably the Alliance of American Football’s best team.
There’s little argument, however, about the entertainment value of Steve Spurrier’s charges.
They’re a blast.
Orlando rallied from an early 12-0 deficit to defeat the San Antonio Commanders, 37-29, on Sunday afternoon in the best game of the weekend and – if we’re being honest – the most watchable contest the Alliance has produced so far.
The winners racked up 428 yards, including 393 through the air, to improve to 2-0 on the season.
Garrett Gilbert had a terrific game behind center, connecting on 19 of 28 passes for nearly 400 yards and two touchdowns.
Charles Johnson was Gilbert’s favorite target, hauling in seven balls for 192 yards and a score.
“A big takeaway for me is I had a lot of fun, and that’s something that I’ve really been focusing on,” said Johnson, who had a stint with the Minnesota Vikings. “Playing a sport again is really having fun with it, because I’ve kind of lost that desire to really have fun playing in the NFL for the first five or six years. It’s kind of just became part of my … what I did was a job. I kind of lost the fun and the love of the game.
“So, getting back to loving the game and having fun with it with a group of guys as passionate and willing to come out here to compete every day, I’m excited about that.”
Gilbert found eight different receivers for the Apollos, who have now put up a league best 77 points.
THE IRON CURTAIN
Sometimes, not even your best is good enough.
Other times, just enough is all you need.
Birmingham gutted out a 12-9 victory over Salt Lake on Saturday in improving to 2-0, and the contest was not – for the most part – aesthetically pleasing.
The victors netted only 216 yards of total offense and lost two fumbles, while the losers turned the ball over twice and missed three field goals.
But the object of the game is to secure the “W,” and that’s what the Iron did, staying perfect at Legion Field.
Once again it was defense and special teams leading the way; a muffed punt turned into Birmingham’s first touchdown, and the defense limited the Stallions to 105 passing yards and 256 total.
“Our defensive coordinator (Rick Minter) wasn’t here (Saturday) so I had the honor of calling a game for the first time in a long time,” Iron coach Tim Lewis said. “We did a nice job and the guys played hard, fast, tough, and played smart, did what we asked them to do. We did a nice job on third down and we did a nice job finishing the game. We had some adversity situations, and they did a nice job stepping up and making plays.”
In a 26-0 season-opening win over Memphis, special teams contributed four field goals and punts that forced the Express to work with a long field. Versus Salt Lake, they delivered in a different way.
“Fortunately, for our special teams, we were able to get a fumble and turn it into a touchdown,” Lewis said. “That was huge for us. Our special teams came up big again and really excited about the way the team played. Every day I meet with them about playing fast, smart, tough and to this point, two games into it, 2-0 and looking forward to getting ready for Atlanta, they’re doing exactly that.
“I cannot really ask for any more.”
The Arizona Hotshots join Orlando and Birmingham as the three undefeated teams left in the Alliance, and they did it the hard way on Saturday.
Arizona had to rally from a 12-0 halftime deficit to escape with a 20-18 victory over the Memphis Express before 11,980 fans at the Liberty Bowl.
“Memphis came out inspired and gave us fits with their defense,” Hotshots coach Rick Neuheisel said. “I coached with (Memphis defensive coordinator) Dennis Thurman a long time, and he had some tricks up his sleeve and basically stymied us, and those three first half turnovers put us in a real hole. But I found out a little bit about my team. I kinda expected we had that kind of grit and resolve, and we came roaring back.
“Our tempo put them in a little bit of a quandary.”
San Antonio has played two home games, and the team is proving to be quite popular in the River City.
Saturday night the Commanders drew 29,176 paying customers to the Alamodome, besting week one’s mark of 27,857. San Antonio is far and away the top draw in the young league, with only Orlando and San Diego eclipsing the 20,000 mark in their lone home games.
Atlanta and Salt Lake have yet to play in their friendly confines, so it’ll be interesting to see if they can challenge San Antonio as the Alliance’s top hot spot for fans.
Speaking of the Legends and Stallions, they are two of the three winless teams remaining in the Alliance, with Memphis also 0-2.
Atlanta jumped out to a 9-0 first quarter lead but fell to San Diego on Sunday night, 24-12, giving the Fleet their first victory in pro football’s return to “America’s Finest City.”
Ironically, Salt Lake and Memphis also had 9-0 leads before fading down the stretch and losing their games.
On Saturday it’s 2-0 Arizona at 0-2 Salt Lake, and 0-2 Memphis at 2-0 Orlando.
On Sunday 2-0 Birmingham plays at 0-2 Atlanta and 1-1 San Antonio travels to 1-1 San Diego.
Follow Scott Adamson on Twitter @adamsonsl. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.