As someone who has been a fan of “alternative” professional football since the World Football League debuted in 1974, I’m always intrigued by upstart leagues.
Yet after seeing those leagues rise and fall over the years – sometimes failing spectacularly – I’ve learned to temper any excitement with a healthy dose of skepticism.
But dang if the Alliance of American Football didn’t hook me during its opening weekend.
I watched as much as I could on TV and covered the Birmingham-Memphis game live, and the AAF made a great impression on me.
“This was an incredible opening weekend for The Alliance, in which the quality of play and fan support far exceeded my expectations,” AAF co-founder and CEO Charlie Ebersol said. “We had the number one sports app on iTunes and Google Play, strong viewership on CBS, CBS Sports Network and NFL Network, 11 of the 20 top trending topics on Twitter in the U.S. on Saturday night – these are all accomplishments I couldn’t have imagined when we first started this conversation three years ago.
“The narrative of the Alliance will be a growth story, so now it’s back to work as we look to improve week to week.”
Before Sunday, the last time I had been in a press box to watch a new pro football league debut was Feb. 4, 2001, when the Memphis Maniax played the Birmingham Thunderbolts at Legion Field in week one of the XFL.
The vision of wrestling mogul Vince McMahon, the league had a lot of technological innovations, but the play left much to be desired.
XFL movers and shakers spent so much time trying to convince people to buy in to their product they forgot to actually give them a quality product.
Alliance officials aren’t making that mistake.
When I returned to Legion Field to witness the Birmingham Iron defeat the Memphis Express 26-0 last weekend, I saw a legitimate “bridge league” between college football and the NFL.
“Our focus heading into this inaugural season was football, football, football,” Alliance co-founder and head of football Bill Polian said. “We wanted to put a quality product on the field, and I’m proud of what was on display this weekend. We saw big plays on both sides of the ball and I loved the intensity the players showed. There are areas that certainly need to be improved, but that’s why we have high caliber coaches on the sidelines, to help our players learn, grow and improve on and off the field.”
Other news and notes from opening weekend …
HBC DOES IT AGAIN
Orlando Apollos boss Steve Spurrier is now 2-0 in his pro spring football coaching debuts.
Before earning the nickname “Head Ball Coach” thanks to his success in the college ranks, Spurrier was head coach of the Tampa Bandits in the United States Football League.
The Bandits, who were a major draw in the USFL’s three-year existence from 1983-85, scored a 21-17 inaugural victory over the Boston Breakers on March 6, 1983.
Nearly 36 years later Spurrier was on the sidelines as Orlando helped lift the lid on the Alliance of American Football, and the home team came away with a no-doubt-about-it 40-6 thrashing of the Atlanta Legends.
Spurrier obviously enjoyed himself – and the 20,000-plus fans at Spectrum Stadium got their money’s worth from both the home team and the hall of fame coach.
Although each AAF team has territorial rights to regional colleges, only one San Antonio native actually made the roster of the San Antonio Commanders.
Running back Aaron Green made his debut with the club on Saturday night in a 15-6 victory over the San Diego Fleet, rushing for 43 yards on six carries. He had high praise for the 27,000-plus fans in attendance.
“It was great,” said Green. “I’ve said over and over again how much I love playing in the Alamodome. Being from here, I’d rather play in here than in the (Dallas) Cowboys’ stadium, to be honest. To get out there and fly around with my new teammates was awesome.”
Green said while his teammates might’ve been surprised by the support, he wasn’t.
“It didn’t surprise me at all,” he said. “I’m born and raised here, and I know this city loves sports, whether it’s soccer, basketball, football or whatever. I knew it was going to be a great turnout. My teammates were more surprised than I was.”
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Offense: Arizona QB John Wolford.
Wolford threw for 275 yards and four TDs and no picks in the Hotshots’ 38-22 win over Salt Lake on Sunday at Sun Devil Stadium.
Defense: Orlando LB Terence Garvin.
Garvin had a team-high 11 tackles and two interceptions – including a 51-yard pick-6, to help the Apollos’ “D” stifle the Legends.
Special teams: Birmingham K Nick Novak.
Novak kicked four field goals, three of them in the first half, to give Birmingham a 9-0 lead over Memphis at halftime.
Speaking of San Antonio, the Commanders won the attendance award for opening weekend, drawing 27,857 paying customers to the Alamodone.
Orlando had paid attendance of 20,191; Birmingham got 17,039 people to buy tickets; and 15,000 folks came to Tempe to watch Arizona and Salt Lake.
Saturday’s games are Salt Lake (0-1) at Birmingham (1-0), 2 p.m. EST, and Arizona (1-0) at Memphis (0-1), 8 p.m. EST.
Sunday’s lineup is Orlando (1-0) at San Antonio (1-0) at 4 p.m. EST and Atlanta (0-1) at San Diego (0-1) at 8 p.m. EST.
Follow Scott Adamson on Twitter @adamsonsl or email him at email@example.com