It's just football, and that's a great start.
The Alliance of American Football (AAF) presents spring football without gimmicks, and an unabashed mission of giving NFL-worthy players more exposure. The league will measure its success by its ability to send roster members up to the 'big leagues'.
It's not trying to compete with the NFL, and that's a good thing.
The USFL (1983-1985) cannibalized itself by competing for top-echelon players that it couldn't afford. The league was wholly welcomed when it first debuted, but went belly-up in three short seasons. It's best remembered as the league that drew such star players as Jim Kelly, Herschel Walker and Steve Young away from the NFL.
The USFL is far more fondly remembered than the more-recent XFL which played its only season in 2001 and starred risque cheerleader outfits and the "race for the ball" in place of an opening kick-off. It also starred the loudmouth king of the World Wrestling Federation, Vince McMahon. The XFL plans a relaunch in 2020. McMahon is back as a key investor and the league claims it has 5 years of operational capital in the bank.
The XFL also has no plans of competing with the NFL as it, too, will be a spring league. But it's already lost momentum to the fledgling AAF whose desire is to serve as a farm system to the NFL. The AAF team rosters are laden with players who were recent rookie free agents, and even several late-round draft picks.
Garret Gilbert, quarterback of the Orlando Apollos, already had an impressive coming out party in the teams' 40-6 rout of the Atlanta Legends. Orlando, coached by Steve Spurrier, looked like a team that was ready to compete. The opponent looked lost. Garrett 's stats weren't awesome, but he was a solid 15-of-25 for 227 yards and 2 touchdowns. And in typical Spurrier fashion, Gilbert also caught a throw-back pass to the QB for a touchdown.
Gilbert was a 5th-round draft choice of the then-St. Louis Rams in 2014. He is best-known for his role in the 2010 BCS Championship game (2009 season) when the former Texas Longhorn had to come off the bench to replace the injured Colt McCoy. He rallied his team to a pair of scores that closed the gap against Alabama to 24-21 before the Tide pulled away for a 37-21 win.
Gilbert later transferred to SMU where his two seasons as starting quarterback under June Jones' pass-happy offense produced 6,463 yards and 38 touchdowns.
Each team in the AAF has a number of 'local' players to help draw fan interest. The Apollos' roster features at least 1 player from every major Florida college. And fan interest is hugely importance as CBS, CBS Sports and the NFL Network are all broadcast partners. Ratings are needed, and bodies in seats are also a must.
Orlando drew 20,191 for its rain-soaked opener versus Atlanta, trailing the San Antonio Commanders' 27,857 fans for its debut 15-6 win over the San Diego Fleet. The Birmingham Iron had an announced crowd of 17,039 for a 26-0 whitewash of the Memphis Express, but the Arizona Hot Shots trailed with a meager 11,751 attendees for a 38-22 win over the Salt lake Stallions.
As for TV ratings, a split broadcast of Orlando-Atlanta and San Antonio-San Diego on Saturday night drew a 2.1 rating to tie the NBA broadcast of Oklahoma City-Houston.
If you missed the opening weekend, you should give this league a look. The games were watch-able, and a few wrinkles - not gimmicks - enhanced the viewing experience.
Most notably, viewers gt to eavesdrop on the replay process, mandatory 2-point pass or run attempts followed touchdowns instead of a PAT kick, and kick-offs were eliminated as teams began on their 25-yard line after a score. The games also seemed to have more constant action with a 5-second shorter play clock and fewer broadcast timeouts.
My one nit-picking dislike are the team logos which, aside from Birmingham's simple "B", are unrecognizable. But for now, I'm giving the new league a thumbs-up because, after all, it's football. And die-hard football fans love football.