The AAF Makes its Debut

On Saturday, February 9th, the Alliance of American Football played its inaugural games, giving America a much desired dose of football after the conclusion of Super Bowl LIII. In one corner of the country, the Atlanta Legends faced off against the Orlando Apollos while the San Diego Fleet took to the field against the San Antonio Commanders in the Lone Star State. With the season underway for this brand new eight-team league, there were questions abound as to how not only the talent would perform, but how the games themselves would deliver.

While both games were televised via CBS, coverage was regional.  Someone determined San Antonio is closer to Cleveland than Orlando is, so that was game delivered here (though both contests were streamed live online). Unlike when the XFL made its debut (and sudden collapse) nearly 20 years ago, the AAF, or Alliance of American Football, has made no claims and no attempts to try and compete with the NFL.  With league co-founder and former NFL GM Bill Polian helping to oversee operations, the focus seemed to be more on providing a feeder system to the NFL while still providing entertaining and competitive football.

At first sight, both the field and sidelines were filled with NFL experience.  Former St. Louis Rams head coach Mike Martz is serving as the San Diego head coach while numerous players have seen time on NFL squads or were at least exposed to NFL training camps.  Thankfully, the talent found here is a significant mark above arena football.

On the aesthetics side, all teams sport the players’ respective jersey numbers on the left side of the helmet with the team logo on the right.  The San Diego battleship happens to be my favorite of the eight teams, though the numerous chevrons from head to pants make their uniforms look more like a Mario Kart track than an athletic design.  San Antonio, sporting a crimson and subdued purple, brilliantly have the Alamo on the back of the helmet as well as in the team’s main logo on the side, complete with readied saber.

While there are no cartoony attempts at changing the game, there are some significant rule differences from the NFL I found to be an interesting facet to the new league.  For starters, coaches get two challenge flags a game.  As is the case in the NFL, if you lose a challenge, you lose a timeout.  Keep in mind there are only those two challenges so coaches must focus on using them wisely.  Receptions still require two feet in (something I disagree with) and touchdowns are still six points.  However, gone are extra points, kickoffs and onside kicks.  After scoring a touchdown, teams must go for the two-point conversion.

On the financial side of things, player contracts are, on average, earning about $75,000 per year with some earning upwards of $100,000.  While that’s not NFL money, that’s still a handsome take playing a game you love.  Polian mentioned that players will also have state-of-the-industry health coverage, something that’s a must when the organization doesn’t have millions of dollars in insurance to cover your injuries.

So how about the actual game itself?

My response largely depends on which game you were watching.  Orlando found no difficulty getting in the end zone.  Meanwhile, both San Antonio and San Diego seemed allergic to the red zone with a maddening five interceptions taking place in the game.  That can’t continue.  The reason why it can’t continue is it wasn’t so much a display of defensive prowess as it was poorly run routes and bad quarterback decisions.  In the players’ defense (no pun intended), they did only have a quick 30 days to practice with their respective teams.  Needless to say, chemistry hasn’t even developed yet.

If that kind of play continues, this league will die, but this was day one and only half the teams played.  The other two games of Memphis at Birmingham and Salt Lake at Arizona will take place later today.  It will have its growing pains and we must all understand that it is not the NFL, nor is it intended to be of that caliber.  Still, what took place in San Antonio last night was not an enjoyable watch for the casual or even passionate football fan.  Allowing six sacks per game and not being able to connect regularly in the air will be a problem for audiences if that continues.

While that manner of thought is a worst case scenario and is effectively jumping the gun so early, it is a legitimate concern nonetheless.  The AAF shows a great deal of promise though and I can only hope that this well-intended, no gimmick league will not only survive, but thrive and eventually expand.  The most realistic goal, at least in my eyes, would be for it to become the minor league of the NFL, with every NFL team having its own farm system.  After all, out of the four big sports leagues in North America, the NFL is the only one without that traditional system of development in place.

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