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From the stands: The AAF Debut

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The AAF went above and beyond expectations in their debut.

History was made this past Saturday night as the first games of the Alliance of American Football (better known as the AAF) took place in Orlando and San Antonio. I was lucky enough to attend the game inside Spectrum Stadium between the Atlanta Legends and the Orlando Apollos so I decided to write about the experience.

Known as “The Launch” this would be the very first game in Apollos history under a very familiar head ball coach. Steve Spurrier... you may have heard of him? Maybe. When you walk up to Spectrum Stadium on the campus of UCF you quickly realize a few things, this would have a college game atmosphere and Steve Spurrier is the face of the franchise. His face was EVERYWHERE. Neither one of these are bad things though as it sets the league apart from it’s NFL counterpart.

I walked around the tailgate area and noticed many Apollo shirts and hats which is a good thing but I also noticed a lot Miami Hurricanes, Florida State Seminoles, Florida Gators, USF Bulls and UCF Knights gear as well. This let me know there was a bit of wait and see with this new league and team but it also showed that using regional players from these schools was a smart idea to get fans to come out for the games. By the end of the night there was almost no Apollos gear left to buy because the merchandise tents were sold out. While the merchandise set up was the only negative I took away from the night (it was a disaster) it was still a success in terms of money and fan support.

The tailgate atmosphere was very collegiate as well. Which makes sense because it was on a college campus but it goes beyond that. There was a beer garden tent set up along with some VIP tailgate areas right outside the UCF Knight statue complete with a MASSIVE television. One of these even included a toga party... yes that’s right I said a toga party and while it fits perfectly with their mascot it also doesn’t get more collegiate than that. Of course it has your standard tailgating cookouts and cornholes so if that is an important part of your football experience then this right up your alley.

Let’s take it inside the stadium where even though the rain was starting to come down fans weren’t going anywhere. While it was clearly not going to be a sellout it was nice turnout for the first game of a brand new league. The pregame gets honorary mention for the best thing of the night. It included the national anthem played by the near by Bethune Cookman marching band which is one of the best bands in the country, it had Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer for the coin toss who had a mixed reaction to be friendly and the coolest part was having Apollo 7 mission astronaut Walter Cunningham deliver the inaugural game ball. I’m not sure how things came across on TV but all of these things really had the crowd excited and ready to see some football.

I want to point out I decided to watch this game from the stands and not the press box at Spectrum Stadium. I felt it was important to truly capture the moment

The Atlanta Legends took the field to a chorus of boos because the away team turnout was marginal at best. Then the Apollos took the field and as excepted it was the head ball coach himself that got the loudest ovation of the night. As a longtime college football lover it was fun to see Coach Spurrier back on those sidelines. What would usually come next would be the opening kickoff... except we didn’t get that. This new league doesn’t have them. Some in the crowd didn’t like this but given what we know now about head trauma in the sport I think eliminating them is a good idea for the AAF. There are also no extra points which lead to even more excitement from the fans.

I won’t go too into detail about the game itself since there’s plenty of other articles for stats and things of that nature. But here’s a brief summary of what took place. The first ten to fifteen minutes of action was dull. It was turnovers and disorganized gameplay which I won’t be too harsh on because it’s only game one. But as the two teams settled in it got much better. The Apollos offense was reminiscent of those Florida Gators teams in the nineties with big plays all over the place and quarterback Garrett Gilbert showed why he was highly touted out of high school. The Apollos defense appears to be talented as well with linebacker Terrance Garvin becoming a star in the making. He had two interceptions and ten tackles. Oh and one more thing, The Apollos scored a touchdown using the Philly Special. You remember that play from Super Bowl 52? This crowd certainly did because they went crazy for it. The game also moved in and out commercials much quicker than the NFL and college games do. Less penalties called kept the game time down to just about 3 hours too.

Fan reaction was there all night even as the rain kept coming down, they were as loud as 20,000 people could be. They stomped their feet on the bleachers, waived their orange towels and there were very audible “Bulls***” chants when big plays were called back. Some even started shooting their invisible arrows which is the official hand gesture of the Apollos franchise. For a new team in a new league I don’t think you could’ve asked for a better reaction from the crowd.

Orlando won the game 40-6 and if you told me that after the first 10 minutes of action I would’ve called you a liar. As we left the stadium very audible “Apollos” and “TAKE AIM” chants could be heard. Which I don’t think was done in any kind jest, the town wants to love and embrace a professional football team of their own. Oh and there was also this guy that became the star of the night inside the stadium.

Go all the way back to the very first XFL game (which was the failed one year league by Vince McMahon) and remember how disastrous that debut was. Now imagine the complete opposite happening and that’s what took place in Orlando and San Antonio. The AAF scored in a big way with their debut. Not only with how it was presented but the football product was better than most expected. It featured some names you remember and some names you won’t forget. I left the stadium impressed by what I just saw and I recommend giving the league a try if you haven’t already.

Here’s to hoping the experience was the same in the other cities this weekend. If none of what I’ve written here convinces you of it then all I can say is it’s MORE FOOTBALL and that is never a bad things. Never.