On Saturday, Feb. 9, the Alliance of American Football (AAF) had its debut with two inaugural games. The Orlando Apollos faced off against the Atlanta Legends, while the San Antonio Commanders took on the San Diego Fleet.
As fans of the NFL are saddened by the end of the season post Super Bowl, and the long football drought that follows, the AAF has been created to bridge that gap. The independent league has significant differences in comparison to that of the NFL, including a sky box referee that reviews every play. In addition, the league completely removed special teams, outside of punting. Another change to increase the pace of play is a decrease in play clock time, going to 30 seconds between plays instead of the NFL’s 40 seconds.
While many may argue the lack of talent present in the new league will lead to lower quality games, the league’s changes to style, in addition to the talent level of all the rosters being similar, resulted in entertaining contests over the first weekend without NFL football in 2019.
The Apollos came out in the league opener looking to send a message; Head coach Steve Spurrier’s squad wasn’t looking to mess around. Orlando put on a clinic against the Legends, running the score up 40-6. Wide receiver Jalin Marshall caught the first touchdown pass in league history, a 26-yard bullet pass from quarterback Garrett Gilbert in a tight window. Initially, the pass was ruled incomplete, however Spurrier challenged the call and the incompletion was overturned.
While Spurrier has spent four years out of football since his ten year stint as the head coach of South Carolina Gamecocks, there was minimal rust to knock off in his return to the sideline. Spurrier’s defensive squad played at an incredibly high level throughout the game, but really kicked it into gear in the second half. The Apollos’ defense had three sacks and three interceptions, including two by linebacker Terence Garvin. Garvin returned his second interception 51 yards for the defensive touchdown late in the fourth quarter, helping to run up the score in the blowout victory over the Legends.
Just one season removed from having an NFL franchise, the city of San Diego has a new football franchise to rally behind. The San Diego Fleet had 27,000 people in attendance in their debut against San Antonio, but couldn’t generate enough offense to beat the Commanders in front of a home crowd.
Both teams held their defenses tight through the first half and into the second, when the Commanders’ defense picked the ball off and began their next offensive series on San Diego’s 49-yard line. A heave of a pass from Commanders’ quarterback Logan Woodside to wide receiver Alonzo Moore ended in a gain of 46, setting San Antonio up inside of the Fleet’s five-yard line. Running back Kenneth Farrow II ran the ball in from there, with his three yard scamper being the only touchdown of the game. Now ahead 12-6, the Commanders went for the two point conversion, but were unsuccessful.
San Diego quarterback Mike Bercovici had a decent evening, completing 15 of 25 passes for 176 yards, but was sacked six times and threw two interceptions, with his second interception resulting in him being benched by head coach Mike Martz with relief quarterback Philip Nelson in the fourth quarter.
In both contests, there was a clear divide in talent, as the Fleet allowed the Commanders to march up and down the field, but limited San Antonio in the red zone. While the Apollo ran up the score against Atlanta, next week’s match up between the Orlando Apollos and San Antonio Commanders on Sunday, Feb. 17 in San Antonio, Texas should be an interesting contest.