Eight weeks ago, the first game of the Alliance of American Football took the stage. Led by some of the most respected football minds in the history of the NFL, the AAF would be fueled by hungry athletes eager to display their talents in hopes of playing in the NFL once again
The first team to launch was the Orlando Apollos led by Steve Spurrier, and boy did he make it fun to watch! He did not skip a beat in his play calling and building a team on both sides of the ball. By June of 2018, the league had put together eight teams, signing 100 players.
They even went as far as having their own Scouting Combine, allowing players that were cut from the NFL an opportunity to fine tune their skills with a possible return to the big league. Each player signed a three-year, non-guaranteed contract worth $250,000, with performance-based incentives to earn more.
After the NFL Super Bowl ended, the desire to watch football was still in the hearts of fans who just didn’t want the game of football to end. Having a spring league fed that thirst and allowed states with no professional football teams an opportunity to experience a team they could call their own.
It started as a dream. In 1892 two sports collided, soccer and rugby. On November 6, 1869, two prolific colleges, Rutgers and Princeton played what was advertised to be the first college football game. But it wasn’t until rugby player Walter Camp from Yale decided to change the rules to gradually turn the game of rugby into the game we now call American Football.
For the benefit of readers who will argue that their team should have been chosen to start the 100-year celebration, let’s put it in perspective. There is no question as to the birth of the game of football. In 1903 Pro Football was popularized in Ohio when the Massillon Tigers hired four Pittsburgh pros to play in the season-ending game against Akron. As teams started to implement rules of the game, like touchdowns and the forward pass, the game moved. In 1919, Earl (Curly) Lambeau and George Calhoun organized the Green Bay Packers. The Packers went 10-1 that season.
It was bound to happen that Jonny Football would somehow end up in the Alliance of American Football. The news of former first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns, quarterback Johnny Manziel being released by the Montreal Alouettes and his subsequent barring from the CFL sent the sports world a flutter. There was an immediate reaction on Twitter of fans not wanting Manziel in the AAF because of his reputation of not taking the beloved sport seriously.
Manziel clearly left the CFL with the door hitting him on the way out. Whatever was the cause of his barring, it seemed that his respect of the Canadian league’s contractual requirements did not line up with his. According to Benjamin Allbright, Manziel didn’t report for mandatory counseling.
The 2018 season was presumed to be a lock with the Green Bay Packers on top of the NFC North and the Chicago Bears in last place, according to most sports affiliates. But no one expected the opposite. Granted the Packers fell into third place in the division, finishing with a 6-9-1 record. However, no one expected the Bears to win the division with a 12-4 record led by a wicked defense and the Coach of the Year in Matt Nagy.
The Bears are fighting to keep that division title but their rivals are nipping at their heels, or so it seems on paper. Running backs, corners, safeties, defensive players and wide receivers are the focus of each team. Here is what the NFC North teams have done so far in free agency to fix some holes:
The 2019 NFL Draft has only a handful of quarterbacks that can possibly fill a team’s need under center. The New England Patriots should be looking for their franchise QB successor to Tom Brady as well as the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New Orlean Saints, the Los Angeles Chargers.and the New York Giants.
After watching the NFL Combine, only two QBs demonstrated the ability to throw the long bomb down the field, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins and Auburn University’s Jarrett Stidham. With the exception of Oklahoma State Kyler Murray holding out for his Pro Day, the QB pool was slim pickings.
If you didn’t catch the Sunday AAF San Diego Fleet’s win over the San Antonio Commanders you missed out on a great game and the emergence of a shifty running back.
Ja’Quan Gardner stands at 5’-7” and around 191 pounds. He went undrafted in the 2018 NFL Draft after leading the D-IAA conference with 206 carries, 1322 rushing yards and 21 rushing touchdowns at Humboldt State. He caught 20 passes for 212 yards and two TDs while returning two kickoffs for scores as a senior.
He was also a First Team All-GNAC honors and rushed 249 times for 1,300 yards and 18 TDs, while making 42 catches for 324 yards in 2016. Prior to that, Gardner led the Division II in rushing with 2,266 yards and 25 TDs on 337 carries as a sophomore. How did he not get drafted? Well, when you are in a draft that had running backs Saquan Barkley, Sony Michel, Kerryon Johnson, Derrius Guice, and Nick Chubb, the odds are against you.
Two weeks in and the Alliance for American Football has proven to be an exciting display of gridiron grit and talent. Three teams are currently undefeated, the Arizona Hotshots who hold the lead in the Western Conference and the Orlando Apollos, and Birmingham Irons.
The Apollos and Irons are tied for first in the Eastern Conference. On the flip side, there are also three teams that are winless – The Salt Lake Stallions, the Memphis Express, and the Atlanta Legends.
The San Antonio Commanders and the San Diego Fleet hold one win apiece. However, there was some good, some bad and sheer ugliness that has come out of the league so far.
A dream that has been floating around for many years and has finally found a voice through the Alliance of American Football.
The league came about as a way to appeal to the undrafted college players, the tossed aside unsigned NFL players and former coaches. It is an opportunity for a chance at redemption and to be a part of a league that gives players a stage to prove they have what it takes to play in the NFL. Below are a few things we learned from the inaugural kickoff:
Old and untapped running backs and wide receivers show their skills.
Former first-rounder for the Cleveland Browns, Trent Richardson bounced around the NFL but proved he still had game with 2 rushing touchdowns, 23 carries, 58 rushing yards, and a fumble for the Birmingham Iron.
Keep an eye out for RB Jhurell Pressley of the Salt Lake Stallions. He went undrafted in 2016, bounced around five different NFL teams but was impressive in the opener with 18 touches for 84 yds, 2-2pt conversions, and a receiving TD.
The New England Patriots pulled out another win, hoisting for the 6th time the coveted Lombardi Trophy. It was not the epic game of the century, and it did not excite the masses.
But despite the typical performance of quarterback Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Julian Edelman, it is fascinating how the Patriots seem to resurrect the careers of players whose athletic efforts have been stagnant.
Everyone talks about the non-existent Bill Belichick coaching tree, but it may be because they are looking at it all wrong. The coaching tree actually morphed to the players on the field who came from other teams. Players who were the epitome of the walking dead until they came to life in New England. Whatever it is that Belichick is serving up in training camp, these free agency players are getting the banquet of a lifetime, in the form of Super Bowl rings.
One year ago on January 30th, quarterback Alex Smith was traded by the Kansas City Chiefs to the Washington Redskins. The trade was to display the unbelievable talent of QB Patrick Mahomes and to usher in a new era in Washington.
Smith signed a 4-year contract worth $94 million dollars to help a franchise who kept falling short of the goal with QB Kirk Cousins at the helm. In his first debut for the Redskins, Smith threw for 255 yards, two touchdowns and gave them their first win against the Arizona Cardinals.
But in a horrific event in Week 11, against the Houston Texans, Smith went down writhing in pain to only be carted off the field. His injury was later determined to be a compound and spiral fracture to his tibia and fibula. Frankly, it was the worst injury Smith could have received as it became the eerie replica of the Joe Theismann injury 33 years to the day. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop there for Smith as he incurred several infections that required additional surgeries.