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John Steigerwald: Alliance of American Football off to great start |
John Steigerwald, Columnist

John Steigerwald: Alliance of American Football off to great start

John Steigerwald
Orlando Apollos safety Jerome Couplin III runs onto the field during player introductions before the team’s Alliance of American Football game against the Atlanta Legends on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, in Orlando, Fla.

You could say the Alliance of American Football kicked off its inaugural season Saturday night, but you’d be lying.

They don’t kickoff.

Former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, the league’s director of player development, got the season started at the San Antonio Commanders-San Diego Fleet game in San Antonio by walking onto the field with the ball held high above his head, encouraging 27,857 fans to make noise, which they did.

Then he emphatically placed the ball on the 25-yard line. It didn’t have quite the dramatic effect that a kicker approaching the ball might have had, but it probably would have been a touchback anyway.

The Commanders won 15-6. One touchdown and five field goals. Not the kind of game that’s going to bring a lot of fans back but not much different from the Super Bowl.

Getting rid of the goal posts should have been part of the experiment.

The AAF is selling itself as complementary to the NFL. Co-founder and director of football operations, Bill Polian, said in the pregame show on CBS that, “We’re not developing enough quarterbacks or offensive linemen, and the long-term goal is to be a farm system for the NFL.”

That’s long overdue.

The game was a little rough. The quarterbacks looked good at times, but they also looked like they needed some developing. San Antonio quarterback Logan Woodside, a seventh-round pick by the Bengals, made it through the game without being benched.

San Diego’s Mike Bercovici, signed as an undrafted free agent by the then-San Diego Chargers, was benched and replaced by Phillip Nelson, who was kicked off the Rutgers football team after being involved in a bar fight and finished his career at East Carolina before spending a year with the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

You might say he’s a journeyman.

He doesn’t quite qualify as one of the “what if?” players they talked about in the pregame show. “What if players who missed the Big Show by a fraction of an inch…?”

It looked like an NFL game at times, and why wouldn’t it? Most of the players were good enough to have at least spent some time in an NFL training camp. It wouldn’t be fair to judge the quality of the football based on the first game, but there were some things the NFL can go to school on.

The game took two-and-a-half hours.

There were lots of 30-second timeouts during natural breaks and no TV timeouts. If you paid for a commercial, you could feel pretty confident that the people who tuned in for the game saw it because, unlike an NFL telecast, it wasn’t in the middle of a two-and-a-half to three-minute cluster. It might be a good advertisement for showing advertisers that paying more for one of a very few commercials would be more effective and that would be a gift to NFL fans.

The break at the two-minute warning lasted less than 90 seconds from snap to snap.

You know what else saved a lot of time? No kickoffs. Football without kickoffs is dumb, but it’s done for safety reasons. Having 85 percent of kickoffs ending up as touchbacks is even dumber, and the game I watched was a good advertisement for no kickoffs in the future.

Bet on it.

Speaking of betting, you can download the AAF app that allows you to bet on what might happen during the game. Players who draw lots of bets will receive bonuses. That’s another feature you can count on seeing in the NFL in the not-too-distant future.

The best and most glaring difference between AAF and the NFL was on replay reviews. Viewers saw a live split screen with replay official Jimmy Oldham, who was reviewing whether a receiver had both feet in bounds. It was obvious he didn’t. Here was his conversation with the referee: “OK, so what’s the ruling on the field? A catch, correct? OK, here’s what I got. I’ve got only one foot in so we’re gonna go with incomplete pass.”

The entire process took a minute and 40 seconds.

After further review the AAF, which beat the NBA on ABC in the TV ratings, is off to a great start.

John Steigerwald is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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