CEO of the AAF, Charlie Ebersol, stops by the USA TODAY studio to discuss the start of the new football league.
Mavericks. Rebels. Curiosity seekers. Old school football junkies. Older fans who recall the USFL with nostalgic fondness. The Alliance of American Football (AAF) is for you.
It was a memorable first weekend for the AAF. Early reviews, particularly on social media, were favorable as fans were intrigued by the mystery of the new league. CBS drew 2.9 million fans between 9-11 p.m. ET for the game on Saturday night.
“Where did that quarterback come from?” “So that’s where Rick Neuheisel ended up.” “I didn’t know he was still playing.”
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Those are the kinds of comments and questions that were made when the first four games were played in this eight-team league where players receive three-year, non-guaranteed contracts for $250,000.
Here are winners and losers from the opening weekend:
►Winner: AAF founders Charlie Ebersol (filmmaker) and Bill Polian (former NFL executive). Their game plan was to put out a product fans would enjoy. In their first weekend, that strategy paid off. The AAF outperformed the NBA (Rockets vs. Thunder on ABC) in television ratings, according to Darren Rovell of the Action Network. It’s way to early to draw any conclusions, but the AAF has enjoyed an exceptional start.
►Loser: Former New York Jets quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Playing for the Memphis Express, Hackenberg commanded the only AAF offense to be shut out in the opening week. He completed 10 of 23 passes for 87 yards in the 26-0 loss to the Birmingham Iron. The New York Post said in its headline that Hackenberg’s AAF debut “couldn’t have gone worse.” Jets fans have a right to snicker.
►Winner: Orlando Coach Steve Spurrier. The colorful coach is an important salesman for this fledgling league and he delivered the goods in the first weekend. His Orlando Apollos posted a 40-6 triumph against the Atlanta Legends, and Spurrier, 73, called for a trick play that resulted in a TD pass to the quarterback. Plus, he made a nice jab after winning his sixth consecutive opener, saying he “even won with the Redskins. That’s not easy to do.” This league needs entertaining people like him.
►Loser: Road teams. Road teams went 0-4. Birmingham, the Arizona Hotshots, San Antonio Commanders and Orlando all won at home — with Memphis, the Salt Lake City Stallions, Atlanta Legends and San Diego Fleet the respective road losers.
►Winner: Former NFLers Trent Richardson and Terence Garvin. Richardson, a former NFL No. 3 overall pick, started slowly, but the running back finished with 56 yards and a pair of touchdown runs for Birmingham. Garvin, a linebacker, had a pair of interceptions for Orlando, returning one for a touchdown. It can’t hurt that NFL scouts will pay attention to this league.
►Loser:Skeptics. The prevailing wisdom was that this new league wouldn’t attract many fans, and they may or may not be correct in the long run. But this first week was a major success for the AAF.
►Winner: People who love football. This was quality football — the right blend of offensive sophistication and hard-nosed hitting. Social media took notice when San Antonio linebacker sacked San Diego quarterback Mike Bercovici with such force that the QB’s helmet popped off. No flag was called on the play.