In a season that has already been filled with adversity, here comes some in the form of the game conditions this weekend for the Orlando Apollos of the AAF.
That’s when for the first time, Steve Spurrier’s bunch will play an outdoor road game and in less-than-ideal conditions in Salt Lake City Saturday against the Stallions.
Yes, the Apollos will be playing at Rice-Eccles Stadium on the campus of the University of Utah. And, the extended forecast for Saturday shows temperatures in the high-30s for kick off with a good chance of snow during the day, and perhaps, even during the game.
It was always understood that in the case of Salt Lake, the cold weather and wintry conditions would constantly be a factor in February and March. And, it’s one of the reasons why former Miami Hurricanes coach Dennis Erickson’s team just played their first home game in week three last weekend.
Back to the Apollos. They have gotten off to a hot start at 3-0, including their most recent win Saturday night at Spectrum Stadium in Orlando, when they defeated the Memphis Express 21 to 18. Orlando’s other two games were inside for a win at San Antonio two weeks ago and their home opener week one.
Quarterback Garrett Gilbert has looked like the best QB in the league so far in the early sample, and has keyed all three victories for the Apollos. And Spurrier’s team appear to be well on their way towards being a post-season favorite.
As we mentioned, the weather Saturday won’t be the only adversity, as the Apollos have had to move their headquarters to North Florida and actually work out at a high school just across the Florida Georgia State Line. This is due to workman’s comp and disability insurance issues with the state of Florida and the AAF, and what would happen with an injure player during practices, instead of games.
That has to obviously, be an aggravating point for Spurrier and the team, who have been planning to base, until a couple of weeks ago, in Central Florida.
And the league itself has been embroiled in some recent controversy, as there was belief that the AAF may have been on the verge of going under financially after just a couple of weekends (something they denied). That is until Carolina Hurricanes owner and Texas billionaire Thomas Dundon stepped forward and essentially bought the spring football league for $250 million.
Dundon is now the Chairman of the Board and in-charge ultimately of all decision-making at the highest level for the start-up offseason league.
A further development came Monday, when a California venture capitalist multi-millionaire named Robert Vanech sued the AAF’s founder, Charlie Ebersol, claiming that Ebersol head reneged on a “handshake agreement” to let Vanek finance/own 50% of the Spring League concept.
Vanech claimed in his filing that Ebersol had a game plan to purchase the name” XFL” and all of the assets from World Wrestling Entertainment owner Vince McMahon and NBC Uuniversal. And, then, they were going to rebrand/reboot the league that debuted famously, but flamed out and folded after only one year in 2001.
However, Vanech claims in his lawsuit that McMahon rebuffed the efforts to buy the XFL name and decided he was going to re-start that on his own without Ebersol and his group. That process of naming franchises and stadium sites has begun, as the XFL will attempt to play in 2020.
The AAF released a statement Monday afternoon countering Vantage contention that he had an agreement to own half of the spring League:
“Mr. Vanech’s claim is without merit. There was never any agreement, oral or written, between Mr. Vanech and Mr. Ebersol relating to the Alliance. We remained solely focused on our historic, inaugural season when each weekend over 400 players get an opportunity to showcase their talents and fulfill their dreams of playing professional football.”
Finally, some good news and it is related to the Apollos. Their Saturday night prime-time game against Memphis on the NFL Network had a 15% ratings increase over the same time slot in week two.
And, the Apollos know if they keep scoring and winning, that they will have more audience and following from fans as the AAF’s inaugural season continues to unfold.
Vipers better but drop third straight game in home opener
Although their play was improved offensively, in the end it wasn’t enough for the Tampa Bay Vipers after they dropped their third straight XFL game to start the season 34 – 27 to Houston Saturday afternoon in Tampa.
Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, as Houston scored early in the fourth quarter to go up by seven and held off the Viper the rest of the way.
The Vipers offense came to life after they had failed to score in the offensive touchdown in either of their first two games. Both of which were losses on the road. Quarterback Taylor Cornelius, subbing for starter Aaron Murray who missed his second straight game with an injured foot, once again had modest numbers 16-31 for 193 yards 1 TD, 1 INT.
However, he did pull the game even at 18 – 18 at the half after scoring on a one yard QB sneak and Tampa Bay got the two-point conversion.
Still, the former Oklahoma State quarterbacks day was inconsistent and the home crowd at Raymond James Stadium began to chant the name “Flowers, Flowers” for former USF Star Quarterback Quinton Flowers, who played sparingly for the third straight game in a reserve role.
Flowers got Tampa Bay’s first offensive TD on the young season with a seven yard run in the first quarter, but only played QB sparingly in the game, again. He was just 4-6 for 57 yards passing with 29 yards on six attempts on the ground.
Meanwhile, the former Temple star Walker found receiver Cam Phillips for the third of their three touchdown hookups from 17 yards out to give Houston a 34 – 27 lead with just over 10 minutes to play. Phillips devastated Jerry Glanville’s Vipers defense for 194 yards receiving on eight catches with the three TDs.
The Vipers look like they were going to have a chance to re-tie the game when Cornelius (above) completed a pass to his top target on the day, Jaylen Tolliver, at the two-yard line. However just like a week ago in Seattle when a critical fourth quarter drive stalled and Tampa Bay came away with no points in a 17 – 9 lost the Dragons, the Vipers got no points after Cornelius threw incomplete on second, third and fourth downs.
Many in the crowd and observers in the media were curious, as to why coach Marc Trestman didn’t go to Flowers as the dual threat running QB to at least try something different on one of those plays? Flowers even questioned why he did not play more after the game to the media.
The Vipers got the ball one final time, but Cornelius was picked off near midfield with just over a minute left to seal the defeat.
The Vipers played the first spring professional football game in Tampa, since the closing of the USFL 1985 season. That’s when Steve Spurrier’s Tampa Bay Bandits were a popular item at Old Tampa Stadium. Saturday’s home opener drew and announced crowd of 18,117.
However it’s little consolation for former Bears and CFL coach Trestman and his team, as they remain winless on the season. The L.A. Wildcats playing Sunday are the other 0-2 team in the league, currently.
And, you have to wonder whether Trestman will be forced to go to Flowers for the start when they host the D.C. Defenders next week.
QB Murray out again for XFL Vipers home opener
For the second consecutive week, the Tampa Bay Vipers of the XFL will have to go with backup quarterbacks in place of the injured, Aaron Murray.
As the Vipers get set to take on Houston in their inaugural home game Saturday afternoon, the XFL made official that Murray will miss his second game due to his lingering foot injury suffered in week one.
Murray has been unable to practice the last two weeks and that means,Tampa Bay will likely turn to Taylor Cornelius for the second straight week to start in his place. Cornelius was shaky a week ago in Seattle completing only 16 – 27 for 154 yards and two INTs, as the Vipers fell to 0- 2 with an 17-9 defeat to the Dragons.
Tampa Bay has yet to score an offensive touchdown in either of its first two games, and the Vipers may look to play former USF quarterback Quinton Flowers more (above) in this one Saturday. While not a traditional pocket passer, but more of a dual-threat, exceptional runner, Flowers has played sparingly in the Vipers first two games.
A week ago in Seattle, Flowers was just 3 – 7 for 43 yards in the air with a “pick six” as a Seattle defender leaped in the air and intercepted his pass at the Vipers one yard line and fell in the endzone.
Flowers also ran 5 times for 15 yards in the loss. He is obviously a fan favorite in the Tampa area having starred at USF in 2016-17.
If there is such a thing as a “hot seat” after only two games in the rebirth of the XFL, Tampa Bay coach Marc Trestman is clearly on it, as offense is supposed to be his forte’. Yet, the Vipers have not been able to sustain much of anything in their two losses to New York and Seattle scoring a total of 12 points.
Saturday’s home opener at Raymond James Stadium will be the first Spring football professional game in the Tampa Bay Area since the final season of the USFL and Steve Spurrier’s Tampa Bay Bandits played at the old Tampa Stadium in 1985.
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