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Orlando Apollos roll in Alliance Spring opener Saturday night

Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports
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The start of a brand new spring professional football league got underway Saturday night with one of its first games in league history being played in Orlando. And, Steve Spurrier’s club did not disappoint in a blowout win 40-6 over Atlanta

Spurrier, who once coached the U.S.F.L.’s Tampa Bay Bandits in the early 1980s, made his return to the sidelines after a four-year absence from coaching. And, his Orlando Apollos did not disappoint.

Former University of Texas and SMU college quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who’s primarily been a practice squad player on and off of NFL rosters, made Orlando’s debut an easy one. Gilbert threw for two touchdowns and caught another on a trick play, as the Apollos built a 22 – 6 lead over the Legends and never looked back.

Gilbert fired a 2nd quarter touchdown to receiver Jalin Marshall that made AAF history as the first regular-season six point score ever. And, another interesting footnote is that the play was originally ruled incomplete, as Marshall went to the ground and did not appear to hang on to the ball long enough for it to be considered a catch.

However, upon replay review, the call was overturned and Orlando led 8-3 after a two-point conversion. The AAF doesn’t allow extra point kicks/you must always go for two points.

The Apollos capitalized on an interception of Atlanta quarterback Matt Simms and former Dolphins backup running back DeVeon Smith took it in and with another two pointer it was 16-3.

That set the stage for the “Head Ball Coach” pulling out a trick play right out of the Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl win over the Patriots. Running a similar double reverse to the “Philly Special,” the Apollos threw back to Gilbert for a touchdown catch which stretched the lead to the half-time work of 22 – 6:

Gilbert added a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to former USF running back D’Ernest Johnson and the issue was basically decided.

CBS TV televised the game regionally in Southern markets. The rest of the country saw the broadcast of San Antonio hosting San Diego in their debuts. San Antonio won that game 15-6. The league’s other four teams will play Sunday.

Back to Orlando. It was an overall impressive and dominant performance for the 74 year-old Spurrier’s team, as they were clearly more talented and better coached than their Atlanta counterparts on night one.

Spurrier, who won the Heisman Trophy at the University of Florida in 1966 and later led the Gators to their first-ever National Championship as coach in 1996, is no stranger to Spring leagues, himself.

Spurrier was the head coach of the Tampa Bay Bandits during the three years of the USFL from 1983 – 85, leading one of the more successful franchises in league history. That included, him winning his opening game in that ’83 season over the Boston Breakers.

All eight teams in the inaugural season of the AAF are in action on Saturday or Sunday, and the Apollos will play at San Antonio next Sunday night February 17th.


Former Gators kicker Pineiro is Chicago hero- for now

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Every week in the NFL there are heroes in the clutch for different franchises. However, in a market like Chicago with the rabid, massive following like the Chicago Bears, when you do something dramatic to help them win everything is taken up to a new level.

That’s something that new kicker, and former Florida Gator Eddy Pineiro, is experiencing after his dramatic game-winning 53 yard field goal with no time left in Denver Sunday gave the Bears a 16-14 win.

First, it looked as though the Bears had blown the game when they allowed Denver’s Joe Flacco to lead a last-minute scoring drive that resulted in a dramatic touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders with :31 seconds left. And, then, the two hooked up on the go ahead two-point conversion to Sanders for 14 – 13 lead.

But undaunted, the Bears, led by quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, got into scoring position on a 25-yard completion to the Broncos 25 to Allen Robinson with just :01 remaining.

That’s when Pineiro, who had kicked two lengthy field goals earlier in the game, stepped on the Mile High turf and calmly, with 80,000 Bronco fans going berserk, booted home a line drive game-winner to make the Bears 1 – 1.

As we wrote earlier this month, Pineiro, a second year player, had won the Bears kicking job coming out of preseason. Pineiro won the spot over Elliott Fry by hitting a 58-yard field goal against the Colts, followed by another 3-for-3 against the Titans in August.

And Gators fans will remember the Miami native having a good college career at Florida. He made 17/18 FG’s during the Gators miserable 2017 season. And combined with his 21/25 the year before, he totaled an 88% field goal career mark.

Pineiro declared for the 2018 NFL Draft after only two seasons with the Gators, but went undrafted. He signed as a free agent with the Oakland Raiders in May of 2018, however, he was placed on injured reserve last September. Earlier this summer, he was traded to the Chicago Bears in exchange for a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Finally, let’s keep in perspective that we are not talking Chicago icon status like: Michael Jordan, Walter Payton, Ernie Banks and Patrick Kane have.

Still, it was a large moment early in his tenuous Bears kicking career and Pineiro is celebrating, like he should.

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Many state fans still without ACC Network

ESPN and the Atlantic Coast Conference launched the 24-hour ACC television network in the middle of last month. But for all of the fanfare and build up, there are still hundreds of thousands of football fans in the state of Florida who are without the channel headed into the first weekend of September.

And now, that’s about to be problematic with a scheduled Saturday triple-header of games that will involve FSU, the Miami Hurricanes and the USF Bull’s all being televised, exclusively on the channel.

Now, the ACC and ESPN announced Thursday night a deal with Cox Communications, which serves a good portion of the state and will obviously make their customers happy:

The ACC, led by Commissioner John Swofford (above),  also previously announced a deal with Spectrum Communications to carry the ACC Network. That is a significant amount of coverage in Florida.

And, the ACCN is also available through satellite services like DirecTV and Dish. Plus, it’s available on streaming services like Hulu, Sling and YouTube TV for individual fees.

However, while the ACC and ESPN continue to update new deals being done with providers, customers with Comcast / Xfinity, Frontier Communications and AT&T U-verse are still waiting for the channel. And, those outlets represent hundreds of thousands of college football fans in the combined markets of Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville and Tallahassee.

Fans in those markets with those providers already missed last Thursday night’s opener with #1 Clemson and Georgia Tech, were without last Saturday’s ACCN games, and more importantly, possibly won’t to see their favorite school on the triple header Saturday.

That starts with USF at Georgia Tech at 2 p.m., followed by Florida State hosting Louisiana-Monroe and capped Saturday night by Miami’s opening conference game at North Carolina.

All to be shown exclusively, on the ACCN.

The crux of the problem is the amount of money that ESPN is looking to recoup from each individual customer of the provider. It is the same model that they have followed previously with the SEC Network and with their biggest channels like ESPN and ESPN2.

ESPN and the SEC had much more leverage five years ago at the launch of that television network with a much more rabid following. The SEC Network was picked up by every major provider in the state of Florida before games were ever played in the 2014 season.

Again, ESPN and the conference are negotiating non-stop and may very well get deals with the above major providers that are still holding out. But, it’s entirely possible that when the Noles, the Canes and the Bulls hit the field Saturday many of their fans in the state will not be able to see it, on TV, an app, nothing.

You’ve been warned.

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