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Orlando gets set for latest Spring franchise with AAF debut Saturday

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
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History will be made Saturday night at Spectrum Stadium in Orlando, as another Spring football league begins play. And, it’s something that residents in Central Florida have seen not only recently, but over the course of the last 40 years ,when it comes to off-season minor league football.

The Orlando Apollos, led by former Gators legend and coach Steve Spurrier, will take the field in the inaugural weekend of the Alliance of American Football games. The Apollos will host the Atlanta Legends in both team’s first-ever match-up.

As we wrote last week, the Apollo’s finalized their roster and there are several recognizable names including some with Florida ties. However, the biggest name for the draw is Spurrier and obviously his  “Fun and gun” brand of offensive football made famous in Gainesville will  try to entice fans to come and watch.

And, here’s a quick history lesson on why the AAF chose O-town, where they are all too familiar with seeing this before:

Orlando had a franchise in the one-year, ill-fated XFL back in 2001. That was a league led by WWE Wrestling owner Vince McMahon, and was long on hype and wrestling bravado, but way shallow on football, TV ratings and most of all, money. The “Rage” were coached by another former Gators boss, Galen Hall, and actually made the XFL’s only playoffs.

The XFL ceased after the playing of that one season.

McMahon hopes to revive the XFL in 2020, but for now, it’s been completely “beaten to the body slam” by the AAF, who’s already playing, now. More on that point, shortly.

Previous to the XFL, Orlando had a franchise in the early 1990s in the now defunct “NFL Europe” Spring minor league. That League split between teams playing in cities overseas like London, Barcelona and Berlin with teams playing in the United States, as well. The “Orlando Thunder” only lasted XXX

Long time residents will remember the 1980s and the “Orlando Renegades” of the USFL Spring league that were coached by the now well-known ESPN college football commentator, Lee Corso. While they did not have the on-field success or notoriety that Spurrier did with the Tampa Bay Bandits across I-4 in the same time frame, there was still some interest in that franchise.

And to go in the “Way-back machine,” in 1974 Orlando also had an entry in the Spring “World Football League” or WFL.

The “Florida Blazer”s played at the old Citrus Bowl for that season. They were coached by longtime NFL and eventually USFL head coach Jack Pardee. However, much like the XFL would disintegrate quickly decades later. The WFL was marred from the beginning by financial problems. The team moved from Orlando to San Antonio in 1975 and the league ceased after that season.

And that brings us back to Saturday night, where the AAF is trying this again, and they are vowing to have learned from the XFL mistakes of over 15 years ago. The AAF impressively secured a national television deal with CBS, which will be showing the debut games this Saturday night, as well as the Championship game in 10 weeks.

CBS Sports Network cable will also show the game of the week, as will the NFL Network and Turner’s TNT Sports. Those last networks just came aboard a week ago after watching the AAF’s training camp and preseason scrimmages in San Antonio.

The AAF is also being run by former Colts President and GM, Bill Polian and in consultation with numerous former NFL players like: Justin Tuck and Troy Polamalu at the league level.

And, they have numerous former players and NFL coaches (like Mike Martz, Moose Johnston, Dennis Erickson and Mike Singletary) in GM or coaching roles, like Spurrier, too.

So clearly, the AAF has franchises ready to play, with deals with television networks.

Now, the question becomes: how much interest will there be in TV viewers and also fan attendance in places like Orlando, San Antonio, Salt Lake City and Memphis?

It all begins anew, again, in Orlando Saturday.

This time, with Spurrier at the helm of the Orlando team in what has become a tradition of central Florida Spring Football experiments.

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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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