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Orlando gets set for latest Spring franchise with AAF debut Saturday

Florida Football Insiders

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Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

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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QB Murray out again for XFL Vipers home opener

Florida Football Insiders

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Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

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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Report- new 17th game for NFL teams will all be International

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

More details are coming out on the new proposed collective bargaining agreement for the NFL and its players. And, a report Friday says that the 17 game in the regular season schedule will be a neutral field, international games for every team.

NFL Network Insider Mike Garafolo reported Friday morning that for fairness and schedule balance, the extra game will favor neither team:

As it stands right now, the NFL is committed to play at least four games in London each year for its “International Series.” They have done this in each of the last two years. The league is also committed to playing in Mexico City, where are the Chiefs and the Chargers played a Monday Night Football game a year ago.

The NFL has also previously played Buffalo Bills home games in Toronto during the regular season in the last decade.

While Garafolo didn’t get specific details, it appears that the NFL will now play 16 games involving the 32 teams on the international neutral fields.

Of course, as it relates to our state, the Jaguars already have an annual series where they play home games in London. Further, owner Shahid Khan just announced earlier this month that they will be adding a second home game off their Jacksonville schedule in London starting this fall.

That was meant by considerable outrage by the Jaguars fan base, as it takes a second game off of their season ticket.

The Buccaneers just play division rival Carolina at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium a year ago (above), and the Dolphins last played in London against the Saints in the 2017 season.

It had been rumored that the NFL was looking to play as many as eight games in London annually, as soon as possible. It will be easy to see that the NFL varies up the combination and rotation of games between the U.K., Mexico and potentially again, in Canada to help accommodate the 16 total new games being added to the schedule.

When the CBA is ratified, it will be the first time the NFL increases its regular season since the league went from 14 to 16 regular season games in 1978. While this is not expected to go into effect for the 2020 schedule, it is believed that the 17 game schedule with each franchise playing an international game could come into play as soon as 2021.

As part of the new collective bargaining agreement, the league will now have an extra postseason team make the playoffs from each conference. And, that means there will be three NFC and three AFC Wildcard playoff games on the first weekend each January. That could happen as soon as this season, depending on ratification of the new deal.

Under this scenario, only the top-seeded team in each conference would receive a bye the first week and there would be three Wild Card teams pitted against the three division winners. It’s also unclear if the NFL will change the format of allowing division winners, regardless of record, to be able to host play off games. There has been considerable complaining from fans, media and teams about division winners sometimes having 2-3 or sometimes more fewer wins than the Widcard team that they are hosting.

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