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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