Week 1 is officially in the books for the Alliance of American Football’s (AAF) inaugural season. The first four games commenced this past weekend and they didn’t disappoint. Those who in tuned in were treated to a mixture of high-scoring offense, hard-hitting defense, and got to watch some players, who hadn’t donned a pair of cleats in quite some time, make an impact. We also saw some innovation, new technology, and a new approach to professional football.
During the Saturday night pregame show on CBS AAF co-founder Bill Polian stated that the AAF is not looking to compete with the NFL, but rather wanting to help these players get back to the NFL. So far the league is on the right track in that effort. But moving forward it'll be a combination of both the football and business efforts making strides that will determine the AAF’s long-term success. With that being said, here are five takeaways from the AAF's debut.
1. The response has been positive
Opening night on CBS averaged three million viewers despite the games (San Diego at San Antonio and Atlanta at Orlando) being regionally split at the same time. According to Nielsen, the AAF slightly edged ABC’s NBA telecast between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder, which averaged roughly 2.6 million viewers. The hashtag #AAF continues to trend on social media, and tweets from the league’s official Twitter account (@TheAAF) averaged 2,000 likes and 500 retweets. All eight of the league’s teams have more than 20,000 Twitter followers and the league itself has 84,000-plus followers on Facebook. Now the AAF needs to build on this momentum for Week 2, which will be split across three different networks.
2. The AAF is quite transparent
This was evident when fans could hear and see everything happening in the replay review booth. Being able to hear the booth official and the referee communicating with one another regarding a review is something that fans could only imagine previously. Of course many fans might not agree with the decisions made in the booth, but it’s good to finally get a full look of how this process works. Being able to hear the communication between coaches and players is a nice touch as well, along with the side-by-side angles in which you can see the players and coaches discuss strategy during “commercial breaks”. One of the biggest components of the AAF’s transparency, however, is Bill Polian and fellow co-founder Charlie Ebersol consistently being open and honest about the league’s mission, business model, and willingness to work with the NFL.
3. They played some defense on opening week
On Saturday, Steve Spurrier’s Orlando Apollos pounded the Atlanta Legends 40-6, Mike Riley’s San Antonio Commanders picked up six sacks and forced a couple of turnovers as they held Mike Martz’s San Diego Fleet to just a couple of field goals. Sunday saw rookie head coach Tim Lewis’ Birmingham Iron shut out Hall of Famer Mike Singletary’s Memphis Express 26-0, while the Arizona Hotshots held the Salt Lake Stallions to just six second-half points in a 38-22 victory.
In the opening week there were a total of 14 touchdowns scored but 10 of them came from inside the 10-yard line, while five of them were scored on run plays. Another fun fact is that only nine of the 14 two-point conversion attempts were successful, and no quarterback had 300 passing yards. Then of course there was this gem of sack in the San Diego/San Antonio game:
Seeing defense reign supreme already has some fans looking forward to Week 2. Especially since the NFL is becoming more of an offensive league with many of the rule changes over the last few years favoring offensive play.
4. Impressive coaching debuts
Even at 73 years old, Spurrier showed that he can still coach a team to put plenty of points on the board. Quarterback John Wolford got the start over expected No. 1 Trevor Knight for the Hotshots but under Rick Neuheisel’s guidance, the former Wake Forest signal-caller looked like a Pro Bowler as he threw for 275 yards and four touchdowns (with a passer rating of 132.9) in the opening win over the Stallions. Riley outcoached offensive guru Mike Martz as the Commanders slowed down the Fleet, and Tim Lewis used a little bit of "old-school" football as his Iron kept Mike Singletary’s Express scoreless in his head coaching debut. Not bad for an opening week.
5. Looking forward to Week 2
While we can’t expect the AAF – or any league – to be this exciting every week, I think we can expect to get at least some quality football regularly. Regardless if these players get another NFL shot or not, the AAF has given these men a place to showcase their talent on a national platform. It also gives us a chance to keep watching entertaining football even if the NFL and college are in their offseasons.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo courtesy of AAF.com)