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Pro Football’s Still Happening

The Alliance of American Football's here, and I went to their first game.

Every year after the Super Bowl, football devotees across the nation breathe a beleaguered sigh. Sure, there’s basketball, hockey, and even baseball that’ll keep us entertained for some time.

But there’s nothing quite like football, is there? It combines the best of all those sports I just mentioned. The scoring runs and big personalities of basketball with a spritz of hockey’s finesse and a dash of baseball’s strategic chess match, all rolled into one smash-mouth showcase of human excellence. It brings small towns together, adds a new dimension to college life, and allows Americans to experience community by cheering their teams together every single week in the fall.

And now … in the spring.

In case you haven’t heard, there’s a new football game in town. It’s called the Alliance of American Football, a professional league with 8 franchises and a 10-week season, broadcast live on the CBS family of networks every Saturday and Sunday, all spring long.

When I heard about the AAF, and found out that the San Antonio Commanders were setting up shop a few miles south of me, I had to see for myself what this league looked like. So I bought a ticket for the first game of the first AAF season, last Saturday at the Alamodome.

The drive down was rainy and gross, but thankfully the ‘Dome’s covered. Once I made my way inside, I found thousands of excited fans. San Antonio hasn’t seen pro football since the New Orleans Saints set up shop in the aftermath of Katrina for one season. The football-starved city embraced the Saints, and now some 13 years later they’ve got a team of their own.

The atmosphere was electric. All game long, the fans rallied behind the Commanders as though they’d been rooting for them for decades. I sat 8 rows from the home sideline, and high-fived complete strangers whenever San Antonio made big plays.

The group behind me were Aussies. They’d never seen a game of American football in person, but they’d watched the Super Bowl the prior week. By the end of the night, I heard them saying to each other how much more “aggressive and fun” this game was.

But what about the gameplay itself? Was the quality up to snuff for a pro league?

While the Commanders and the Fleet both have clear areas of improvement (like, you know, most football teams), the overall level of play was superb. NFL-level speed and scheming, thunderous hits, and defensive theatrics abounded.

Both offenses embraced the wide-open, pass-heavy style most often seen in college football – but without sacrificing defensive savvy. Even with the AAF’s rules against rushing more than five players, San Antonio recorded six sacks and three interceptions, giving San Diego Fleet QB Mike Bercovici fits. And that’s just the game I personally witnessed. Over in Orlando, Steve Spurrier commanded the Apollos to an offensive thrashing of the Atlanta Legends. The Head Ball Coach leads his squad into San Antonio this coming Sunday.

The names you’ll see in this league are recognizable from years past in college football. Toledo standout Logan Woodside had a tolerable, if not exceptional outing as San Antonio’s QB, bolstered by RB Aaron Green and his favorite WR, former University of Houston QB Greg Ward Jr. And that’s just the big offensive names. San Diego had its share too, including former Dallas Cowboys TE Gavin Escobar.

The rules are a bit different, but literally every single change is for the better. No more kickoffs, which are already stupid and bad. Teams just start from the 25-yard line. No extra points; everyone goes for 2. Fewer penalties, shorter play clocks – look, what I’m saying is that the NFL should just adopt the AAF’s rulebook and be done with it.

And according to my folks who watched at home, even that experience is improved. The players, referees, and coaches are mic’d up. You hear the replay official as they consider the call on the field and whether it makes sense to overturn or confirm it. No longer do we have to watch Dean Blandino guess ineptly at the ref’s thoughts. We hear them firsthand. There’s also less commercials, so the games move faster. It’s as though someone decided to remove everything from pro football that turned fans off.

If football’s not your thing, that’s cool. I’d still urge you to give the AAF a shot. You might get hooked. But if you’re already a fan like me, then rejoice. Football’s still here, and it’s better than ever.

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