Spurrier’s Apol­los get new league off to a strong start

Albuquerque Journal - - FOOTBALL -

OR­LANDO, Fla. — The Head Ball Coach is back, light­ing up the score­board and sell­ing the Al­liance of Amer­i­can Foot­ball.

And fans — at least those in Or­lando, Fla., who showed up in the rain for Steve Spurrier’s debut in the new league Satur­day night — are ea­ger to buy.

The 73-year-old coach re­turned to the side­line for the first time since abruptly walk­ing away from the col­lege game in 2015, bring­ing along an en­ter­tain­ing style of of­fense that didn’t dis­ap­point an an­nounced crowd of 20,191 for the AAF opener be­tween the Or­lando Apol­los and At­lanta Le­gends.

With a 52-man ros­ter fea­tur­ing 29 play­ers from nine Florida col­leges, there’s a lo­cal feel to the Apol­los for fans of the home­town team.

It be­gins with Spurrier, who won the Heis­man Tro­phy as a player at the Univer­sity of Florida and later put to­gether his best body of work as a coach at his alma mater, a mere 113 miles up the road in Gainesville.

And, there was just enough raz­zle-daz­zle and imag­i­na­tive play­call­ing in the Apol­los’ 40-6 vic­tory over the Le­gends to re­mind the faith­ful, who can buy sea­son tick­ets for as lit­tle as $75, of the good old days.

“I think the fans had a good time,” said Spurrier, who im­proved to 6-0 in his first game with the six teams he coached. “They saw enough good plays, es­pe­cially after the first quar­ter.”

It was a long night for At­lanta, which took the field barely a month after the sud­den de­par­ture of coach Brad Chil­dress and just days after the team de­cided ex-NFL quar­ter­back Michael Vick would no longer hold the ti­tle of Le­gends of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor.

“We’re dis­ap­pointed,” Le­gends coach Kevin Coyle said.

“I think At­lanta’s a pretty good team. Time will tell if they are,” Spurrier said. “Time will tell if we’re any good. It’s just one game.”

In the league’s other opener Satur­day night, San An­to­nio topped San Diego 15-6.

To­day, Mem­phis is at Birm­ing­ham, and Salt Lake is at Ari­zona.

Two hours be­fore game-time be­tween Or­lando and At­lanta, traf­fic flowed freely and there were few vis­i­ble signs that the league was about to make its debut at Spec­trum Sta­dium on the cam­pus of UCF, where the Apol­los have cho­sen to play in a more in­ti­mate set­ting than the larger Citrus Bowl near down­town Or­lando.

In stark con­trast to the thou­sands who tail­gate in a fes­tive at­mos­phere be­fore UCF games in the fall, only a smat­ter­ing of fans min­gled in a plaza near the 44,000-seat sta­dium on a cloudy and windy evening.

Rain sent some early ar­rivals scur­ry­ing for cover in con­ces­sion ar­eas be­neath the stands and in­ter­mit­tent show­ers fell most of the night, con­tribut­ing to some slip­ping and slid­ing and oc­ca­sional sloppy play.

The weather even forced Spurrier to don a base­ball cap in­stead of his sig­na­ture vi­sor.

“I think the rain de­terred the crowd a lit­tle bit,” the coach said. “But 20,000 is pretty good.”

This isn’t the first time Spurrier has been part of a new league. His first head coach­ing job was a three-year stint in the mid-1980s with the USFL’s Tampa Bay Ban­dits.

He led Florida to a na­tional cham­pi­onship in 1996.

PHE­LAN M. EBENHACK/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Or­lando quar­ter­back Garrett Gilbert, right, sets up to throw dur­ing his team’s rout of At­lanta as the AAF made its debut.

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