‘Had some fun out there,’ even if no vi­sor

Tampa Bay Times - - Sports - MARTIN FENNELLY mfen­[email protected]­pabay.com

OR­LANDO — His­tory will note that the first touch­down in the his­tory of the spank­ing new eight-team Al­liance of Amer­i­can Foot­ball was scored Satur­day night by the Or­lando Apol­los at Spec­trum Sta­dium on a play de­signed and called by … Steve Spurrier.

Spurrier, the Or­lando coach, had an­other one for you as he walked from the turf on the UCF cam­pus in a steady rain af­ter Or­lando’s 40-6 win over the At­lanta Leg­ends. “6-0 in open­ers,” Spurrier said. He was right. Tampa Bay Ban­dits, Duke Blue Devils, Florida Ga­tors, even Washington in the NFL, South Carolina, and now Or­lando. Leave it to Spurrier to know that, and for want­ing us to know it, too. And one more thing.

“Had some fun out there,” the 73-year-old coach said.

The AAF’s open­ing night, while it was watched by only 20,191 soggy, chilly fans in Or­lando, was, well, watch­able.

“It’s a lit­tle un­usual when you go out there for the open­ing kick­off and there is no open­ing kick­off,” At­lanta coach Kevin Coyle said.

The tempo was fast. The TV time­outs didn’t last long. The whole af­fair was over in less than three hours. I didn’t mind the AAF’s new rules. The ab­sence of kick­offs didn’t bother any­one. Lim­it­ing the num­ber of de­fen­sive pass rush­ers to five helped pro­tect may­hem against quar­ter­backs, though Or­lando still man­aged some.

I liked that teams are forced to go for two-point con­ver­sions ev­ery time they score a touch­down, some­thing Spurrier once might have dreamed of while he was at Florida (Or­lando went 2-for-5 Satur­day). In a league filled with play­ers not ready for the NFL but with the league’s bless­ing nonethe­less, the AAF is off to a de­cent start. So­cial me­dia liked it. Peo­ple en­joyed them­selves, in­clud­ing Bucs quar­ter­back Jameis Win­ston, who was in at­ten­dance.

“I was rid­ing down in the el­e­va­tor and he told me, ‘Wow, Coach, this is re­ally cool,’ ” said for­mer NFL coach Jeff Fisher, now an AAF ex­ec­u­tive.

There wasn’t a sin­gle mo­ment that I didn’t re­al­ize this was not the NFL. I didn’t need to see Win­ston to be re­minded. But there was some­thing there Satur­day.

Fisher said. “You saw pace, you saw tempo. I couldn’t help but watch the fans. Where are the com­mer­cial breaks? All of a sud­den there’s a score, and bang, here they go again. I don’t think we missed the kick­offs, and the two-point con­ver­sions were ex­cit­ing plays.”

And Spurrier wasn’t about to dis­ap­point any­one

and start slowly. On the game’s first play, he let ev­ery­one know he was back. Or­lando’s of­fense ran onto the field to the 25-yard line, no kick­off, and Apol­los quar­ter­back Gar­rett Gil­bert fol­lowed or­ders.

“We could have scored the first play of the game. We were go­ing for it,” Spurrier said. “Gar­rett chucked it down there about 50 yards. Didn’t hit it, but we scared them a lit­tle bit, any­way.”

“We cer­tainly were try­ing to start it with a bang,” Gil­bert said.

Or­lando went three and out on its first series, all in­com­ple­tions. Af­ter one quar­ter, At­lanta led 3-0. What do you know, we went to the be­gin­ning of a dar­ing new league and the Su­per Bowl broke out. Spurrier did not throw his vi­sor. He wasn’t wear­ing one. He wore a base­ball cap.

“Rain was pre­dicted,” he said. “That dang hat, ev­ery time I took the head­set off, it clipped the hat over. So I’ll get the vi­sor, even if there’s threat of rain next time.”

But his ball team warmed up. Gil­bert threw for 229 yards and two scores, one a 33-yarder to for­mer USF player D’Ernest John­son. But when Spurrier re­ally got it cook­ing was for touch­down No. 4, a dou­ble-re­verse throw­back to Gil­bert for 5 yards and his first TD re­cep­tion, just like Spurrier’s days at South Carolina.

“Bruce Elling­ton threw it back to Con­nor Shaw in the Cap­i­tal One Bowl over at Camp­ing World (Sta­dium in Or­lando) back in 2013,” Spurrier said.

The man re­mem­bers ev­ery­thing.

I’m not sure who’ll re­mem­ber Satur­day’s opener or how many peo­ple will show up the next time the Apol­los have a home game. But a new spring league is here, the AAF, with the NFL’s bless­ing. It might not last, but it’s try­ing. For open­ers, the Head Ball Coach and his team went for it.

“I think the rain de­terred the crowd a lit­tle bit,” Spurrier said. “But I think the fans had a good time af­ter the first quar­ter or so. We put on a lit­tle bit of a show. We’re try­ing to be Or­lando’s, Cen­tral Florida’s team, which we are, and hope­fully we can earn our way with the fans that they may want to come out and pack this thing be­fore it’s done.”

How­ever, it should be said that near the end of the game, Steve Spurrier set­tled for, yes, a field goal. Hey, so there are a few kinks that need to be worked out.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Or­lando Apol­los coach Steve Spurrier gives thanks to those re­main­ing of the 20,191 who at­tended the team’s in­au­gu­ral AAF game.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Or­lando coach Steve Spurrier di­rects his team’s warmups be­fore their first AAF game.

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