Sub par pro football won’t excite area fans

By Hunter Ford
I’ve got a great idea! Birmingham should get a pro football team…no two pro teams…comprised of washed up players that nobody remembers, and coaches that nobody ever knew in the first place.

These teams can play at Legion Field, where nobody wants to go and later they can play in a 52,000 seat domed stadium where nobody will want to go a few years after it has been built but is far from being paid for.

Wait…somebody stole my ideas.

Starting in spring of 2008 the All American Football League will be playing games at Legion Field.

The league’s gimmick is that it will put together teams in locations where college football is worshiped. The teams will be made up of mostly former players and coaches that are familiar with the local fan base. And the players will all be required to have earned a degree from college.

The AAFL is directed by former NCAA chief Myles Brand.

The AAFL will have 6 teams to start. They will represent Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Tennessee and Texas. Each team will play a 10-game schedule playing each of the other five teams twice once at home and once on the road.

What a concept! If I’m not mistaken the teams will wear uniform colors identical to the ones worn by the dominant state university. Will Alabama wear crimson and white? Will it wear orange and blue? Will it wear crimson and blue or green and orange? Will it be called the War Tide or the Crimson Tigers or what? The AAFL website only refers to teams as “Team Alabama” or “Team Florida” and such.

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Spring football wouldn’t compete with the interests of fans of the NFL, college or local high school football. But it is a big leap of faith to believe that fans in Alabama will care much about spring football if it does not feature top caliber players and coaches. The only reason 92,000 plus showed up for the scrimmage in Tuscaloosa this year was because they were drunk from the welcoming party for Nick Saban. You think they will come out in full force for the encore spring game following a 6-6 season?

The USFL’s Birmingham Stallions were moderately successful in the 1980s but only because the Stallions, and the USFL as a whole, featured marquee players lured from the NFL or college ranks.

Coaches included the legendary George Allen, a young Steve Spurrier and the always-entertaining Lee Corso. Hershel Walker, Doug Flutie, Jim Kelley and Steve Young, among others, made the USFL a quality product.

The AAFL has zero players or coaches with high name recognition.

Former Texas A&M and Mississippi State head coach Jackie Sherill, who played at Alabama, flirted briefly with the idea of coaching the Alabama team. But he ultimately declined and the Alabama franchise hired Mike Jones. Never heard of him? Me neither.

Former Alabama players Reggie Myles, Alonzo Ephraim, Marcus Spencer and Auburn alum Kendal Mack are the only players so far listed on the AAFL website. Can’t wait to see them play again. I vaguely remember what they ever did in the first place.

One of the Michigan team’s “franchise” players is a guy named Obi Oluigbo. Obi played four games for the Michigan Wolverines as a senior. He had two receptions for 23 yards that year. Wow! Can’t wait to see him suit up. And he has a degree too!

Besides Alabama’s Mike Jones (don’t think he is remotely affiliated with any Alabama school) most of the other coaches have a connection to the state their team will play in. But they have little “star power.” You may recognize one or two, but I’m not going to fill you in on their backgrounds. Introductions would not be necessary if they were really famous. John Jenkins will coach Texas, John Fontes will coach Michigan, Ron Calcagni will coach Arkansas, Andy Kelly will coach Tennessee and Shane Matthews will coach Florida. Okay, I remember Shane Matthews pretty well.

However, if you are a real, Alabama-born, Alabama-bred football fan, you must be getting the point here. Is there anything about what you have heard about the AAFL that gets your blood pumping?

The other league considering coming to Birmingham is called the United Football League. It proposes to spend more money, and to play in the fall on Friday nights, competing in the same season as the NFL.

Perhaps that could fly in other markets. But, once again, unless the UFL hires some star coaches and players who will really care? And playing pro football on Friday nights in Alabama is like selling liquor on Sunday. It might be made legal but a lot of traditionalists will never accept it.

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