“We didn’t score 50, but 40 was enough.” — Orlando Apollos Head Coach Steve Spurrier after blowing out the Atlanta Legends 40-6 on Feb. 9.
After a playoff collapse from the Atlanta Braves and down seasons from the Falcons, Hawks and Georgia Bulldogs, the Alliance of American Football’s (AAF) Atlanta Legends seemed like a team the city’s sports fans could finally get excited about again.
But after the Legends debuted in an embarrassing 40-6 defeat to the Orlando Apollos, it might be time for the city to give up on American football and accept it’ll only excel at the other football (looking at you, Atlanta United).
Ex-Falcons practice squad quarterback Matt Simms led the Legends’ offense to start the game, but he was quickly replaced by former Georgia Bulldog Aaron Murray after throwing a pair of interceptions. While Murray still leads the SEC in career passing yards, his success in college football’s best athletics division did not immediately translate to the AAF.
Neither quarterback managed to score a touchdown.
A game that could’ve begun a heartwarming redemption arc for one of the two Georgia underdogs will instead be enshrined with the image of ex-Los Angeles Chargers and Korean-American kicker Younghoe Koo scoring the AAF’s first-ever points. Koo might prove to be the only Atlanta Legend to earn his legendary status.
The Legends’ defeat might be best explained by late-breaking coaching changes, a classic staple of Atlanta football. Both Head Coach Brad Childress and offensive coordinator and former Falcons quarterback Michael Vick stepped away from their coaching responsibilities before the season even started in decisions reminiscent of Bobby Petrino’s unceremonious mid-season departure from the Falcons in 2007.
But at least the NFL is a real football league.
The AAF is yet another soon-to-be-failed experiment in testing the NFL’s monopoly on professional football. The United States Football League and United Football League are already in the NFL-alternative graveyard, while World Wrestling Entertainment’s Vince McMahon plans to bring his XFL back from the dead next year. While McMahon’s ill-fated league brought us Rod Smart’s legendary “He Hate Me” jersey before its 2001 collapse, it’s unclear what the wrestling mogul hopes to accomplish by competing with an already-marginalized NFL competitor.
Only time will tell if Roger Goodell’s culturally dominant NFL can withstand these upstart challengers amid its own ongoing concussion, officiating and labor problems. But it’s hard to bet against a multi-billion dollar industry, and if the Legends’ performance is any indication of the AAF’s football product, then Childress was probably smart to bail out early.
The Legends will make their Atlanta debut on Feb. 24 at Georgia State Stadium — but that’s if the AAF is still in operation by then.