On Sunday afternoon, I did something exceedingly rare for a blustery February day: I sat down on my couch and flipped on a professional football game.
No longer are our long winters constricted to just basketball and soccerball. Thanks to the new Alliance of American Football, there is now football ready to fill our HD TV screens year round, or at least through the next few months. What was formerly a pigskin desert is now an oasis!
Well, at least in theory. Because while the AAF kicked off last weekend, the Memphis Express, our local outfit, got off to a bit of a slow start, losing their opener 26-0 against the Birmingham Iron. I watched the whole game, and while it was so much fun to have football back in my life, the end result clearly wasn’t all that great.
Turns out, I wasn’t the only person who tuned in. The AAF’s debut on CBS outrated (sorta) the Thunder/Rockets game that aired on ABC. Of course, a lot of that may have been first-time viewers tuning in to see what this league was about, and sustaining/building that nascent audience will be a challenge going forward. The XFL debuted to huge ratings, and eventually tapered out. (By the way, the XFL is returning next year! Probably without He Hate Me.)
Anthony Morris #77 of the Memphis Express protects quarterback Christian Hackenberg #14 during an Alliance of American Football game against the Birmingham Iron at Legion Field on February 10, 2019 in Birmingham, AL. Photo by Joe Robbins / AAF via Getty Images.
This all makes me wonder if football’s current popularity is at least in part because there has always been an offseason? Maybe the reason we so voraciously consume football each fall is because we haven’t been able to have it during the spring and summer. This runs counter to the way the world mostly works these days, since we live in an age of on-demand, instant gratification. Will having football more available make it less precious?
Then again, it’s not like the NFL has gone to a year-long schedule. After the Super Bowl, that league disappears until “Hard Knocks” brings us back in August. Which makes the real question this: Will the allure of getting to watch football year-round outweigh that the quality of play isn’t as good in the AAF as the NFL? Because while you can knock the NFL on a variety of issues, from their handling of social issues to their enforcement of the rules, you can’t deny that the best football players in the world play in the NFL.
For now, the AAF can offer some fun stories of players searching for redemption. The Arizona Hotshots, for instance, were led by a banker named John Wolford, who threw for 275 yards and four touchdowns. The Express feature Zac Stacy, who had a promising NFL career derailed by injuries, and quarterback Christian Hackenberg, a former second-round pick of the New York Jets.
I have no idea about the AAF’s financial situation and long-term sustainability.
I don’t know if it was first-week jitters or what, but I’m going to give the Express another chance. They’re the only pro football team around, so what other choice do we have? Best-case scenario, head coach Mike Singletary gets this thing turned around and the Express start collecting wins. Worst case scenario, well, at least it’s still football in February.
I want to watch some guys throw and catch the ball, burst through the line and run for a score, or sack the quarterback and strip the ball on the way down. I want to be entertained, with football as the medium. And if the AAF can pull that off?
Maybe we’ll be enjoying winter and spring football for a while.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Lang Whitaker are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.