D.A.: AAF Reminds Us What We're Missing In Football

The NFL has a lot to learn from the AAF after just one weekend, Damon Amendolara says

Damon Amendolara
February 11, 2019 - 1:57 pm

USA Today Images

Something interesting happened on the way to poking fun at a startup spring football league. We realized a fast pace and monster hits on quarterbacks were relics of the past, and man did it feel good to have them back in our lives. The Alliance of American Football debuted over the weekend, an eight-team league designed to fill a void in the sports calendar and give NFL evaluators a platform to grade new faces. But it may end up giving us much more. 

It was hard to know what moments, if any, would go viral in the new league, but on opening night there was one play everywhere on social media, and it was of the QB getting smoked. San Antonio's Shaan Washington came off the edge and absolutely destroyed San Diego's Mike Bercovici. The New York Post blogged about it. USA Today wrote about the real-time reaction from fans. The league's tweet of it had over 11,000 likes by Sunday morning. It was clearly the moment of the night. 

To protect the poster boys, the glamour faces of football, the NFL has gone nuclear. In the AFC Championship Game, Tom Brady literally was not touched and drew a 15-yard flag for unnecessary roughness. Hit Drew Brees high? Flag. Throw Aaron Rodgers to the turf? Flag. Anything resembling a play where the quarterback could suffer injury? Oh no, that won't do. And this has become normalized. Every time a quarterback is hit hard, we wait, hold our breaths, expecting yellow laundry to fall at the feet of the defender. But watching the AAF quarterbacks get smashed, pop back up, and not stalk the refs accusing them of international espionage was refreshing. In fact, it was therapeutic. Imagine watching an entire season of QBs get annihilated, like any other ball-carrier, and not worrying about a criminal investigation. Whew, that feels good. 

The AAF's reality, at least right now, is this works really well for the consumer. The league should take note. It doesn't have to protect the big names of the league because there are no big names. If Orlando Apollos QB Garrett Gilbert leaves with an injury, so be it. Not many (if any) fans are there to see him, and will suddenly tune out because Austin Appleby is taking snaps. Injuries to star players have directly impacted ratings in the NFL, so the league has gone too far protecting those golden geese. But these AAF quarterbacks are also motivated to play through bumps, bruises, and avoid looking like divas. They're desperately seeking a shot at the NFL, so sitting out games or being overly dramatic is not in their best interest. If the AAF were smart, it would encourage the refs to avoid any ticky-tack flags, especially on hitting the QBs. 

The other eye-opener was how quick the Alliance pace is. The league has made it a priority to move through games within 2:30. This is at least a half-hour quicker than NFL games and about an hour faster than Power 5 college football. The incessant commercial breaks, replay reviews, cutaways after scores, and clock stoppages have dragged our biggest football games to a grinding slog. The AAF wants more action in less time to attract a younger (and causal) audience, and it succeeded on Opening Night. You could feel the up-tempo rhythm, it didn't bog down into never-ending reviews, and the clock kept moving. The rare commercial breaks breezed by in either :30 or one-minute commercial stoppages. Because the NFL and college football are such cultural monsters, the television rights fees have exploded to mind-bending numbers. This means networks shove as many ads into the programming to make back their investment. Which equates to three-plus hour events in the NFL and nearly four-hour marathons in the SEC or Big 12. The Alliance reminded us, you can play a swift-moving football game in two-and-a-half hours, as long as you're not trying to bleed a rock for one more Papa John's commercial.  

All of this tells us there's something to watch here with the Alliance. The NFL and other established leagues have long resisted change until renegade leagues gave the fans other options (and better ideas). The AFL forced the NFL to open up its passing rules. The ABA encouraged the NBA to adopt the three-point shot. The USFL pushed run-and-shoot offenses, and allowed behind-the-scenes access we now take for granted. The XFL brought us the sky cam. The AAF has a chance to do the same. At the very least, it's fantastic to watch hard hits on quarterbacks in a quickly paced football game. Who knew!?  

Damon Amendolara, known by his fans as D.A., hosts “The D.A. Show,” from 9:00AM-12:00PM, ET, across the country on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. “The D.A. Show” is known for its unique perspective on sports, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, colorful listener interaction, and candid interviews with athletes and coaches. Amendolara also appears regularly on NFL Network as part of the “NFL Top 10” documentary film series, CBS television and SNY TV. He is a Syracuse University grad and native of Warwick, N.Y.