For years and years and years, the most crushingly depressing time for Crimson Tide fans has been February when the weather sucks and the realization sets in that there is no Bama football until A-Day in mid-April. Usually, that time is filled with snow-fake-outs, Alabama basketball’s eventual bubble-bursts, and grasping for straws by following former Tide players working towards the NFL Draft. This year, there is something new.
The AAF has offered a nice distraction to keep you from embarrassing yourself by doing something foolish like turning on an NBA game. Yes, the awkwardly-named Alliance of American Football is a “developmental league” and could even be categorized as a “minor league”. However, they don’t pretend to be anything close to being a competitor to the behemoth that is the NFL. What they are is a league of hungry young men looking to reboot their careers. Fortunately for Tide fans, there are plenty of former Bama players to cheer for and they are all right down the street playing for the Birmingham Iron.
It is easy to be pessimistic every time a new league in any sport comes along since they always seem to suffer a quick death. But there is something a little different about this latest attempt. It’s hard-playing football that plays at a nice pace and does not try to be all flash and no substance.
AAF vs XFL and USFL
The big mistake that previous football leagues like the XFL and USFL made is that they tried to march on Moscow in winter (i.e. the NFL). The USFL even filed an ineffective antitrust lawsuit against the NFL, spirited by one Donald Trump (which is a whole other article for another day).
The AAF has learned from the mistakes of previous incarnations and even tries to improve on the quagmire that has become NFL games to produce an entertaining football spectacle.
- Unlike the previous leagues, the AAF had a quarterback only draft of four rounds. After that, players are allocated to a team in the region where they played their college ball, followed by former NFL and CFL stops. Because of this formula, there is a better chance of getting players with some familiarity to the region, such as Trent Richardson to Birmingham.
- Official replays are quick and concise with a live mic on the replay official (aka SkyJudges). If they can’t emphatically decide after a short time, the play stands! What a novel idea! These SkyJudges can also correct infractions that involve player safety at anytime during the game without going to replay. If he sees helmet-to-helmet for instance during live action, he just tells the head official like any other referee would and it’s a penalty.
- The play clock is 35 seconds (the NFL uses a 40-second game clock).
- No kickoffs, the ball is placed at the 25-yard line.
- No extra point kicks, all teams must go for two points.
- No field goals in overtime, only touchdowns are allowed and games will end after one possession each - even if they are tied.
While some of these rules would be unpopular if migrated over to college football or the NFL, it makes for a quick paced game. There are no lulls waiting for different special teams to trot on and off the field. It is bascially offense versus defense.
The Birmingham Iron has several former Alabama players on the team which makes it more attractive to cheer for - and cheer they do. This from opposing quarterback, formerly of Arkansas, Austin Allen:
“You know, it got loud. I was surprised. We were in Arizona last weekend, it wasn’t nearly the same level of intensity. I felt the crowd was in it from the first snap. Hearing the crowd, you know, saying your name, talking stuff, and having chants and stuff, it was really cool. It felt like kinda back in college a little bit. Everyone was into it, they kinda had a student section up there drinking beers and getting onto us. So overall it was a really good crowd.”
The most famous of Iron players is former Tide RB Trent Richardson who is easily the fan favorite.
“That’s love, man,” Richardson told al.com. “It almost brings a tear to my eye to show that everybody is still behind me. These fans have been missing me and they support me.”
The stats won’t show it, but Richardson has been running tough and literally shouldering a lot of the tough yards. In leagues like this one, it is easy to try and play street ball where everybody goes long, but this Iron team is trying to win games. Their strategy is to move the chains and play tough defense. If you are a Bama fan, you LOVE defense. And if you LOVE defense, you will LOVE the Iron. They play sound tough football. Birmingham (2-0) has given up nine total points in two games.
Former Troy linebacker Jonathan Massaquoi is the lynchpin of the defense with help from former Miss State LB and Florence, AL native Beniquez Brown.
OTHER FORMER TIDE PLAYERS ON THE IRON
- LT Brandon Greene
- C J.C. Hassenauer
- RT Dominick Jackson
- OL Korren Kirven (reserve)
- QB Blake Sims (reserve)
- LB Xzavier Dickson (expected too miss this week with knee injury)
- DB Bradley Sylve
- DT Josh Frazier (expected too miss this week with knee injury)
- LS Cole Mazza
Here is a review from a friend of RBR who goes by the handle NiceLittleSaturday:
…I headed down to Legion Field to watch the Iron play. I wasn’t sure what to expect.
I parked in a very nice older man’s yard for $10. He lives two blocks from the main entrance to the stadium. I didn’t purchase tickets ahead of time, so I had to wait in line to buy for about 5 minutes, maybe less. When I asked the ticket guy what sections he had available, he said, “All of ’em.” I paid for two $33 tickets and strolled through the gate (tickets are also available for $21, but I wanted to splurge).
As we walked to our seats, we passed a woman who told us we could sit pretty much wherever we wanted. I didn’t want to press our luck, so I chose a row around the forty yard line behind the Iron bench. I told my son we would probably have to relocate after more people arrived. We never had to move.
We enjoyed the offensive player introductions, especially the ones for the former Bama offensive linemen and, of course, Trent. The crowd went nuts when they called his name.
The offense struggled for most of the first half, and the home team still had a goose egg at halftime. But the defense was impressive. If booger-eatin’ Quan Bray hadn’t carelessly fumbled a punt after a strong defensive stand, the Scallions woulda never reached the end zone.
There were plenty of good food and beverage options available. My kid may have gotten some cotton candy out of the deal. I’m not sayin’. But don’t tell his mother anyway.
The second half was just what it needed to be. The Iron kept pounding away with Trent, and the QB made a higher percentage of his (mostly very short) passes. And the defense stood just as tall as they had in the first half.
When Trent scored the winning TD, we went wild with the rest of the stadium. There was fire, and fireworks, and a fired up crowd.
It felt good to win. It felt good to watch good football at Legion Field again. It was a good day.
The Iron has three more home games next month. The weather should be better, and the football should be worth the watch. Y’all should go. RTR. And Forge On.
Honestly, who could ask for anything more than that?
Will the league last? Who knows? The XFL is trying to make a comeback that will likely steal some players away and ruin it for everybody. For the time being, enjoy this inaugural season of distraction.
Birmingham at Atlanta
Sunday, Feb. 24, 3 p.m. CT
CBS Sports Network