Football has made its return, but this probably isn’t the league you were thinking of.
A little personal history beforehand, I became aware of the AFL after seeing a commercial for it while watching the NFL Network back in early 2012. I asked my father about it and he painted it in a positive enough light for me to be interested in watching it. I find a strange sense of appeal with this type of football: more scoring, faster-paced offenses, no punting, so there will always be a fourth down attempt! I became entranced and soon enough, it became less of a distraction in the NFL’s absence and more of a genuine affection as time wore on. This league is also constantly swirling with debt issues and rumors of being debunked year in and year out, so it’s easy to root for the underdog in this case. In any case, I’ll continue with the first week of rather one-sided affairs.
Orlando at Tampa Bay
- Did not watch.
The largest defeat in the history of the Tampa Bay Storm, this game did not paint a pretty picture for the home team, which was celebrating the 3,000th AFL game with some zumba-inspired jerseys. Quarterback struggles seemed to doom the Storm from the beginning, with starter Adam Kennedy only throwing three touchdowns to two interceptions. Orlando, on the other hand, seems to have everything in place to be great this year, especially their defense. With five pass deflections, three interceptions, and a sack in the game, they held the Storm to only 25 points—a putrid mark for any AFL game.
This is only Week One, but it really showcases the difference in quality between these two teams. Orlando seems to be one of the better teams in the league, while the Storm would be lucky to finish with an even .500 record. Being a Storm fan right now feels a lot like being a Cleveland Browns fan; two storied franchises for their respective leagues with pretty mediocre teams currently.
Philadelphia at Cleveland
- Did not watch.
Speaking of Cleveland, their AFL counterpart didn’t fare so well in their first outing, either. The good news is, their defense did all that it could to turn the game to their favor, recording two pick-sixes. The bad news is, so did Philadelphia’s, recording three pick-sixes and four sacks. Much like the Tampa Bay Storm, the Cleveland Gladiators seem to have a conundrum at quarterback. Starting quarterback Chris Dieker threw two touchdowns to four interceptions in the game. That would be really bad in the NFL, even worse in an offense-based game like the AFL.
The Soul, on the other hand, have the reigning Offensive Player of the Year and league MVP in quarterback Dan Raudabaugh. Along with a stout set of receivers and a punishing defense, Cleveland didn’t really stand a chance. Again, the difference in power between these two teams is apparent with this one-sided victory. This game, however, at least has a bright side for Cleveland fans. Their defense can play, as long as the quarterback isn’t turning it over four times a game.
Arizona at Portland
- Watched three and a half quarters.
This game was almost sad to watch. The Arizona Rattlers have won three of the last four ArenaBowls. The Portland Steel are a second-year franchise without any stable ownership or talented pieces in place. If longtime fans of the game didn’t pick this game to be a blowout from the start, they haven’t been paying attention very well.
The Rattlers have the privilege of having Nick Davila at quarterback throwing to Rod Windsor at wide receiver. This duo of players is essentially the AFL’s Manning to Harrison, Montana to Rice, Unitas to Berry; whichever you prefer. They showed it in this game, as Davila found Windsor for four touchdowns before the fourth quarter. If the Rattlers sound scary on offense, you’d be correct, but they’re also pretty nasty on defense. With two interceptions and one pick-six, two sacks, and constant pressure on Steel quarterback Danny Southwick throughout the night, they showed that they haven’t dipped in talent whatsoever. Then again, that could just be a testament to how poorly-equipped Portland is.
I’d be surprised if the Steel won four games this year. Danny Southwick looked shaky in his debut for the Steel, resulting in a number of overthrown passes and holding on to the ball. Still, he was able to score a few touchdowns on deep throws, so he has that going for him. Tom Gilson also seems to be a good target for Southwick to develop a chemistry with. That man would catch any pass thrown his way, no matter how little the play gained in yards. Almost like an AFL equivalent to Julian Edelman. Portland’s defense managed two sacks in the game and recovered a forced fumble, but that’s really the only highlight for them overall. They’re essentially there.
Jacksonville at Los Angeles
Poor Jacksonville. They had made the ArenaBowl last year after an 0-4 start to the 2015 season. They’re one step closer to repeating that process… the 0-4 part, anyway.
The L.A. KISS have improved tremendously since their debut last season, unlike their timeline relatives in Portland. Some would say they had bought all of the best talent from last year, and they’d be partially right. But it’s one thing to get the talent, it’s another to use them. New starting quarterback Nathan Stanley, when not playing with his hair on the sidelines, looks to be the answer for the KISS at quarterback. He played tremendously well, and despite an injured wrist after Halftime, he still managed to score some points with his throws (albeit inconsistent). It helps when you have one of the league’s best wide receivers in Donovan Morgan.
The game’s score was 33-33 at Halftime. You can’t any more competitive than that. The second half, however, the Sharks seem to have imploded. They only scored six points by the end of the game, while the KISS scored another 31. Tommy Grady, Jacksonville’s quarterback, is known to be one of the better quarterbacks in the league, but he had a bad stretch during the second half of this game. I believe he was only 8 of 16 passing after going 14 of 17 in the first half. Not to mention, his very first pass of the game was a deep score to receiver Joe Hills. Despite the offensive talent that the Sharks have at their disposal with Grady, Ross, Jones, and Hills, they couldn’t muster up the effort to make this an even-sided game, resulting in the fourth and final “blow-out” of the week.