The Alliance of American Football (AAF) is only five weeks into its inaugural season and has already created a buzz. Case in point: The Orlando Apollos (4-0) face the Birmingham Iron (3-1) at 2 p.m. Saturday — a game with so much appeal that TNT is televising it.
Because the AAF’s TV ratings have been consistently solid, TNT has also agreed to add a March 23 game to its lineup.
Here are five reasons why football fans have taken a liking to the fledgling pro football league.
1. The football is real
It’s primarily the same game you see on the NFL gridiron. AAF co-founder Bill Polian calls it “real football by real football people for real football fans.”
No gimmicks. No crazy promotions. No signings for name recognition only.
“What’s been gratifying is that these guys are playing as hard as can be all of the time,” Polian said. “These are hard-hitting professional games. This is professional football.”
2. Coaches are stars
Orlando’s Steve Spurrier is bringing an entertaining offense, creative approach and winning personality to the league. Mike Singletary (Memphis Express), Mike Martz (San Diego Fleet), Rick Neuheisel (Arizona Hotshots) and Dennis Erickson (Salt Lake Stallions) and others are high-pedigree coaches who are well-known to fans and respected around the game.
There’s been talk of NFL teams loaning younger players to the league because of the AAF’s quality coaches.
3. Tweaks to rules have worked
The AAF doesn’t have kickoffs, and nobody seems to miss them. San Antonio Commanders GM Daryl Johnston was initially opposed to the change, but he is now glad the league enacted it.
“It helps us with our pace of play, to get the game as close to 2:30 as we can,” said Johnston, who added that the change has received favorable reviews from fans.
The AAF also added a sky judge to the press box with the authority to assess penalties for unsafe play that could be missed on the field.
“People involved in building this listened to what fans had to say,” Johnston said. “They implemented some things that they thought were good points, (for example) being able to have the coaches mic’d up, to be brought into the locker room and pregame (through TV coverage).”
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4. Real talent
Apollos quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who played two games for the Carolina Panthers last fall, has passed for 1,071 yards. Former NFL player Trent Richardson, who last played in the NFL in 2014, leads AAF rushers with seven touchdowns for Birmingham. San Diego’s Ja’Quan Gardner leads the league with 287 yards rushing and a 6.5 yards-per-carry average. CBS analyst Aaron Murray, a former Georgia QB, is the Atlanta Legends’ starter. Birmingham quarterback Luis Perez is expected to be in the NFL next season, along with Birmingham cornerback Jamar Summers.
5. Perfect timing
Baseball hasn’t started. The NHL and NBA playoffs are still a few weeks away. The AAF found an opening in the pro sports calendar that gives the league an opportunity for visibility.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Kevin Allen on Twitter @ByKevinAllen.