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2/22/2020 1:24 pm  #21

Re: AAFL 1988 (V.2)

March 7, 1988—New York
“The Strike is Over.”

News out of NFL Headquarters today as, after nearly a year of contentious negotiations and a lost season, the NFLPA and the NFL Owners have both agreed to a new CBA.  NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle announced today that the work stoppage is officially over, and that teams will begin in earnest to prepare for the upcoming Draft and minicamps.  There are still hundreds of 1-5 year veterans who must be resigned, and we anticipate that many will end up in new places as they now have more options than ever to choose their playing destinations.  With a significant number of recent draftees already signed to 2-3 year contracts with the All-American Football League, the NFL will be scrambling to sign as many players as possible to new contracts before they suffer even more losses.  But, for football fans everywhere, after a very long and hard winter, good news is on the way.  Not only will there be football starting in one week with the premier of the AAFL, but the NFL will be back in September as well.

May 18, 1988—Sports Illustrated
“AAFL Midseason Report Card”

With 7 games down and 6 weeks to play before the AAFL playoffs, there is a lot to talk about.  The most obvious headline is that the AAFL has taken off, far exceeding expectations, and certainly aided by a football fandom that suffered through a fall and winter without pro football.  Television ratings on ABC, ESPN and the fledgling FOX network have been astronomical, matched only by the packed stadiums of the league’s 10 cities.  Even the teams which have seen little success on the field have seen sold out stadiums, including in Dallas, where the team has already opened discussions with the Cotton Bowl as tickets to the much smaller stadium at SMU are becoming nearly impossible to find.  Around the league spirits are high, though the end of the NFL work stoppage clearly will make roster updates and the 1989 season harder.  With direct competition from the NFL for players the AAFL will need to make adjustments.  But, for now, everything is golden for the new league, and fans are tuning in.  Before we look at the stars of the midseason, let’s take a quick look at the standings in the league.

EAST:  Orlando 7-0 (3-0), Washington 5-2 (2-2), New York 4-3 (3-0), St. Louis (3-4 (1-2), Atlanta 3-4 (1-3)
WEST: Colorado 5-2 (3-1), Seattle 4-3 (2-1), LA 3-4 (2-2), Dallas 3-4 (1-2), Oakland 1-6 (0-3)


1. Jim Kelly, QB, Orlando:  We could list the entire Orlando offense, as the Tropics have averaged an 13 point margin of victory in their 7-0 start, but so much of the credit belongs to Kelly, whose 1,735 yards and 17 TD’s already are both well ahead of the rest of the league.  He is doing to AAFL defenses what he did to USFL defenses when he played for the Houston Gamblers. 

2. Thurman Thomas, RB, Colorado:  The rookie running back is leading the league in carries, yards and touchdowns at the season’s midpoint.  Paired with QB Steve Young, Colorado has been a steady team, even giving Orlando a scare in the only close game the Tropics have played, a 31-35 loss for the Rangers in Florida.  Thomas will have some competition as Herschel Walker is due back from the hamstring injury that has kept him out of 3 games, but he may just be good enough to hold off the veteran and take the rushing title. 

3. Pepper Rodgers, Head Coach, Washington:  We all knew that Rodgers would be an affable and fun coach to watch, but after only midling success in the USFL, he has put together quite a team in the AAFL.  His offense has some issues, but the surprise of the league has been the quality of the Warrior defense.  Led by LB Darryl Talley, the Warrior D flies to the ballcarrier, swarming to stop the run and has been effective against the pass in every game except the two against Orlando (who have just outpaced everyone.)  The Warriors were not expected to do much, but fans in DC are loving what they are seeing from this plucky team. 

4. Rookie LB’s:  We cannot single out just one, because these rookies have been lighting up the league.  Shane Conlan in NY, Ken Norton in LA, and Brian Bosworth in St. Louis have been making huge hits, ranging across the field, and getting to the quarterback, with 11 sacks between the three of them.  We knew going into the season that DL was a bit of a weakness of the league, but coaches are effectively using their lines to free up the backers, and it is impacting games. 

5. Chris Chandler, QB, Seattle:  Chandler has revitalized a franchise that looked to be in trouble.  The Sasquatch started the season 1-3 with Pelleur at QB, but when coach Matthews made the switch to Chandler he saw immediate dividends and 3 straight wins for the S’quatch.  Chandler has been far more effective in the deep passing game, and has even been able to set up RB Rueben Mayes through effective screen plays.   Chandler is a big reason Seattle has reached the midpoint of the year with a winning record. 


Can anyone stop the Tropics? 
Colorado used a balanced ball control offense in their game against Orlando, but still fell at the end on a late Kelly to Irvin touchdown.  Looking ahead at the rest of their schedule, it is hard to pick a game where the Tropics won’t be favored to win.

As expected the AAFL is simply not as deep as the NFL, and teams that have had significant injuries have found it hard to keep pace.  Atlanta is desperate to get Herschel Walker back as backup Buford Jordan has just not been able to produce for the Legion.  Likewise, Oakland has looked miserable in the 2 games that starter Jack Trudeau has missed.  Tom Tupa, the QB has created a lot of opportunities for Tom Tupa the punter, as 3-and-outs have become a staple of the Sharks offense. 

Defenses catching up. 
The first few weeks of the league were wild west shootouts, but over the past 3 weeks we have started to see defenses catching up.  Washington, Atlanta, St. Louis and Dallas seem to have found solutions for some of the AAFL’s hot offenses.  Will the trend continue, or will the Offenses again adjust and start taking advantage of weaknesses in AAFL defenses?

Run the Ball. 
Sure, if you are Orlando, you don’t really need to (though they can and do), but for everyone else running the ball effectively is a surefire way to keep their QB’s upright and keep defenses honest.  Colorado has proven this with Thomas, Atlanta when they have Walker, and, surging right now, we see St. Louis taking the ball out of the hands of the quarterback and relying on a 60-40 split between Kelvin Bryant and rookie Lydell Carr.  It seems to be working, so expect more teams to push a RB rotation if they don’t have a clear stud as their workhorse.

Close games. 
Outside of Orlando we have seen some amazing action and some real nailbiters.  Whether it is the NY-ATL game where the Knights scored in the final seconds but failed to kick the PAT, falling 21-20, or the back and forth battle between Seattle and Los Angeles that only ended in overtime when LA’s rookie wideout “Flipper” Anderson shocked the Seattle crowd with a 57 yard punt return TD, this new league has been keeping fans happy with some great football and pretty even battles. 

Our prediction for the home stretch:  Orlando goes undefeated, Colorado takes the west, Oakland finishes last in the league, and the playoff hunt comes down to the wire as teams battle for one of the 5 playoff spots.  With the league championship scheduled for the home stadium of the #1 seed, I think we are all anticipating a nice road trip to Florida and the Citrus Bowl, but there are still a lot of games left to play.  Let’s get back to it.

Last edited by Wideright (2/22/2020 1:29 pm)


2/22/2020 11:13 pm  #22

Re: AAFL 1988 (V.2)

Hopefully Jim can finally win a championship.

2/22/2020 11:23 pm  #23

Re: AAFL 1988 (V.2)

ZO82 wrote:

Hopefully Jim can finally win a championship.

My username is Wideright.  There is a pretty good chance that Jim and Thurman will at some point win a title.  There is also a very good chance that if this league makes it into the 2000's, they will sign away some key players or coaches to ensure that the New England Patriots languish at the bottom of the AFC East for most of the 21st century. 


2/22/2020 11:29 pm  #24

Re: AAFL 1988 (V.2)

Wideright wrote:

ZO82 wrote:

Hopefully Jim can finally win a championship.

My username is Wideright.  There is a pretty good chance that Jim and Thurman will at some point win a title.  There is also a very good chance that if this league makes it into the 2000's, they will sign away some key players or coaches to ensure that the New England Patriots languish at the bottom of the AFC East for most of the 21st century. 

I get it that the Pats caused some scorn with you but do you have take such glee in bashing them? :

2/23/2020 12:41 am  #25

Re: AAFL 1988 (V.2)

Darknes wrote:

Wideright wrote:

ZO82 wrote:

Hopefully Jim can finally win a championship.

My username is Wideright.  There is a pretty good chance that Jim and Thurman will at some point win a title.  There is also a very good chance that if this league makes it into the 2000's, they will sign away some key players or coaches to ensure that the New England Patriots languish at the bottom of the AFC East for most of the 21st century. 

I get it that the Pats caused some scorn with you but do you have take such glee in bashing them? :

Sorry, it is just that the Patriots' ascension fits into my (jestful) theory that the world really did end at the millenium (Y2K) and that we are now all trapped in the Matrix.  Too much weird stuff has happened since 2000 to explain, and the Patriots being a dominant football power falls into that category.  After all, I grew up with the Grogan-Eason-Bledsoe Patriots, who tried hard, but to no avail.  That seems the natural order.  The Cubs and Whitesox both winning the World Series, the Bucs winning a Super Bowl, the Cowboys being bumbling and mediocre, none of this aligns with the universe I knew before 2000, so I suspect it is all a sign of a glitch in the Matrix programming. 

Last edited by Wideright (2/23/2020 12:41 am)


2/23/2020 10:50 am  #26

Re: AAFL 1988 (V.2)

June 5, 1988—Sporting News
“AAFL Playoff Preview”

The All-American Football League playoffs begin this week with it’s Play-In round, in which fifth seed St. Louis heads up to the Pacific Northwest to play the 4th seed Seattle Sasquatch.  But before we preview this game and the other playoff contenders, let’s recap this first season of spring’s new football league.
Going into the season this March, we anticipated that fan reaction would be good, after all the entire 1987 NFL season had been cancelled due to a player’s strike and months of fruitless negotiations.  Fans were eager to not only watch football, but to show the NFL that their egos and greed were not going over well with the public.  And so the AAFL kicked off to sellout crowds and stellar ratings.  What was surprising to those of us who follow football was the staying power of the fanbase.  Even teams that struggled this year continued to garner strong support.  The Dallas Rawhides, caught in a late season playoff hunt, moved their final game of the year from the roughly 23,000 seat Ownby Stadium at SMU to the 73,000 seat Cotton Bowl, which saw 61,500 fans file in for a disappointing loss to the Washington Warriors (a game which reminded many of recent matchups between the NFL Cowboys and Redskins).  In New York, the Knights averaged over 45,000 at Shea Stadium, despite a poor 4-9 season, and Oakland fans continued to thumb their noses at the departed Raiders by showing up for the 3-10 Sharks, averaging 41,500 in Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, now dubbed the Shark Tank.

On the field the play was also better than expected, as the signing of both college all-stars and young NFL veterans led to a high quality of play.  Team depth still had some area for growth, and line play was spotty at times, but the AAFL created some stars in its first season.  Some were expected, such as USFL veterans like Steve Young, Jim Kelly, Herschel Walker and Sam Mills, and some were new faces such as Seattle’s Chris Chandler, New York’s “Ironhead” Heywood, and St. Louis wideout Haywood Jeffires.  Games were generally entertaining, with many classic late-game comebacks and even an amazing 7-play goal line stand in a late season matchup between LA and Colorado, in which the Rangers had 7 attempts to breach the goal line from the 3, and were stopped on a 4th and 1 from the one when the Stars’ Ken Norton Jr. stuffed Colorado backup RB Keith Jones just inches from victory. 

Let’s roll through the first year, with a recap for each team, and then look ahead to the playoffs.


ORLANDO: 11-2 (6-2)  #1 Seed
The Tropics looked unstoppable, erupting for an 11-0 start and dominating the opposition with a dynamic offense.  If it were not for an injury to All-AAFL QB Jim Kelly in a week 12 matchup with New York, they might have run the table.  On a sack by Knights DE Tony Woods, Kelly went down with an ankle injury.  The Knights took advantage of the rust on backup Kerwin Bell’s arm, picking off the Florida product 3 times, and ended the Tropics undefeated run with a 27-13 win.   Kelly could have returned for the season finale, a showdown with the Atlanta Legion, but with home field advantage locked up they rested Kelly for the playoffs, allowing Atlanta to score the somewhat hollow 16-10 win to end the season.  With Kelly back and raring to go when the playoffs call, Orlando may again be unstoppable.

WASHINGTON: 8-5 (5-2)  #3 Seed
The Warriors have still not fully proven they are capable of consistent offense, as gunslinger QB Don Majkowski has had his ups and downs as a rookie signalcaller.  The run game, and that amazing Warrior D are keeping the Warriors in most games.  Allowing a paltry 11.7 points per game, and providing the offense with short fields, thanks to a league leading 17 interceptions, this is a team that will ride the defense as far as they can.  But, unlike the NFL where playoff football is played in harsh weather, which makes defense all the more imposing, June and July football may favor offensive firepower over defensive muscle.

ST. LOUIS:  7-6 (3-4)  5TH Seed
The Rampage are an enigma, at times scary good as a balanced offense is paired with a staunch defense, but also capable of laying a complete goose egg, as was evidenced by their season finale loss to the New York Knights.  Despite the loss, the Rampage have a chance if they can go to Seattle and upset the Sasquatch.  A lot will depend on the play of erratic QB David Archer, replacing the injured Stan Humphries.  The offense will likely depend heavily on their RB’s Bryant and Carr, but the wildcard for them will be whether or not they can get the ball into the hands of their All-League TE Keith Jackson.

ATLANTA: 5-8 (3-4) 
The Legion have to be viewed as one of the season’s more disappointing teams.  Despite having the league’s leading rusher in former USFL General Herschel Walker, the Legion regularly shot themselves in the foot, blowing leads and turning the ball over.  QB play in 1989 will have to improve, as neither NFL vet Bubby Brister nor rookie Mike Shula proved they were league-ready.  The defense was average, though we have to praise the play of rookie DT Michael Dean Perry and the dynamism of LB Pat Swilling.  Expect some major personnel changes in Atlanta for 1989, and perhaps some changes to the sales office, as Atlanta held the lowest attendance average (outside of Dallas, with their limited stadium capacity) in the league at 33,300 fans at Bobby Dowd Stadium.

NEW YORK: 4-10 (3-4)
The Knights were another team doomed by poor QB play.  Going with two rookies in 1988, the Knights were simply unable to keep up in games against more dynamic offenses.  Their defense was decent, if not spectacular, and D.J. Dozier showed why the team used one of their cap-free franchise slots on him, but more on both sides of the ball will be needed if the Knights are going to up their win total in 1989.  After trying to work with rookies at QB this season, expect the Knights to be hunting for an NFL veteran free agent.

COLORADO: 9-4 (5-2) #2 Seed
The Rangers were clearly the class of the West, with a balanced roster that in some games simply blew people away while in others used defensive might to hold on to slim victories.  Steve Young finished second in most passing  statistics behind only Jim Kelly, but used his scrambling ability to great effect, including 7 rushing touchdowns.  Behind him Thurman Thomas just barely missed out on the rushing title, losing on the final week, when Atlanta’s Herschel Walker busted out for 237 yards against Orlando’s shaky run defense.  The defense was led by CB Solomon Wilcot’s 6 interceptions and the run stopping of LB Kurt Gouveia.  Colorado will be a tough out in the playoffs, especially with the home field advantage that playing at over 5,000 feet provides.

SEATTLE: 7-6 (4-3)  #4 Seed
The Sasquatch eked by down the stretch, going 3-3 over the season’s final 6 weeks.  After an initial surge when rookie QB Chris Chandler took over after week 4, defenses seem to have figured out Chandler’s style.  Reuben Mayes is still a force to be reckoned with, finishing second in the league in all-purpose yards behind the dynamic Thomas (ORL).  The defense played well against the run, but had a tendency to give up big plays.  They will face St. Louis in the league’s Play-In game, and if they can win that game in front of the raucous home crowd, they will have to head off to Orlando for a tough 2nd round matchup.

DALLAS: 6-7 (3-4)
The Rawhides had a chance to squeak into the playoffs on the season’s final week, but were shut down by the Washington D, falling in front of over 60,000 fans at the Cotton Bowl 14-9.  It was a bad day for the usually reliable Cody Carlson, as he threw 3 interceptions, including one in the final minute which dashed any hopes for a victory.  Mike Rozier will be the key to their future, as he needs to produce more big plays.  His 3.9 yards per carry demonstrate how often he was bottled up.  Expect Dallas to invest in the interior of the O-line to help both Rozier and Carlson, while also trying to upgrade a secondary which gave up too many 3rd down plays this year.  Their strength remains the D-line, with run-stopper extraordinaire Jerry Ball, and the raw passrush of Seth Joyner.

LOS ANGELES: 5-8 (3-4)
This is the classic definition of a team that is better than their record indicates.  Injuries played a major part of the story in the team’s first season, as both QB Damon Allen and CB Eric Allen missed significant games this year.  There was even a stretch in midseason when both starting CBs were out, leading to some truly scary coverage issues. Looking ahead, LA will almost certainly want to upgrade their run game, as neither rookie Gaston Green nor vet Darryl Clack proved very effective this year.  They have a couple of young superstars in the making in wideout Flipper Anderson and MLB Ken Norton Jr, but will need to build around them in the offseason in order to get over the hump.

OAKLAND 3-10 (1-6)
Boy, were we off. We had Oakland pegged as a playoff team in our preseason preview, but the star power we thought the Sharks had just never materialized.  Former Colt Albert Bentley was a non-factor and QB Jack Trudeau just could not stay on the field, with injuries to both his shoulder and calf keeping him out of 8 of the team’s 13 games.  Tom Tupa is clearly not the answer as a backup QB, though they need to keep the league leading punter on the roster for those duties.  There were some bright spots, particularly on defense, where the LB combo of rookies Bill Romanowski and Hardy Nickerson were a handful for most teams, but they will want to upgrade their defensive backfield if they want to avoid giving up so many big player. 


The playoffs kick off this week with St. Louis at Seattle, but the real fireworks are likely to begin when the winner travel to Orlando and Colorado plays host to Washington.  We are going to go out on a limb here and say that in mid-summer games offense will be king, which bodes well for the Tropics and the Rangers, and poorly for St. Louis and Washington.   Don’t be surprised if we get a rematch of the dynamic Rangers-Tropics game from week 4 in the first All-American Bowl.  The AAFL’s policy of awarding the Championship Game to the home stadium of the regular season’s champ (top seed) means that the Tropics as the #1 seed win the hosting duties.  We expect them to be there to play host, and to take it all.



Jim Kelly, ORL—4,327 yards, 31 TD’s, 4 Ints
Steve Young, COL—3,567 yards, 24 Td’s, 6 Ints
Damon Allen, LA—3,102 yards, 20 Td’s, 9 Ints
Don Majkowski, WSH—2,922 yards, 19 TD’s, 13 Ints
Chris Chandler, SEA—2,588 yards, 19 TD’s, 9 Ints


Herschel Walker, ATL—1,2,33 yards, 11 TDs
Thurman Thomas, COL—1,078 yards, 10 TDs
Reuben Mayes, SEA—957 yards, 7 TDs
D.J. Dozier, NY—902 yards, 8 TDs
Lorenzo Hampton, ORL—867yards, 5 TDs

Michael Irvin, ORL—77 receptions, 1,126 yards, 10 TDs
Flipper Anderson, COL—69 receptions, 1,002 yards, 8 TDs
Keith Jackson, STL—58 receptions, 734 yards, 7 TDs
Ricky Nattiel, ORL—56 receptions, 822 yards, 4 TDs
Vance Johnson, OAK—48 receptions, 702 yards, 3 TDs

Solomon Wilcots, COL—6
Chuck Cecil, OAK—4
Eric McMillian, STL-4
Eric Allen, LA—3
Eric Thomas, WSH--3

Seth Joyner, DAL—11.5
Darryl Talley, WSH—10
Sean Smith, WSH—8.5
Brian Bosworth, STL—7
Michael Dean Perry, ATL—6

Ken Norton, Jr, LA—121
Brian Bosworth, STL—107
Hardy Nickerson, OAK—93
Winston Moss, ORL—87
Shane Conlan, NY--85

Last edited by Wideright (2/23/2020 10:51 am)


2/23/2020 11:20 am  #27

Re: AAFL 1988 (V.2)

For expansion, Philadelphia would be my first choice because of how successful the Stars were in the USFL.

My second choice would be a tie between Detroit and Houston since their respective USFL teams were well supported too...right?


2/23/2020 11:24 am  #28

Re: AAFL 1988 (V.2)

You have 1 correct guess in your 3. 


2/23/2020 6:03 pm  #29

Re: AAFL 1988 (V.2)

June 19, 1988—New York

“Windy & Motor Cities to join AAFL”
On the eve of their first season’s Championship, the All-American football League announced that they would be adding teams in Chicago and Detroit for the 1989 season.  The Chicago franchise, which will play at Soldier Field, is headed up by Robert Lurie, one of the co-owners of the city’s Bulls and White Sox franchise.  The Detroit franchise will be owned by Adolph Taubman, who began with the AAFL as the managing owner of the Los Angeles Stars franchise.  Taubman, who is from Michigan and the former owner of the Michigan Panthers of the USFL, returns home with a new Detroit franchise, which will also play in the Pontiac Silverdome, As the Panthers had.  In an agreement with the other league owners, the LA Stars will now be league-owned, as the league searches for a permanent owner over the course of the next year.  The LA team will be run by current Stars Chief of Operations Sydney Taper.  Team names and identities, as well as coaches, are expected to be named by August.

The league also announced that it will restructure into three divisions, an Eastern, Western and Centrl division, each with 4 teams.  NY, DC, Atlanta and Orlando will occupy the East.  Dallas, St. Louis and the two new franchises in the Central, and LA, Oakland, Denver and Seattle out West.  

Players will be distributed to the two new franchises via an expansion draft, prior to the 1989 AAFL rookie draft in December.  Each team will also hold 4 territorial colleges for exclusive picks, with Chicago holding the rights to Illinois, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa, while Detroit will be able to pick players from Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Purdue. 

June 20, 1988—Sporting News
“Are You Ready for the All-American Bowl”
And so it is down to two as the Colorado Rangers will play the Orlando Tropics for the first All-American Football League Championship this Sunday in Orlando.  Before we preview the game, let’s take a look at how these two teams got here.
COLORADO:  After a 9-4 regular season, the Rangers faced off against the Washington Warriors in the first of two semifinal games.  Washington was known for its stingy defense, and they came as advertised, holding Colorado RB Thurman Thomas to only 47 yards on 18 carries.  At half the score was 10-7 Rangers.  Washington had taken a 7-3 lead on a trick play, a fleaflicker that found WR Phil McConkey open for a 43 yard TD reception.  But with 4 minutes left in the half, Warrior QB Don Majkowski was sacked by Rangers DE Jason Buck and fumbled the ball at his own 22 yard line.  The Rangers capitalized when QB Steve Young bootlegged, faked a pitch to Thomas and ran it in from 7 yards out.  Colorado would score on two more drives, both field goals, to take a 16-7 lead, and seemed to have the game in hand until the 6 minute mark of the 4th quarter, when Washington RB Paul Palmer crashed through the line on a 3rd and 1, and rumbled 33 yards into the endzone.  The final minutes of the game were frustrating for both teams as Colorado could not generate a drive to run the clock, but the Warriors equally could not move the ball down the field.  When a 4th and 11 pass from Majkowski fell to the field with 37 seconds left, the game was over and Colorado booked their ticket to Orlando.

ORLANDO:  The Tropics were odds-on favorites to represent the East in the championship, and they did not disappoint.  Seattle had beaten St. Louis a week earlier, largely on the strength of their defense and a 134 yard rushing day from former Saint Reuben Mayes.  But in Orlando, Mayes would not be enough, as the Tropics burst out to a 24-7 lead in the first half.  Two Kelly to Irvin TD passes, paired with a Lorenzo Hampton 22 yard run, gave the Tropics the 17 point lead.  In the second half, they used Hampton and fellow backfield mate Alonzo Highsmith to great effect, with both gaining over 75 yards as Orlando held the ball for 18 minutes in the second half, and Seattle simply could not do enough to catch up.

THE MATCHUP:  The early-season matchup between these two teams was one of the season’s best, with homestanding Orlando pulling out a hard-won 35-31 victory.  The two teams meet again, and it will be a matchup of pure offensive explosion vs. balanced ball-control offense and bend-but-don’t-break defense.  Both quarterbacks are more than capable of taking over the game, and while Colorado has the advantage in the run game with the multi-talented Thurman Thomas, Orlando brings the deeper and more explosive receiving corps to the game.  On defense it will be the hard hitting Jesse Tuggle and Bennie Blades for Orlando, hoping to make hits that pop the ball free, while Colorado will rely on the coverage skills of Solomon Wilcots and Rodney Thomas, and hope that the interior line of Buck and BYU rookie Shawn Knight can get some pressure up the middle on Jim Kelly.  We expect this one to be tight, as the first game was.  Our best guess is Orlando 30-Colorado 28.


2/24/2020 10:49 pm  #30

Re: AAFL 1988 (V.2)

June 26, 1988—Orlando, Florida
“Tropics Take the Title in Final Minute”

The All-American Football League put on an All-American spectacle in Orlando tonight as the Orlando Tropics came from behind in the final minute to win the inaugural league championship.  “It was one of the greatest games I have ever been a part of, WOW!!” announced head coach Steve Spurrier, as he lifted the championship cup.  The Tropics came into the game as 6 point favorites, but ended up needing a storybook finish to defeat the Colorado Rangers. 

The hero of the game was league MVP Jim Kelly, though he gave all the credit to his teammates when he won the award. “Look, these guys, the line, the receivers, everybody, we won this together” effused Kelly as he celebrated alongside his favorite target, fellow former Hurricane Michael Irvin.  Just behind him, soaked in champagne, were the defensive heroes of the game, LB’s Winston Moss and Jesse Tuggle, who held Colorado RB Thurman Thomas to a 2 yard game on a vital 3rd and 3, forcing Colorado to give Orlando the ball with 1:33 left in the game and trailing 24-21. 

The game began pretty much as anticipated, with Orlando moving the ball crisply down the field on their first drive.  Kelly hit RB Lorenzo Hampton on a swing route on 2nd and goal from the 7 and put the first points on the board, Orlando 7-0.  But for the rest of the first half, Colorado’s clock-killing running game kept the ball out of the hands of the Orlando offense.  The Rangers failed to score on their first drive when a 44 yard field goal was off to the left, but they got the ball back after a failed 3rd and 7 pass to Nattiel forced Orlando to punt.  The Rangers killed off over 11 minutes on their next drive, using a combination of Thurman Thomas runs and short passes from Steve Young to keep possession on their way to a 3 yard Thomas TD run to tie the game.  Only 4 plays later, Orlando RB Lorenzo Hampton coughed the ball up on the Orlando 38, giving Colorado a great opportunity to take the lead.

Colorado capitalized on the fumble, and built up a 14-7 lead when Steve Young found former Falcon Michael Haynes in the corner of the endzone on a perfectly-thrown fade pattern.  Orlando would drive to tie the game in the waning seconds of the first half as Kelly hit Irvin on a corner route for a 23 yard TD.

The Third quarter began with Colorado again killing a lot of clock on a 13 play, 61 yard drive that ended with a Chip Lohmiller field goal.  The next two drives were frustrating for Kelly as the team moved the ball into Colorado territory only to stall out on two consecutive 3rd and 8 miscues.  In the first Irvin dropped a slant, and on the second the Orlando TE was dislodged from the ball by a hard hit from Colorado LB Marc Mumford.  Colorado also failed to score on their next two drives, as Orlando focused on the run and Steve Young could not convert, but the traded series killed off the 3rd quarter, and with the score 17-14 Colorado, fans of the Rangers were feeling good about where they stood. 

That good feeling did not last long, as on the first punt of the 4th quarter, Orlando wideout Ricky Nattiel, found the edge and rambled down to the Colorado 22 before being shoved out of bounds.  From there it took Kelly only 2 plays to find the endzone, hitting Nattiel on a 17 yard in-cut that split the safeties.  Orlando was back up 21-17 and many in the stadium wondered if the Rangers would be deflated.

But these Rangers are a tough bunch, and on the ensuing drive, they mixed inside runs, an effective screen game and a beautiful one-handed grab by unheralded WR Charles Lockett to get deep into Tropics territory.  A holding penalty gave Colorado a tough 2nd and 18 on the Orlando 27, when coach Mouse Davis found the perfect play at the perfect time.  Out of the shotgun, Young looked deep before Thurman Thomas crossed his line of vision.  A quick shovel pass and Thomas was off to the races, shedding the tackle attempt of Tropics’ safety Bennie Blades, Thomas dove into the endzone to give Colorado the 24-21 lead with 7 minutes left in the game.

Orlando could not respond on the next drive, as a false start penalty was followed by an illegal hands to the face on consecutive plays.  The ensuing 3rd and 18 play was too much to ask even for the potent Tropics offense, and when Colorado got the ball back with 5:03 left to play, all eyes fell to Thomas and the Rangers O-line.  The Rangers got runs of 3, 5 and 4 yards to garner a first down on their own 33, but then Orlando tightened, and on 3rd down Tuggle and Moss sandwiched Thomas a yard short of the line.  Colorado was forced to punt, and Orlando got the ball back, on their own 23, down 3 with 1:33 left to play.

It was then, with a fire we haven’t seen in years, Kelly took over the team, barking out plays in the 2-minute, no huddle offense.  A swing to Hampton for 8, then a slant to Nattiel, a scramble for 5 yards when nothing was open.  Kelly dinked, dunked, scrambled and improvised his way down to the 12 yard line with 17 seconds left.  On 1st down Kelly tried to hit Irvin in the back of the endzone, but the ball was just inches too high.  Then, on second down, with 11 seconds left, Kelly hit the play of the game.  Nearly sacked by DE Jason Buck, Kelly turned out of the arm tackle, took 3 steps to his left and spotted Irvin crossing from left to right at the goalline.  He threw a perfect bullet pass between Irvin and the closing safety and Irvin twisted his body to cross the endline and land in the endzone for the winning score.

It was a performance that will be remembered for a long time, really from both teams.  Thomas, in defeat, ended the game with 187 all-purpose yards, including 121 rushing and some key catches, but the night belonged to Jim Kelly.  The former USFL MVP went 24-33 for 297 yards and 4 TD’s to garner MVP honors.  But, let’s be honest, after more than a year without football, and after all the chaos of the NFL labor stoppage, the real winners tonight were the AAFL and its new fanbase, a fanbase that could not have asked for a sweeter dessert after a full meal of spring football.  Congratulations to all involved, and we will be back again next spring to do it all again.

July 2, 1988--Chicago Tribune
“Ready for More, AAFL reveals its Chicago and Detroit franchises”

At a press conference at Chicago’s Navy Pier, the AAFL, fresh off a buzz-filled championship game, introduced Chicago to its newest team, the Chicago Hogs.  “I wanted a team that would reflect the history and the power of this city, a team that would fit right in with the Bears, the Cubs, the Bulls and the Hawks, and what better name for the hub of America’s livestock industry than the Hogs.” Boasted new team owner Robert Lurie, a face familiar to Chicago sports fans as co-owner of the Bulls and Sox.  He added “This is gonna be a hard-nosed, get dirty, lean and mean, blue collar team for a lean and mean blue collar town.”  The Hogs will wear a uniform of maroon and dark grey, colors pulled from the glory days of the University of Chicago.  The helmet will feature a Hog emerging from an iconic “C”.   New head coach of the Hogs, Joe Bugel, a former lineman himself, emphasized the importance of good line play and the need to develop a balanced offense and a run-stopping defense.

Meanwhile in Detroit, former LA Stars owner Adolph Taubman, allowed to swap LA for a new franchise In Detroit, stood with his new head coach, Walt Michaels.  Michaels had been coach of the Oakland Invaders (a team which Taubman’s Michigan Panthers had merged with in 1985) as well as a former NY Jets head man.  Taubman and Michaels unveiled a team that reminded many of the Michigan Panthers immediately.  The Detroit Mustangs will be wearing the very same burgundy, sky blue and champagne colors as the Panthers, and the mustang head design is so similar to the old Panthers look (a highly regarded look) that many fans wondered why Taubman did not just bring back the Panthers. 

Both Chicago and Detroit will soon start signing players from their territorial schools, as well as participating in a league-wide expansion draft to help them play catch-up to the 10 founding franchises of the AAFL.

Last edited by Wideright (2/24/2020 10:50 pm)


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