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COMMENTARY : San Diego hopes new football team will shape up, not ship out

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter


Professional football is back in San Diego. Ladies and gentlemen, I present you…the San Diego Fleet. And if the new Alliance of American Football wants to survive longer than previous non-National Football League organizations, the Fleet are bound to be docked in America’s Finest City for a while rather than sail away.

The Fleet’s home opener at San Diego County Credit Union Stadium (say that five times fast), formerly Qualcomm Stadium, formerly San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, formerly San Diego Stadium, was this past Sunday in front of very modest 20,019 crowd. In person, it appeared to be less than half of that because of the inclement weather that fell hours before kickoff as well as the non-San Diego type chilly weather. The temperature at kickoff was in the high 40s with a wind chill factor of 42 degrees. Right off the bat, the one thing that stood out to this fan of the city and fan of the Padres and San Diego State Aztecs is the fact that about 98 percent of the fans were sitting in the first two of the five levels of the very outdated stadium. It’s definitely not what it was like when former Norwalk High and current Seattle Seahawk Rashaad Penny was running wild while at SDSU.

As kickoff time approached the fans began chanting “Fleet, Fleet, Fleet” and most of them who braved the elements were “decked” out in their yellow, gray and battleship gray colors. Very catchy for what the city is all about. The Fleet’s opponent, the Atlanta Legends, were introduced to “Barbie Girl” by Aqua. I don’t know what the connection is, but we’re not in the 1990s. This is 2019.

Once the game began, the fans, most of whom were sitting behind “closed end” of the stadium, were into the game. They were cheering very loud when something good happened, waving their yellow pom poms that were given to them upon entering the stadium. Or, they were booing very loud when the Legends would score, or a bad call went against the Fleet. One real catchy nuance that the Fleet has is whenever there is a good play, either by offense or defense, a loud ship’s horn sound, or maybe a foghorn, would blare through the P.A. system.

One of several differences between the AAF and the National Football League is the quickness of the game. There are no kickoffs, thus play begins at the 25-yard line to begin the game, second half or after a score. There are also no television timeouts. And, there are no extra points. You must go for a two-point conversion following every touchdown. What is usually a three-hour game by NFL standards, and what we’re used to, is roughly a two and a half hour contest. In fact, the first half of this game was completed in roughly an hour. Let’s just say the second half for this particular game began when most NFL games would be beginning their halftime.

Football fans may not know a lot of the players in the AAF, even those who played in the NFL. There are 17 players on the Fleet who have had anywhere from a year to six year’s experience in the NFL. But a lot of the coaches are easily recognizable. The Fleet’s head coach is Mike Martz, former St. Louis Rams head coach. Three former PAC-12 coaches are now in the AAF-Dennis Erickson (Salt Lake Stallions), Rick Neuheisel (Arizona Hotshots) and Mike Riley (San Antonio Commanders). Former San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Singletary is with the Memphis Express and former University of Florida and University of South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier is the head coach of the Orlando Apollos.

It’s hard to be too critical after the home opener and second game ever for the Fleet in the AAF. Nothing can ever replace the former San Diego Chargers, who had been a mainstay in San Diego for 56 years. But if this this league can stay around for a long time and if the Fleet can stay in port, then maybe, just maybe, the fans will open up to their new team and forget that the Chargers left. Who knows, with any success (crossing my fingers), the NFL may return to San Diego one day.