Football doesn‚Äôt end in February anymore, folks.
We‚Äôre just under two weeks removed from the end of the NFL season and another Patriots Super Bowl win, yet there‚Äôs still professional football being played in mid-February. That‚Äôs thanks to the newly introduced Alliance of American Football (AAF) that debuted over the weekend.
The upstart league is comprised of eight teams from across the country and promises to be a more up-tempo and exciting brand of football, instituting rule changes like eliminating kickoffs and allowing hits like this one:
Welcome to the AAF … where this is a legal hit üò¨
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 10, 2019
And apparently the NFL did not give the American people its fill of football because the AAF debuted with some massive numbers on both Saturday and Sunday night. The new league reportedly drew 2.9 million viewers during the 9-11 time slot on CBS on Saturday night. That‚Äôs nearly 400,000 more viewers than the Rockets vs Thunder game had in that time slot on Sunday.
At least from opening week indications, it looks like the AAF could actually become a quasi-viable alternative and/or addition to the NFL product. It could become a proving ground for practice squad or undrafted guys trying to make their mark or a place where a once-budding superstar like former Alabama RB Trent Richardson can reignite his career. And it looks like that‚Äôs how some former Syracuse stars are viewing the league because four of them are currently on AAF rosters.
WR Ervin Philips ‚Äì Atlanta Legends
When Erv Philips was coming out of high school, you can almost guarantee that nobody thought he was going to be playing wide receiver at the professional level. Coming out of West Haven High School in Connecticut, Philips was a three-star running back. Sure, he was explosive and athletic, but who knew he would take so well to a position change and eventually become a pro-caliber wideout.
But after a stellar career at Syracuse saw him finish as the program‚Äôs all-time leader in both career (223) and single-game receptions (17) and a short stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Philips is getting a chance to make an impact with the Atlanta Legends and head coach Kevin Coyle who was also formerly at SU as the Orange‚Äôs defensive coordinator from 1991-1993. Erv didn‚Äôt get many touches on the first weekend of games for the Legends but did catch two passes for 14 yards in a 40-6 loss to the Orlando Apollos.
¬†WR Amba Etta-Tawo ‚Äì Birmingham Iron
Philips was certainly a record-setter for Syracuse, but perhaps no one in the last decade has shattered records quite like Amba Etta-Tawo. In one glorious season as the Orange‚Äôs top wideout, Etta-Tawo set the program records for receiving yards in a game (270) and a season (1,482), receiving touchdowns in a game (5) and a season (14), most receiving yards per game (123.5). Simply put, Etta-Tawo electrified Syracuse fans for a season and transformed himself from a grad transfer into a legitimate pro prospect.
Etta-Tawo signed with the Jaguars as a undrafted free agent in 2017, before bouncing around among the Chiefs‚Äô, Giants‚Äô and Texans‚Äô practice squads. He then signed a deal to play in the AAF with the Birmingham Iron in November and made his debut over the weekend, catching two passes (on a team-high 6 targets) for 16 yards in the Iron‚Äôs 26-0 win over the Memphis Express.
OL Andrew Tiller ‚Äì Orlando Apollos
While both Philips and Etta-Tawo were record-smashers and superstars in their times with Syracuse, the same cannot be said for offensive lineman Andrew Tiller. The 6-foot-4, 324-pound Long Island native transferred to Syracuse from Nassau Community College in 2009. He went on to quietly put together a very productive collegiate career for himself in Central New York, twice blocking for 1,000-yard rushers and earning a spot on the All-BIG EAST First Team as a redshirt senior.
After his college days were over, Tiller was a sixth round pick of the Saints in the 2012 NFL Draft and bounced around practice squads across the league, including the Chargers, Packers, 49ers and Chiefs. After being released from New Orleans for a second time in 2018, Tiller signed on with the Orlando Apollos and head coach Steve Spurrier at the beginning of this year. He started Orlando‚Äôs matchup against Philips and the Atlanta Legends and helped pave the way for 373 yards of total offense on opening weekend.
DB Jordan Martin ‚Äì San Diego Fleet
Much like Tiller, Jordan Martin did not always don the orange and blue in his college career. The Maryland native spent the first four years of his collegiate career at Toledo before becoming a grad transfer at Syracuse in the 2017 season. He didn‚Äôt do much in the way of making flashy plays big-time tackles, but he was a key contributor when Antwan Cordy went down with an injury for the second straight season, starting five games in Cordy‚Äôs place. Martin made 25 tackles, deflected three passes and forced a fumble in his lone season in Central New York before a wrist injury derailed his final season.
Martin went undrafted and took a tryout with the Jets in May of last year, but never quite found a home with an NFL team. He then signed on with the San Diego Fleet and head coach Mike Martz of Rams fame. Martin had one tackle and one defended pass in the Fleet‚Äôs 15-6 loss to the San Antonio Commanders.