Coach: Steve Spurrier
Stadium: Spectrum Stadium
Orlando was the founding franchise of the AAF on April 7th, 2018. It came with much hype because The Ol’ Ball Coach Steve Spurrier was excitedly behind the product. It was a great launch for the league and a positive press conference, as Spurrier promised his brand of exciting football.
On September 20th the team name and colors were revealed to be the Apollos. This was a perfect franchise and city fit. The name is a direct reference to the god of the Sun, Apollo. It is also a reference to how much sun they get in Orlando, and to the space program nearby that was home to 17 Apollo missions.
Over the course of the season the only controversy that the team faced was when they couldn’t get workers compensation in Florida, they were forced to move their practices to nearby Georgia (- which was more friendly towards the AAF). While it was really a footnote in the overall history of the league- it really fits into the puzzle of the financial malaise that the Alliance was experiencing.
The big name behind this team was first and foremost Spurrier. He made no secret about getting as much Florida talent on his team that he could. There was no press that Spurrier couldn’t spin as good press as he preached in his matter of fact maverick ways. Steve even courted Tim Tebow unsuccessfully calling him on multiple occasions to gauge his interest and lure him back to football. His enthusiasm was key to drawing fans in.
No question that the Sun ‘N Gun ruled the AAF over that brief 8 weeks. Steve Spurrier got the quarterback he wanted in Garrett Gilbert and Gilbert led from start to finish as the league’s best and most efficient quarterback. The unquestioned triggerman under center, Gilbert threw for 2152 yards, and 13 TDs (Six 2 point conversions) to just 3 picks. He also threw for a league high 393 yards in Orlando’s Week 2 comeback against the San Antonio Commanders. Backing him up was Austin Appleby who only saw playing time sparingly on a gimmick play. It goes without saying that Orlando’s pass offense led the AAF.
The Apollos had multiple options at wide receiver. NFL veteran Charles Johnson led the way with 687 yards receiving on 45 catches (5TDs). Jalin Marshall caught the league’s first TD and was second with 26 receptions for 364 yards and 3 TDs. Rannell Hall also posted good numbers with 20 catches for 258 yards and a TD. Chris Thompson and Donteea Dye both finished with over 100 yards each respectively. Ismael Hyman and Marvin Bracy-Williams rounded out the group.
At tight end Scott Orndoff led the way for the team with 7 catches for 130 yards and a TD. He’d be complimented by Sean Price (3 catches for 62 yards), and Matt Weiser (6 for 41).
If you could stop the Apollos passing game, they were strong enough to run all over you. D’Ernest Johnson led the rushers with 64 carries for 372 yards and 2 TDs. Extremely adept at catching passes and making tacklers miss- Johnson caught 22 passes for 220 yards and a 33 yard TD. De’Veon Smith wasn’t far behind with 345 yards on 75 carries and led the team in rushing TDs with 6. Akeem Hunt actually led the league in rushing after the first game, but finished overall with 185 yards on 37 carries and a TD. Ryan Green saw a little playing time too. Overall the unit finished a few yards ahead of the Commanders to snag second place in overall rushing with 1,025 yards.
The offensive line was the best in the league allowing just 11 sacks over the season. Jordan McCray was the best at center all year long, while Andrew Tiller notably pushed people around at guard. On offense the Apollos were 37-90 (41%) on 3rd downs, and led the league in big plays (85+) during the season.
(3-4) The Apollos defense wasn’t too shabby either finishing 3rd in the AAF (303.1) in yards per game. The Apollos were efficient in their pass defense just allowing 190.9 yards per game (2nd). Overall the Apollos defense gave up just 17 points per game- Second in the league and a whopping 12.5 margin from their offensive output.
Over the season the Apollos employed 12 different defensive backs. Chief among them was CB Keith Reaser- who punched his ticket back to the NFL right after the league ceased operations. Reaser finished with 13 tackles, and 3 interceptions for 78 yards and 2 TDs. Teams threw away from him on purpose. Veteran Will Hill had 1 pick, a sack and 42 tackles. Former Cowboy Marquez White chipped in 21 tackles. Cody Riggs saw action in 6 games (starting 3). He posted a pick and 16 tackles. Ayodeji Olatoye played in 4 games, and had a 65 yard pick for a TD along with 11 total tackles. Josh Evans (31 total tackles), and Jerome Couplin (37 total tackles) were tested early and often. Bryce Canady, Mark Myers, and D’Joun Smith wrapped up the secondary squad.
Terrence Garvin led the Apollos linebacking corps. In a banner year he had 45 tackles, a sack, and 3 picks for 81 yards and a TD. With a motor that doesn’t quit, Reggie Northrup led the team with 62 total tackles and a sack. Christian French had 10 total tackles and a sack while Azeem Victor had a tackle.
Earl Okine led the team in sacks with 5 (26 tackles, 1 interception) at defensive end. Man mountain Anthony Moten started 2 of 7 games but had 12 total tackles and 4 sacks. Jerel Worthy had 17 tackles and a sack, while Ryan Davis started 2 games and had 4 tackles and a sack. Rangy Andrew Ankrah started 6 games and contributed 16 tackles and 3 sacks, as Josh Banks put forth 15 tackles and a sack. Leon Orr was a key reserve with 16 tackles. Giorgio Newberry, Tony Guerad, and Izaah Burks rounded out the defensive line.
Ben Turk punted only 23 times on the season for 968 yards. He yielded just one touchback and put 12 punts inside the 20. The coverage team was competent allowing just 8 returns for 54 yards.
Kicker Elliot Fry was part of the logjam of kickers that didn’t miss a field goal this season. Fry finished 14/14 with a long of 47 (42 points).
D’Ernest Johnson had a competent 14 punt returns for 98 yards.
Orlando was favored in every game it played. After steamrolling Atlanta in front of a crowd of 20,191, Orlando walked into a knockdown, drag out bar fight with the Commanders. While the Apollos did comeback and ended up winning 37-29 the game was much closer than the score indicated. Second half adjustments spared the Apollos their first loss in Week 2, and after dispatching with a scrappy defense minded Salt Lake City in the snow in Week 4, Orlando took care of business against the Iron. After being ambushed by the Hotshots in Week 6, the Apollos made easy work of the Legends, to take the division crown. They’d then beat the Express in a hotly contested matchup in Week 8.
It helped the Apollos that they had both the Legends and Express (the worst teams in the league) on their schedule 4 times over the 8 weeks of play- but don’t blame them for taking advantage of their easy schedule as the Express put up a salty fight.
The last two games that Orlando was scheduled to play were against the Fleet and Iron– both home games. Orlando had already clenched and could have played it easy against their last two opponents, but honestly that doesn’t strike me as Spurrier’s style. Plus these last two games were home contests. Orlando could’ve easily entered the playoffs at 9-1, but 8-2 sounds more realistic as the Apollos might play it vanilla against the Iron because they knew they’d play them a 3rd time the following week in the playoffs.
Regardless though watching the Apollos was a thing of grace. They were a complete football team through and through and Spurrier did a great job assembling and coaching this squad.
Attendance was solid overall for the Apollos. They battled with San Diego for the second strongest average attendance in the league. The Apollos were the only team in the league to play only 3 home games. They had a season high of 20,394 show up for their contest against the Express in Week 3, and a season low (18,358) show up in Week 6 to see them lose to the Hotshots. This gave Orlando an average crowd of 19,648 for the season.
Before Orlando, the Apollos name had been considered before as a front runner for the Houston Texans back in 2000.
The Memphis Express versus the Orlando Apollos in the final week of league history was marred in controversy as Memphis players and Coach Singletary were clearly upset by the officiating in the game and it was probably one of the more embarrassing footnotes of AAF officiating.
If there was anything that the Apollos were bad at, it was that they were undisciplined. The Apollos finished second in penalties (72) and first in penalty yardage (658).
Orlando had not only won their division outright, they had also clinched home field for their playoff game during the final week.
When Orlando played the Commanders I was too intimidated to ask for autographs. Orlando practiced with intensity. When I asked defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat for his autograph- he flashed me a very dirty look.
After the Commanders game, Steve Spurrier was very complimentary of the San Antonio crowd.
“It was just as loud as Rocky Top to tell you the truth,” Before adding “I know the Swamp is maybe a little bit louder than here.”– Steve Spurrier
Orlando was named champion of the league by PFF and also crowned themselves league champions as well through their Twitter page.
The Apollos before the season had planned a themed Steve Spurrier cruise starring the Ol’ Ball Coach, players, and staff from his team. Prices were as low as $295.00 for the mid-July 2019 event.
“The glorious msMariner of the Seas will be visiting the Bahamas (Nassau and Coco Cay – Royal Caribbean’s exclusive private island) – and while it’s at sea, there will be a tremendous number of all-inclusive exclusives available ONLY to those who reserve a cabin via www.spurriercruise.com. Exclusive events include Q&A sessions, welcome receptions with the coaches, private excursions, dining with fellow fans and coaches, beach olympics, photo and autograph sessions and plenty of time to schmooze with the Apollos coaches.”-Spurriercruise.com
I thought that Orlando was a great choice and team for the AAF. I did however object to the more than month head start that Spurrier got over other teams getting his franchise off the ground.
The Apollos cruised out in front of the pack and never looked back throughout the season. They were destined to play in the league’s first Championship Game.
“Everybody wanted to play out the season and everybody is disappointed. Everyone was led to believe that the Alliance was well funded and we could play three years without making any money and this, that and the other. Obviously, everything that was said was not very truthful.”
-Steve Spurrier via the Orlando Sun-Sentinel
Spurrier and the Orlando Apollos team practiced and played hard until the final bell. They did not look up and take stock of what was happening around them. They had games to win and trusted in the league that the news and rumors weren’t true. Ironically the league suspended operation only days before the Apollos one year anniversary.
OTHER COACHES: JIM JEFFCOAT
QB: GARRETT GILBERT
RB: DE’VEON SMITH
WR: JALIN MARSHALL, DONTEEA DYE JR, RANNELL HALL, MARVIN BRACY-WILLIAMS, CHARLES JOHNSON
TE: SEAN PRICE, SCOTT ORNDOFF
LB: REGGIE NORTHRUP
DB: MARQUEZ WHITE, D’JOUN SMITH