San Antonio Commanders

Record: 5-3
Coach: Mike Riley
Home Stadium: Alamodome

The Commanders colors were: Maroon, Red, Silver, & White. Like most teams in the league, they did not have alternating home and away jerseys.

Background: San Antonio was the final team named to the Alliance lineup on June 21st, 2018- A clear 2 weeks after every other team was named. This caused a great deal of angst in the San Antonio fanbase. Many felt that we were only selected because the AAF couldn’t get something worked out with St. Louis. San Antonio became the fastest growing and most successful fanbase in the league that by the end of the season made Founder Charlie Ebersol proud.

The Commanders name and colors were unveiled on September 25th, 2018. The rumored favorite was Defenders or a throwback to a name like Riders, but in the end Commanders was selected to represent the values of the city that it embraced as San Antonio is considered Military City USA thanks to the presence of many military installations and bases.

At the unveiling with season ticket holders at the Alamodome. General Manager Daryl Johnston gave a fiery speech about defending the institution of football and how much he believed in what the AAF was doing. A few of the first signed marquee players of the franchise got up and talked too, as well as Coach Riley and AAF Player Relations Representative Troy Polamalu.

The AAF did not employ the traditional draft system the NFL did, rather it employed an allocation system that kept players close to their college or pro locations to help build fan interest.

OFFENSE:

San Antonio was led at quarterback by Logan Woodside, a prototypical drop back passer, who was their 3rd round pick in the Protect or Pick QB draft. When Logan was firing on all cylinders, the Commanders were one of the strongest vertical passing attacks. Dogged by Johnny Manziel rumors for most of the season, Logan put those fears to rest with a solid Week 5 effort that earned him OPoTW Honors. Behind him was mobile Marquise Williams, that near the end of the season was challenging Woodside for playing time. Dustin Vaughan, the Commanders’ #1 pick in the Protect or Pick draft, was viewed as the longer term answer and only saw action briefly during the season. The QB situation was neck and neck until the beginning of the season. Fans had no clue that Woodside was the starter taking the field at the beginning of the first game. Unfortunately it was feast or famine by the end of the season, as the Commanders ranked near the bottom of the list in passing, averaging 181.4 yards per game.

In the backfield, the team went forward with Kenneth Farrow II, as the chief all-around back who finished 3rd in the league in rushing (372 yards), and earned the AAF OPoTW award for setting the league record with 142 yards rushing in Week 4. He would be spelled in the lineup by Aaron Green, and David Cobb in short yardage situations. Trey Williams, a late addition to the team before the season, was a spark plug that was especially effective catching passes on the move. The team finished with 1004 yards on the ground- good for 3rd in the league.

At wide receiver, SA sported budding star Mekele McKay (17.05 YPR), a large bodied target and nasty long bomb threat. Alongside him was veteran Demarcus Ayers, and in the slot it was shifty Greg Ward Jr (22 receptions). John Diarse, Josh Stewart, and Alonzo Moore saw short if not effective time in the lineup spotting the starters. Riley Smith also was expected to contribute but had his season ended in training camp by a nagging injury.

Tight End was initially Cole Hunt’s place to shine, but injuries limited him to 3 games. In his place Evan Rodriguez over the course of the season provided the best numbers, while Cam Clear and Stehly Reden both had moments of clarity for the team.

The offensive line of the Commanders was built much like the 90s Dallas Cowboys: Big, mean, and nasty road-graders. Notables were Andrew McDonald, Jaryd Jones-Smith, and former Bill Cyril Richardson. Unfortunately the team tied in a 4 way tie for last in sacks allowed with 23. The Commanders twice during the regular season posted a league record 26 points in one half.

Derron Smith was named Defensive Player of the Year at Safety for the AAF, post mortem by PFF.

DEFENSE:

(3-4) When it came to defense the Commanders were right in the middle of the pack as far as yardage allowed was concerned. This is what was misleading because it was a rapacious, gambling unit that led the league in forcing turnovers (19) and scoring points off of those turnovers.

The secondary was a who’s who of bad choices for opposing teams. Led by Derron Smith at safety- Smith retured 2 of his 3 interceptions for TDs, and had a team leading 36 combined tackles. Orion Stewart was next to him, and consistently challenged receivers over the top. At corner, it was league leading interceptor De’Vante Bausby (4 INT), Zack Sanchez (3 INT), and Texas Ex Duke Thomas (31 TT). Houston Ex-an Kurtis Drummond (27 TT), Jordan Thomas and a host of other DBs also contributed to the secondary coached by former Rider defensive coach Bill Bradley.

In the middle- former Packers LB Jayrone Elliot led the league in sacks with 7.5, forcing a frightening 4 fumbles. Shaan Washington was a brutal hitter, and the league poster boy after the first game. Deion Barnes saw extensive action at LB. The Penn St Nittany Lion finished with 16 total tackles and 2 sacks. Unheralded Nick Temple posted 32 total tackles to lead the linebackers and place second on the team, while Joel Lanning was close behind at 28. Danny Ezechukwu was a key reserve with 24 TT.

Joey Mbu- a fan favorite who slid over to NT, started all 8 games and had 9 tackles, 2 sacks, scored a TD on a fumble recovery against Orlando. Austin Larkin had 6 starts (and 15 tackles, 2 sacks) from DE, Winston Craig manned another DT position for 7 games (14 TT, 2.5 sacks). Tyrone Holmes started 3 games with 15 total tackles, and 1.5 sacks. Quietly along the defensive line, Darnell Leslie played in just 6 games as a reserve, but managed to lead the line with 20 tackles from defensive end.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Joe Zema, the punter, was the Commanders’ first signee. Out of Incarnate Word in San Antonio. He had 37 punts for 1,695 yards and a 45.8 yard average. He boomed a league record 69 yard long, and dropped 10 punts inside the 20 and also enforced on a few tackles here and there. Zema earned AAF ST Player of the Week Honors in Week 7.

The special teams punt coverage unit in general was a bit below average, allowing 16 returns for 141 yards and a net 39.3 yard average on Zema’s punts- who was easily outkicking his coverage.

Greg Ward- tried his hand at punt returns with electric results. He finished as the league’s most dangerous punt returner with 9 punt returns for 135 yards, and a league record 79 yard TD return which earned him the AAF ST Player of the Week award in Week 6.

Nick Rose was 14 of 14 on FGs, which was part of a 4 way tie for the league lead- and a long of 54, which came in at one yard shy of the league record.

THE SEASON:

It should be noted that every home game that the Commanders played they led the league in attendance. Posting 27,857 for their opener against the Fleet. Fans were treated to Inaugural Commemorative T-Shirts of the Commanders from HEB Groceries. They topped their numbers the following week against Orlando with 29,176. Then due in part to the rodeo, the Commanders went on a 4 game road schedule- the longest in the league.

When the Commanders returned to SA in Week 7, they were treated to the league’s largest crowd- a record 30,345 to watch the Commanders slip by the Stallions. The Week 8 contest against the Hotshots- was in direct competition with the Spurs and a few other events- drew an underwhelming (but still larger than the rest of the league) 23,504. Despite missing a home game thanks to the league’s collapse (Memphis), SA finished with 110,882 total attendance (27,721 average).

The Commanders’ Pocket Schedule- I can’t help but feel a little snide in retrospect. As a season ticket holder I’m still wondering what my Limited Edition Inaugural Season gift was, and what year round events were planned. I guess my AAF merchandise discount was the half off on all gear at Dick’s Sporting Goods after the league folded.
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The game that put the AAF on the map had an electric fiesta-like atmosphere. With a surprisingly large crowd, the game drew all the luminaries from the league to the game. Hines Ward was in attendance, placed the ball and signed a few autographs. Kurt Warner was doing pregame for the NFL Network and gave running high 5s to fans in the visitor’s endzone. Eagle eyed enthusiasts could spy Shawne Merriman and I seem to remember Jared Allen dressed up in his best Western wear. Charlie Ebersol made his first appearance toting his wife and child by his side. He was dressed head to toe in Alliance gear. I engaged him quickly and we talked about how end zone seats were the best in the house.

Mike Martz coached his QBs merely a foot or two from me before the game. I was too nervous to get in his ear. I was able to get a few autographs out of the event, as I corralled Hines Ward, Eric Allen, and Damien Mama.

The defenses ruled this contest, but in the end, the Commanders came out on top thanks to some key stops, and turnovers. The Fleet had to go with Mike Bercovici at QB and sparingly used Ja’Quan Gardner- much to my relief, as it seemed every time he touched the ball there was a burst for 5-9 yards. Thanks to ‘The Hit’ (pictured above) Shaan Washington became an instant poster boy for the league, and really served notice that the AAF wasn’t playing- or holding back- much to the excitement of fans.

After the last turnover, the Commanders defense rushed the visitor’s endzone and mugged my sister and myself for hugs- although I suspect players were hustling for a little bit more than that from her.

Safety Orion Stewart coined the term ‘Area 51’ to describe the defense. They produced 3 turnovers, and 6 sacks on the game.

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Game two against Orlando was a spectacular affair. It was the only game of the season in which I didn’t have a guest with me though. The Commanders were eager to show the Apollos that they could go toe to toe with them. SA came out with an aggressive game plan, led by Kenneth Farrow’s heroic dive to set the tempo on offense, while their defense really frustrated the Apollos offensive gameplan. Things seemed to almost go too well, but as the game wound on, it appeared that the Commanders just flat out ran out of steam as the Apollos leaned heavily on QB Garrett Gilbert and WR Charles Johnson to steam past San Antonio in the final stanza. -The final box score was much closer than it looked.

The league seemed to recognize that the San Antonio market was their best one and really rolled out the red carpet. Special guest for this game was former Spurs center David Robinson. He came by and high-fived all the fans in the crowd.

I tried to get Akeem Hunt and a few other players, but left with zero autographs in hand from this event. I did manage to get an angry stare down from Apollos Assistant Coach Jim Jeffcoat. The special celebrity guest was former Cowboys QB and NFL HOFer Troy Aikman.

After the game Apollos Head Coach Steve Spurrier was gracious in victory and was sure to let everybody know that SA was louder than Rocky Top.

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After their long road trip, the San Antonio Commanders returned home to their largest crowd in team and league history. (The long trip was due in part to the Alamodome being a part of the annual Fiesta events happening around San Antonio.) The Commanders used the crowd to their advantage, and played a defensive minded game of field position with the disciplined Salt Lake City front. Backup QB Marquise Williams kept the offense going with his feet, until fleet-footed Trey Williams scampered out of the backfield for an electrifying touchdown catch, run, and dive. Later DB Bausby intercepted a 2 point conversion and ran it all the way to the visitors endzone.

My wife was the special guest of the game, and my brother bought a ticket and sat a few rows above us. A third guest that I had encouraged to go, and had tickets directly behind us- forgot about the game. Regardless it was a rocking event. My wife did enjoy herself, and the fans were particularly exhausted by the back and forth between the two teams.

I was able to square a few autographs after the game. Defensive line coach Keith Gray of CFL fame was impressed and signed his card for me, and I was able to get one of my favorite players- Greg Ward Jr, on his Topps Now card. As we were walking out of the event, I spotted Aaron Green who signed everything I had on me at the time.

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I was very excited for this game. I firmly believed that the Commanders were going to buzzsaw the Hotshots at home, and why not after the way SA decimated Arizona earlier in the year? My childhood friend, who used to go to Cowboys training camp with me, Josh handled the logistics for the event, since I bought the tickets. He really enjoyed the posh, upfront seats we had in the action.

The team unveiled a PSA- one that old school football fans had been clamoring for a long time. It basically encouraged fans to have a great time- but when the Commanders were on offense, be freaking quiet!

I made a home made sign that looked like a parking sign that said “AREA 51 NO FLY ZONE” and held it up for all of 2 minutes into the game… That’s when Rashad Ross struck.

Rashad caught a bomb from Hotshots John Wolford to kick things off and scored a TD. He then sauntered up right in front of me and did a salsa TD dance. (Photo proof at the end.) The Hotshots didn’t let up, and the Commanders slept walked through the contest. The camera people who were there even remarked about how this was the least prepared team they had photographed to us.

I was able to flag down Charlie Ebersol with his AAF card that I asked him to sign. He took a photo with me, and gave me an AAF pin, and then talked to the crowd about how he hoped the city would be able to keep the franchise name forever.

After the game, no Commanders stuck around on my side of the field. I was able to hustle quite a few Hotshots for autographs though, including John Stockton, Jhurell Pressley, John Wolford, Trevor Knight, Marquis Bundy, and Sterling Moore.

Looking back in retrospect, the game wasn’t disappointing until I realized it was the last one the league would ever play.

NOTES:

The Commanders signed some local talent right out of the gate, notably fan favorites, Josh Stewart, Carl Whitley, Aaron Green, Cheeto Gonzales, and Daryl Richardson, as well as Trevor Knight, but in the end just Stewart and Green made it of training camp to the Commanders roster.

As the XFL warmed up for 2020, QB Landry Jones revealed during an interview that the AAF at one point before the season was chasing him to sign with the Commanders. The league however broke off pursuit when he asked for more details on the financial end of how he would be compensated.

Fans were initially very unhappy with the results of the Pick or Protect QB Draft. Hometown favorite Trevor Knight was the odds on choice, but everybody was stunned when the Commanders protected Dustin Vaughan instead. The Commanders were stocked in QB talent- Austin Appleby, Trevor Knight, Luis Perez, were all initially signed by SA and then plucked off the roster during the draft.

Three jerseys were produced. One was a generic team jersey, which had COMMANDERS on the back of it. The other two were player jerseys. One was for WR Mekele McKay, while the other was for QB Dustin Vaughan. Both of the player jerseys were only available through the AAF website or at the Alamodome. The generic team jersey was available both through the AAF site and Dick’s Sporting Goods.

San Antonio had a large fan base and 3-5 different fan sites and podcasts supporting them, including the San Antonio Commanders Post Podcast, The 210 Command, 210 Football, and The War Room.

Though the noise level and enthusiasm of the crowd made things difficult for opposing teams, the Commanders were 2-2 at home.

The Alamodome featured a modular roof that could be raised or lowered depending on the number of fans in the stadium.

Oddly San Antonio’s road attendance was among the worst in the league. San Diego had its worst attendance of the year against SA (14,789). The following week Birmingham in part due to weather, posted a league season low 6,539. The Hotshots put up a paltry 9,351, and finally the Legends had a season low 10,619. No wonder the Commanders were 3-1 on the road.

Once San Antonio claimed the last franchise, I accurately predicted both the hiring of Mike Riley as head coach and Bill Bradley to his staff.

Daniel Braverman WR was the last signing by the Commanders- signed a day before the league suspended operations.

San Antonio had the most initial signings with the NFL after the collapse of the AAF with 13.

San Antonio’s hashtags were #takecommand and #swordsup

The city of San Antonio embraced the Commanders and the AAF fast. In a final ironic stroke to make the AAF feel like one of SA’s own, the released this San Antonio Commanders pin for the city’s Fiesta event.

During games they had 4 or 5 Alamo re-enactors dressed up walking around on the floor of the stadium. Whenever the Commanders scored, they’d fire black powder into the air.

San Antonio lost to Arizona in that final game, however, based on tie breakers, I was surprised to see ARZ at the top of the division and still not SA. A few weeks ago I sheepishly mentioned this on Twitter- because the AAF was using NFL tie breaking rules, since they had none of their own, SA should be first in the division based on strength of schedule. Shortly thereafter some one broke down the tiebreakers, and indeed, San Antonio is now posted at the top of the standings on the AAF Wikipedia entry.

FINAL REMARKS:

I was a season ticket holder for the Commanders, and they did a great job of making me feel valued as a fan. They held a few events for fans to meet players and get autographs and in general were very accessible to get to. The front office staff were downright sweet. Just. Good. People. Some of them knew me by name and shared in the glee that I had for the cards and Topps Now set.

Before the season began the team couldn’t figure out where they were sticking the high end tickets at, so I was contacted by my ticket rep on three occasions to move to a different location to accommodate them. First from the visitors side, then back to the home side, then finally back to the visitors side again. Eventually I did ask them for compensation for my trouble, which I was able to negotiate hats and sideline passes for a game later in the season.

Thankfully I got this in print. Eventually after reiterating my negotiated demands I was delivered free hats. I was asked which game I wanted sideline passes to and quickly chose the SLC game. It was a stroke of good luck as if I had chosen the Memphis game two weeks later, I’d never have gotten my deal fulfilled.

My tickets were pretty solid. 5 home games and 2 front row visitors end zone tickets for what it’d cost me to watch 3 NFL games in person? Yes. Please. During the game there’d be occasional love down our way and I did get on camera often on NFL Network and CBS.

With season tickets in the visitors end zone, I rarely saw members of the Commanders down my way so when players signed autographs I had to keep an eagle eye out and hustle around the stadium. Unfortunately I did not figure this out until the last two home games, but still from my vantage point I was able to snipe out some of the coaches and players from opposing teams. I talked to Charlie Ebersol on a few occasions, fist bumped with Kurt Warner and David Robinson… watched Troy Aikman amble by. It was an interesting cast of sporting elite.

Fans were pretty rowdy in SA. They really didn’t understand football etiquette. To me I think they were just happy to have a team of some sort of football capacity. They had an extremely active message board and tailgating community, however their attitude was a bit concerning as it could take a turn for the worst very quickly by the action of a few trolls- especially when people started clamoring for Johnny Manziel. By my count there was- 3 to 5 podcasts devoted to the Commanders, and a whole lot of bootleg flags and other items being circulated around to fill up the marketing hole as well. During games, fans would turn on their flashlights on their phones, and had to be educated on when and when not to do the wave- after they were responsible for creating a few false starts on our offense, and cheering during injury timeouts. Still we were the rowdiest spot in the league and coaches every week praised our dedication and noise level. Fans were just happy to have a team, and just treated it as one big celebration- much to the chagrin of more ‘serious’ fans.

I made friends with the only other person who drove further than me to watch games, my next door neighbor in the end zone, Robert and his wife. He liked to start the wave at inopportune times and we discussed me coming up and staying with his family for the Championship game in Frisco later that year. During the first game of the year he helped me drive off these obnoxious children who were left unsupervised down in empty seats next to us.

I also had a reunion of sorts with my Riders/ Talons friend Stephen, who I’d drop in on his tailgate and watch him prepare in full camouflage regalia for the game as he transformed into the superfan ‘No Limit Soldier’. I hope we will see each other again, in the next league, or in San Antonio.

My father who had taken me to San Antonio Riders games as a kid was slated to be my +1 to most of my games, but he passed away from Lupus before I could make those plans. In his place I took my sister (SD), my wife (SLC)- my brother (SLC), and Josh (ARZ) to games to reminisce about the past, build some new memories, and for them to see me in my element.

It was good times while it lasted.

GM – DARYL JOHNSTON
HC- MIKE RILEY
OTHER COACHES: BILL BRADLEY, KEN WATSON
QB- LOGAN WOODSIDE, DUSTIN VAUGHAN, MARQUISE WILLIAMS
RB- KENNETH FARROW, AARON GREEN, DARYL RICHARDSON
WR- MEKALE MCKAY, GREG WARD JR, JOSH STEWART
TE- CAM CLEAR, COLE HUNT
OL- CYRIL RICHARDSON
DL- WINSTON CRAIG
LB- SHAAN WASHINGTON, JOEL LANNING, DEION BARNES
DB- DERRON SMITH, ZACK SANCHEZ, KURTIS DRUMMOND, ORION STEWART, JORDAN THOMAS
LS- SCOTT DALY

Please check back from time to time as these links are updated and players are added.

CUSTOM CARDS:

Hello AAF family!

If you loved the AAF as much as I did, do I have a special treat for you. There were many great players who did not see a card produced of them. Welcome! This is my love letter to them as a fan and I expect this section to be a ‘living’ card set. Check back from time to time to see updated names, and check in with me to see the cards I’ve created.

If you’d like to see a copy of any of these players cards, have a special request for me, or would like me to produce a physical keepsake copy, please contact me on Twitter: leebo@mindfinger

QB: LOGAN WOODSIDE
RB: DAVID COBB
WR: GREG WARD JR
DL: JOEY MBU
LB: JAYRONE ELLIOT
DB: DERRON SMITH, KURTIS DRUMMOND, DE’VANTE BAUSBY