Coach: Mike Riley
Home Stadium: Alamodome
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 and 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.
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, who 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. It was feast or famine by the end of the season, unfortunately 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.
(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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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 Canto, 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
RB- KENNETH FARROW, AARON GREEN, DARYL RICHARDSON
WR- MEKALE MCKAY, GREG WARD JR
TE- CAM CLEAR
OL- CYRIL RICHARDSON
DL- WINSTON CRAIG
LB- SHAAN WASHINGTON, JOEL LANNING
DB- DERRON SMITH, ZACK SANCHEZ, KURTIS DRUMMOND, ORION STEWART
LS- SCOTT DALY
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