Charlie Ebersol, the founder of the Alliance of American Football, has a clock on his office wall that counts down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the upstart league’s inaugural game, on February 9.
“I can tell you to the second how far we are from the first snap,” Ebersol told PFT on Monday.
Much work is left to be done until that first game, 75 days from now, and one of the most important steps will be taken on Tuesday night, when the league’s eight teams divide up the quarterbacks who have agreed to play in the AAF. The league is using a draft format that is designed to prioritize having players playing for AAF teams in the same area where they played college football, while also trying to put the eight best quarterbacks on eight different teams.
Ebersol said those who watch the draft, which Kurt Warner is calling for CBS Sports Network, will be impressed with the collection of passers who are committed to getting themselves a chance in professional football.
“There are some Kurt Warner-esque stories,” Ebersol said. “One guy worked at Costco, he’s been a personal trainer, he’s moved his family multiple times, and against the backdrop of all that he still has a dream, and he’s going to have an opportunity because of us. . . . That’s why it was so important to me that Kurt Warner be the voice of our draft.”
But are these guys good enough to play football, at a high enough level that fans will want to watch? The quarterbacks who have already been announced as joining the AAF include Aaron Murray, Christian Hackenberg and Scott Tolzien. Ebersol isn’t claiming the quality of play can compete with the NFL, but he does insist that the television product will be an impressive presentation, starting with that first game on February 9.
“You’re going to see how much has gone into this. The difference between us and everyone who’s done this before is they all spent so much time marketing their league that the expectations were out of whack. We’ve managed to under-promise and over-deliver,” Ebersol said. “The football is one thing. The technology is something else. That will probably be the most shocking thing people will see on CBS on February 9. What we’ll do with data in a consumable way is like nothing people have seen before.”
By far the best-known quarterback who’s not currently on an NFL team is Colin Kaepernick. Ebersol said he has talked to Kaepernick and respects what he’s doing, but he’s not sure Kaepernick is interested in joining an upstart league.
“I’ve gotten really close with Colin over the last year, year and a half. He’s one of those guys who, I think in everyone’s eyes is the golden goose, the guy who is out there who we’d all like to see what would happen if he got back on the field,” Ebersol said. “I think Colin has a very, very challenging choice in front of him because I think he does believe he deserves to be in the NFL. He certainly played at the highest level in the NFL. I think Colin has more than just the weight of being a football player on his shoulders, I think he’s the messenger of something bigger.”
The AAF may not be a big enough stage for a quarterback who’s already a household name. But it might just be a big enough stage to help some other quarterback take the first step toward becoming a household name.