The Alliance of American Football is set to begin their inaugural season this weekend, just a week removed from the NFL’s Super Bowl. The newly formed league will feature eight franchises playing a ten week season, with the championship game taking place around the time of the NFL Draft.
Unfortunately, the itch for football in Pittsburgh will have to wait for September to roll around, as 7/8 teams are geographically on or below the 35th parallel. No plans for expansion have officially been announced quite yet, however if the league finds success in year one, expansion may undoubtedly be on the horizon in the near future.
Outside of the NFL, football in Pittsburgh past the collegiate level hasn’t exactly thrived. Between multiple arena football teams, a women’s professional team and a USFL team, no team has garnered the respect and support quite like the Steelers have.
Yet that could all change if a team lands in Pittsburgh. The AAF appears to have solid ground to stand on, securing big names in football such as Bill Polian and Jared Allen while striking TV deals with CBS and NFL Network. Pittsburgh already has professional connections with the league, as Troy Polamalu (Head of Player Relations) and Hines Ward (Player Relations Executive) are involved with the AAF.
Our very own Alan Saunders also noted the collegiate connections over at Pittsburgh Sports Now, as several former Pitt players will suit up this weekend in the AAF. Panther fans will recognize names like Scott Orndoff and Dontez Ford along with other Pitt alumni playing in the upstart league.
With all of the Steel City connections, it got us thinking… What would a Pittsburgh team look like in the AAF?
Team Name: Pittsburgh Thunder (As much as this city loves alliteration with it’s sports teams, we can all agree the Phantoms or Power doesn’t sound as great. Plus the weather speaks for itself here).
Team Colors: Black and gold (Obviously).
Mascot: Steely McBeam (Just kidding).
Venue: Heinz Field (Perfect for spring football).
Uniform: I’m a really big fan of Arizona State’s all-black uniforms here. Obviously the team would need to axe the ASU logos, but perhaps a script “Steel City” across the chest and slapping a lightning logo on the sides would do it justice. Keep the sleeves too, and watch jersey sales go through the roof.
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General Manager: Jerry Reese
In your first season, you need a leader at the GM position who knows how to win. Look no further than former New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese. Reese’s time as GM lasted 11 seasons, seeing two Super Bowl championships during his time in New York. With deep experience in scouting, Reese as the background of eyeing talent while also being a capable winner at the professional level.
Coaching Staff: Bill Cowher (Head Coach), Dick LeBeau (Defensive Coordinator), Todd Haley (Offensive Coordinator)
Man, this is a yinzer dream and nightmare at the same time. It would take some serious money to lure Bill Cowher away from CBS and play second fiddle as a coach in Pittsburgh, yet if Cowher still has the desire to coach, he could dominate in the AAF. With Dick LeBeau out of a job, the coaching itch may be enough to convince him to again join forces with Cowher and coach with half of the pressure he’s been accustomed to in previous years.
Lastly, Todd Haley isn’t a very popular name in Pittsburgh for a variety of reasons. Yet when given the chance, he’s done some great things on the offensive side of the football when the talent is there. It’s up to Haley to put his ego aside and simply coach football. If he can accomplish that, this coaching staff would undoubtedly be the best in the league.
It would take an eternity to fill a 53 man roster, but just for the sake of time, I will only highlight players of notable recognition. Since we cannot pull from any active NFL rosters, we will use some active NFL free agents mixed with a few former Steelers and Pitt players as well.
Quarterbacks: Robert Griffin III, Tom Savage
After what appeared to be a career doomed to be over after struggling with injuries, Robert Griffin III signed with the Baltimore Ravens and showed serious glimpses of the player he once was. If RGIII’s ultimate goal is to again be a starting quarterback, that simply won’t happen in the NFL next season. Griffin could sign with the Thunder, showcase his dual-threat abilities in Haley’s offense and build his career back from there. Tom Savage, former Pitt quarterback, could be a valuable back-up to RG3, and perhaps a homecoming wouldn’t hurt his progress either.
Running Backs: DeAngelo Williams, Kenjon Barner,
DeAngelo Williams returns to Pittsburgh and picks up right where he left off with the Thunder. After being forgotten about in Carolina and eventually released by the Steelers despite excellent play, Williams still has some gas left in the tank, and is a fan favorite here in Pittsburgh. The Speedy Kenjon Barner would work on special teams mostly, but he could fill a role in Haley’s offense and become a player we all thought Dri Archer should have been.
Wide Receivers: Cobi Hamilton, Devin Street, Justin Hunter, Tavon Austin, Santonio Holmes
The Tavon Austin signing might be a stretch, considering teams may still be able to value him for his positional flexibility. The receiving group isn’t necessarily strong, yet has some Pittsburgh name value/enough talent to carry a team for a couple seasons. We know the potential of Hamilton/Hunter from their few glimpses as members of the Steelers, and Pitt alumni Devin Street may just need a second chance to prove he can perform at a high level after tearing it up at Heinz Field during his college days.
Linebackers: Michael Mauti, Jason Worilds, Arthur Moats, Elvis Dumervil
Secondary: Keenan Lewis, Ryan Clark, Shamarko Thomas, Brandon Boykin,
Special Teams: Shaun Suisham (K), Jeff Locke (P)
Pittsburgh is first and foremost a football town, despite what some people may tell you otherwise. The success of the Steelers has instilled a religious following for not only professional football, but all levels of the beautiful sport. With name recognition scattered across the board for Steelers/Pitt fans to flock to, selling tickets should be of no problem, especially if you’re attempting to decide between going to a Pirates game or trying out the new AAF.
Given the history of startup teams in the Steel City, the Thunder may not last more then a handful of seasons. However with a loaded coaching staff, decent roster and great foundation from the AAF, the Thunder could produce a winning football team that can keep Pittsburgh fans entertained during the spring time for years to come.