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Steve Spurrier returns to sideline, wins AAF opener

The Associated Press
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Orlando Apollos coach Steve Spurrier reacts after a play during the second half of the team’s Alliance of American Football game against the Atlanta Legends on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
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Orlando Apollos coach Steve Spurrier acknowledges fans in the stands after the team’s Alliance of American Football game against the Atlanta Legends on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
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Atlanta Legends running back Lawrence Pittman rushes in front of Orlando Apollos defensive end Anthony Moten Jr. (98) during the second half of an Alliance of American Football game Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
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Atlanta Legends quarterback Aaron Murray throws a pass during the second half of an Alliance of American Football game against the Orlando Apollos on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
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Orlando Apollos safety Will Hill III runs onto the field during player introductions for the team’s Alliance of American Football game against the Atlanta Legends on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
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Orlando Apollos coach Steve Spurrier watches players warm up for an Alliance of American Football game against the Atlanta Legends on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Head Ball Coach is back, lighting up the scoreboard and selling the Alliance of American Football.

And fans — at least those in Orlando, Florida, who showed up in the rain for Steve Spurrier’s debut in the new league Saturday night — are eager to buy.

The 73-year-old coach returned to the sideline for the first time since abruptly walking away from the college game in 2015, bringing along an entertaining style of offense that didn’t disappoint an announced crowd of 20,191 for the AAF opener between the Orlando Apollos and Atlanta Legends.

With a 52-man roster featuring 29 players from nine Florida colleges, there’s a local feel to the Apollos for fans of the hometown team.

It begins with Spurrier, who won the Heisman Trophy as a player at the University of Florida and later put together his best body of work as a coach at his alma mater, a mere 113 miles up the road in Gainesville.

And, there was just enough razzle-dazzle and imaginative play-calling in the Apollos’ 40-6 victory over the Legends to remind the faithful, who can buy season tickets for as little as $75, of the good old days.

“I think the fans had a good time,” said Spurrier, who improved to 6-0 in his first game with the six teams he coached. “They saw enough good plays, especially after the first quarter.”

It was a long night for Atlanta, which took the field barely a month after the sudden departure of coach Brad Childress and just days after the team decided ex-NFL quarterback Michael Vick would no longer hold the title of Legends offensive coordinator.

“We’re disappointed,” Legends coach Kevin Coyle said.

“I think Atlanta’s a pretty good team. Time will tell if they are,” Spurrier said. “Time will tell if we’re any good. It’s just one game.”

In the league’s other opener Saturday night, San Antonio topped San Diego 15-6.

On Sunday, Memphis is at Birmingham, and Salt Lake at Arizona.

Two hours before game-time between Orlando and Atlanta, traffic flowed freely and there were few visible signs that the league was about to make its debut at Spectrum Stadium on the campus of UCF, where the Apollos have chosen to play in a more intimate setting than the larger Citrus Bowl near downtown Orlando.

In stark contrast to the thousands who tailgate in a festive atmosphere before UCF games in the fall, only a smattering of fans mingled in a plaza near the 44,000-seat stadium on a cloudy and windy evening.

Rain sent some early arrivals scurrying for cover in concession areas beneath the stands and intermittent showers fell most of the night, contributing to some slipping and sliding and occasional sloppy play.

The weather even forced Spurrier to don a baseball cap instead of his signature visor.

“I think the rain deterred the crowd a little bit,” the coach said. “But 20,000 is pretty good.”

This isn’t the first time Spurrier has been part of a new league. His first head coaching job was a three-year stint in the mid-1980s with the USFL’s Tampa Bay Bandits.

He led Florida to a national championship in 1996, left the Gators five years later to coach the Washington Redskins for two seasons, then ended a long college career when he walked away from a decade-long stay at South Carolina six games into the 2015 season.

He smiled when he was asked about being unbeaten in his first game with six different teams.

“Even won with the Redskins,” he said, laughing. “That’s not easy to do.”