The press box at Sun Devil Stadium apparently wasn’t used much between the end of Arizona State’s season and Sunday evening, when the Arizona Hotshots of the Alliance of American Football debuted.
I know this because the bat found behind my chair before the game appeared to have been dead since at least Christmas.
Spring typically has been a slow time at the stadium, but that’s changed this year with the advent of the AAF and the Hotshots. It’s the first time professional football has been played at ASU since 2005, the year before the Cardinals’ stadium opened in Glendale.
The Hotshots took the field at 6:02 p.m. and were greeted by a smattering of cheers from a smattering of fans. The Hotshots beat the Salt Lake Stallions, 38-22, and not many people will be able to brag that they witnessed in person.
Attendance was not announced but it appeared to be the smallest crowd of the four AAF games this weekend.
In that way, it looked like Sun Devil Stadium often did when the Cardinals played there.
“I’m so thankful for the people who were here,” said Hotshots coach Rick Neuheisel said. “This was a hastily put-together deal. In terms of the marketing in the individual cities, that’s a relatively Johnny-come-lately deal. Hopefully, as the old saying goes, they’ll tell a friend.”
Some of the folks attending were passionate, however, and were already wearing Hotshots apparel. This requires some gumption since the predominant team colors are yellow and green. But they are just different enough to catch on.
The worst outfits in the AAF are worn by the officials, whose shirts makes them look like they are wearing black halter tops over the traditional stripes.
But apparently everyone in the AAF is just happy to have a uniform and a job in professional football.
It was 62 degrees at kickoff on Sunday, so it was a pleasant evening to do most anything outside, including watch football.
The AAF’s hope is that the league catches on this month, and crowds will grow.
That’s possible because the actual playing of football was entertaining. Of the 52 players on the Hotshots roster, 49 have at least signed an NFL contract before, so the quality of football was better than an average preseason game.
The Hotshots’ first touchdown came on a pass from John Wolford, who was in the Jets’ camp for a short time, to tight end Gerald Christian, who was drafted by the Cardinals in 2015 and also has been with the Bills.
The Hotshots’ second touchdown was a 36-yard touchdown pass to receiver Rashad Ross, also a former Cardinal.
The Hotshots could catch on as fans see more of them. Wolford for instance, threw four touchdown passes and looked better than many quarterbacks who play in the NFL preseason.
One of the league’s main goals is to develop players, coaches and officials for the NFL. At both the college and NFL levels, rules limit practice time. NFL coaches have complained for years that those restrictions hinder the development of players, especially quarterbacks and offensive linemen.
Hotshots General Manager Phil Savage, who held that same job with the Browns, saw that for himself as he toured NFL training camps last summer in search of players for the Hotshots.
“The guys I was looking at were at the back end of the roster,” Savage said, “and there were certain practices I’d go to where they’d get two reps (repetitions) in individual (drills) and maybe two in a team period.
“Now, how is a guy ever going to get better standing there for 2½ hours and getting four reps? It’s tough.
By the end of the AAF season, many players will walk off this field 10 to 12 weeks from now and go to an NFL team. They won’t have missed anything.”
Financially, the AAF has a model that can work. The league owns the teams, which means there are no individual owners tempted to do their own thing.
A television contract with CBS is in place, and the Hotshots’ game Sunday evening was shown on the NFL Network.
AAF players make about $80,000 a season, and while they are under contract, they are free to sign with NFL teams.
Spring leagues have been tried before. The USFL folded after Donald Trump tried to force a move from the spring to the fall. The XFL, which was started by Vince McMahon, faltered after one season because it was football’s version of jumping off the top rope.
Judging by its first weekend, the AAF has a chance because it’s respectful of the game but also willing to innovate.
There are some new rules being tried, such as the elimination of kickoffs. And parts of the broadcasts are different, too, such as letting us see and hear replay officials as they watch video and make decisions.
Coaches might be willing to be make bolder decisions than their NFL counterparts, but they aren’t going to off “willy-nilly,” said Hotshots coach Rick Neuheisel.
“I don’t think anybody is treating it like it doesn’t matter if you win or lose,” he said. “I don’t think anybody is going to go that far. Once you get into a competitive endeavor the work that goes into it requires you be steadfast in trying to attain victory.”
The Hotshots, and the AAF, have clearly put in the required work. If Week 1 was an indication, the league might have found a home in the spring, and in Arizona.
Reach Somers at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @kentsomers. Hear Somers every Monday between 4 and 4:30 p.m. on The Drive with Jody Oehler on Fox Sports 910 AM.