Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A11FL will afford players showcase to jumpstart long pro careers

The A11 Football League has been clear about what players it will look for come opening kickoff in March of 2015 – National Football League-caliber players who fit the A11 game.

In the last three-plus decades, the United States Football League (1983-85), the World League of American Football (1991-92, 1995-97)/NFL Europe (1998-2007) and the XFL (2001) all have featured NFL-caliber players in providing varying degrees of high-quality outdoor spring professional football. And all three leagues ended up employing players who went on to long, productive NFL careers.

-       In the case of the USFL, it widely was expected that once that league finally went under in August of 1986, there would be few players (outside of Jim Kelly, Herschel Walker, Kelvin Bryant and a few others) to move from the upstart league to the long-since-established NFL. NFL general managers publicly (and perhaps privately) didn’t anticipate much help from the USFL.

The opposite was true, as hundreds of USFL ex-patriots went on to play in the NFL from 1986 on. And there was something no other person involved in either league could foresee – one former USFLer went on to play professional football for almost a quarter century.

Punter Sean Landeta came out of Towson and immediately went to the USFL, playing three seasons for the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars and playing in three USFL Championship Games, winning two rings. Landeta then went on to play 21 seasons in the NFL with the New York Giants, Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles, winning two Super Bowls with the Giants.

-       The WLAF/NFLE was an NFL-sponsored league for 15 seasons, with its main purpose to develop players on the lower rung of NFL offseason rosters. Sure there have been the Kurt Warners, Brad Johnsons and Michael Sinclairs who used their 10-game spring auditions as a springboard to long NFL careers, but there is one current longtime NFLer who still is kicking who you may not know had to first toil in Europe prior to finding the professional football spotlight.

Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri was one of the top WLAF kickers in the spring of 1996, playing for the Amsterdam Admirals and doing double duty as a kicker/punter. Since, he has gone on to what may very well be a Pro Football Hall of Fame career, currently participating in his 18th NFL season, scoring 1,937 career points, winning four Super Bowl titles and hitting clutch postseason kick after clutch postseason kick.

-       Even the XFL, which lasted just one season, had a lasting impact that reached far beyond Rod “He Hate Me” Smart (Philadelphia Eagles/Carolina Panthers, 2001-05) and league Most Valuable Player Tommy Maddox (Pittsburgh Steelers, 2001-05).

Denver Broncos linebacker Paris Lenon is the last NFL player who played in Vince McMahon’s brainchild. Lenon, who was the 10th-leading tackler for the Memphis Maniax, is in his 12th NFL season with his fifth team (Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, St. Louis Rams, Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos – and has started all 16 games in six of the last eight campaigns.

Who in the A11FL is going to be the next Kurt Warner? The next Adam Vinatieri? The next Paris Lenon? Get ready, because in 16 months, we will begin to find out the answer.

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