When George Washington warned us to “steer clear” of “alliances,” he might have been warning us about the Atlanta Legends. The team representing the 404 in the newly-formed Alliance of American Football is designed to serve as a sort of feeder for NFL teams looking for undrafted talent, but in terms of fan experience, it might as well be a Pee-Wee league team.
I bought tickets to the Legends’ home opener with low expectations — the tickets were just seven dollars, and I was already familiar with the strength of the team. The Legends had, after all, been blown out in an embarrassing 40-6 loss to the Orlando Apollos in their inaugural game and had faltered late against the San Diego Fleet on the road in just the week before. But even those low expectations were quickly torpedoed, from the moment I walked into Georgia State Stadium, formerly Turner Field. Ushers handed out season schedules to fans, misprinted to read that Atlanta would play against itself on certain dates — not once, but twice. The reasonably large crowd settled into their seats as the starting lineups were announced, but there were rounds of boos as Matt Simms, who has, to date, recorded a gaudy 6-2 interception-to-touchdown ratio, was named the Legends’ starting quarterback. They clamored for Georgia alumnus Aaron Murray.
The amenities within the stadium are not particularly good. The pizza was notably bad. But I was quickly reminded that the team itself was even worse. Simms had managed a handful of deep passes successfully to reach the end of the field, but after three tries, the Legends failed to bury the ball in the end-zone. Rather than opt for easy points early in the game, the Legends went for it on fourth down, and were stopped again by a stout Birmingham Iron defense.
This was the tale for most of the game: the Legends would gain some yardage and then squander it away on a pointless or easy turnover. By halftime, fans were chanting for Murray — the second string QB — to come out on the field. It was a stark reminder of how the team had been constructed and then deconstructed: the Legends had signed a plethora of UGA and Tech talent, including Murray and Tech legend Justin Thomas, but scant any of it was seeing the field.
Fans’ frustration with Simms represents the fundamental flaw with the Legends: Simms, like much of the team, is neither good nor local. Head coach Kevin Coyle’s refusal to bench Simms after yet another interception was a slap in the face to fans, who recognized that even if Murray proved to be worse than Simms, at the very least they would have a hometown hero to cheer for, not an anonymous NFL washout. The Legends, as currently constructed, have the ability to be bad and anonymous or bad and locally intimate — and to the frustration of fans, they are choosing to the former.
On the road last weekend, after Simms was injured, Murray stepped up and led the Legends to their first win in their history, picking up a close 14-11 win over the Arizona hotshots. That kind of win represents what the fan experience for the Legends can be. I refuse to believe that a team of Georgia-affiliated talent can be as bad as the Legends have been in previous weeks, and furthermore, even if they are that bad, at the very least, fans can root for hometown heroes as underdogs. The Legends need to recognize what their fanbase needs and appeal to it — otherwise, they might not be long for this city.