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'We're gonna give the fans a show': XFL returns to draw San Antonio football fans

Semiprofessional football returns to the Alamo City, a few years after the Alliance of American Football went bankrupt and the Commanders' season abruptly ended.

SAN ANTONIO — Remember what former Dallas Cowboys great Daryl "Moose" Johnston said a few years ago, the day the now-defunct San Antonio Commanders were introduced at City Hall?

If not, we'll remind you. The Commanders' general manager said the following: "The uniqueness and the structure of this league is gonna present the fans of San Antonio who love the game of football with an opportunity that they’ve never really had the opportunity to experience before."

Well, that didn’t work out in the long run. The Alliance of American Football didn't even make it through its inaugural season. Former Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl champion Hines Ward remembers that frustrating time. 

"I was working on the executive side of the AAF during my time here and I felt like we pulled the rug out from underneath the fans and I just felt so bad," he said.

Credit: AP
San Antonio Commanders' De'Vante Bausby (41), Tyrone Holmes (58), and Jordan Thomas celebrate a play with fans during the second half of an AAF football game against the Salt Lake Stallions, Saturday, March 23, 2019, at the Alamodome in San Antonio. San Antonio won 19-15. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

'A passionate market'

Fast forward to now, as a new semiprofessional league hopes to rally football fans in the country's biggest city without an NFL team. The Arlington-headquartered Xtreme Football League has returned for a third time. 

Ahead of the San Antonio Brahmas' on-field debut this weekend, we spoke with league President Russ Brandon, who echoed the sentiment that San Antonio has been teased and left behind by professional football leagues before. 

"We understand the disappointment," he said. "I was with the (Buffalo) Bills and we played the Saints in the Alamodome many years ago, and just to see the excitement... what a great football market it is, obviously," he added.

"There is just something special about Texas football," added XFL Co-owner Dwyane "The Rock" Johnson. 

Johnson's ownership group, along with Dany Garcia and RedBird Capital, purchased the then-bankrupt XFL from the WWE, so we’ll assume the financial structure at the top is on stable ground. 

The other thing we do know for sure is that those at the very top of the eight-team league also know they need San Antonio. 

"San Antonio is a passionate market when it comes to football and we think we will do extremely well in the marketplace; they have proven that previously," Brandon said. "We’re looking forward to putting our foot down in San Antonio for the long haul."

Most fans will be measuring that success by the play on the field, which starts this weekend. The XFL touts more than 400 players with past NFL experience, and those guys hope the San Antonio Brahmas are just the springboard they need to get back to playing on Sundays. 

"Giving guys opportunities that missed our chance to go to the league from college, you know, it is big," said former Florida State running back Jacques Patrick. "I just think it is a beautiful opportunity at the end of the day." 

Defensive back Luq Barcoo said he didn't achieve everything he wanted to i nthe NFL. For him and others like him, the XFL provides a second chance.

"This is like a rebuilding phase," Barcoo said. "I’m excited about the opportunity, and I look forward to accomplishing that." 

"There are many players out there who just need that shot and opportunity, and that’s what we’re giving them with the XFL," Johnson added. 

The players are calling the XFL their "league of opportunity." As it turns out, it's also another opportunity for San Antonio. 

The guys on the field are confident the fans are gonna be in the stands for the season-opener on Sunday, which will see the Brahmas hosting the St. Louis BattleHawks. 

"I’m already knowing they will (show up). I’ve only heard good things about the fans in San Antonio," said cornerback Ryan Lewis. "We feed off that. We feed off that energy. That’s what we love, (and) it is gonna be reciprocated. We’re gonna give the fans a show this year." 

The Brahmas have named former Notre Dame QB Jack Coan as their opening week starter. He's excited about the opening day atmosphere. '

"They expect lots of fans to be there game one, and I think at the end of the day if we go out there and win we’ll get more fans," he said. 

Credit: AP
The XFL Brahmas are hoping Alamodome fans show up as they did for the AAF Commanders.

Some fans might be apprehensive about the XFL after the league's first two failed attempts, the second of which was severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. But Brandon said he's confident not only about this season, but future ones as well. 

"We are committed to long-term sustainability, and quite honestly I wouldn’t be doing this if we weren’t focused on that," he said. 

The Brahmas kick off their 2023 XFL schedule at 2 p.m. on Sunday at the Alamodome, hosting the St. Louis BattleHawks. 

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