‘He’s trying to light up the scoreboard’: Hines Ward talks Apollos football and The Alliance
By Tom Alexander, Orlando Apollos Team Reporter
SAN ANTONIO — Any time one of the game’s all-time greats steps onto the field, there’s a buzz in the air. The Orlando Apollos experience it every day when head coach Steve Spurrier speaks to them. Saturday, another all-time great showed up at training camp: Pittsburgh Steelers legendary wide receiver Hines Ward. The four-time Pro Bowler is The Alliance of American Football’s head of football development, and has been visiting each team’s practices during the league-wide training camp in San Antonio.
Ward observed the entire practice, and spoke one-on-one with several Apollos players and team officials. We managed to catch up with him before practice ended to talk about this inaugural season of The Alliance, and what Apollos fans should expect this season.
Q: What made you want to get involved with The Alliance?
A: It’s really about helping guys fulfill their dreams. Playing 14 years in the NFL, I know what players want and need both on and off the field, so being an executive within the league, being able to implement and create policies for our players, to help our players, I’m extremely blessed and honored to be a part of it.
Q: It’s one thing to lend your name or your endorsement to a new venture like this, but to roll up your sleeves and get in and do the work, was there something about it that made you say, ‘I’ve got to be a part of this’?
A: It’s the football credibility of all the coaches, the GMs that we put into it. These guys have had success at every level that they’ve been in — college and pro — so, to be a part of this and be able to give an opportunity for these guys, I can’t tell you the countless ‘thank yous’ from the players for having another opportunity, having something like this. I think it’s needed. Fans want more football, players want another opportunity to make it at another level, and this is want provides it. Having a season where you get 10 games to showcase what you can do, and then you have a playoff and a championship game, as a player who is undrafted and trying to fulfill their dreams you can’t ask for anything more.
Q: What do you think about the talent level you’ve seen in camp so far?
A: The talent is awesome. These guys, it’s not to sit there and say they can’t play at the next level, they just weren’t given that opportunity. Having these guys, I know they’re extremely excited. You can see them playing with a chip on their shoulders, really want to prove to the world that they can play at the next level. I just think you’ve got a bunch of hungry guys who love the game of football, and at the end of the day, that’s what really matters: [these] guys want to play football. They don’t want to sit there and be on the streets, they want to play the game that they love and have an opportunity to play in their home state, based on the allocations of where they’re from, and get a chance to make a little money as well. Also, being able to [be] coach[ed in], schematically, NFL schemes, it’s going to help them and enable them to have that success if they get called up and make it to a camp.
Q: What is it like to see a legend like Coach (Steve) Spurrier back out on the field?
A: I love Coach Spurrier. We go way back from when he tried to recruit me at the University of Florida coming out of high school. Just having him be a part of our league, having him mentor these kids, because he knows what it takes, especially if you’re a quarterback and a wide receiver, you want to be out here. It’s definitely going to be fun. He’s all about putting the ball up in the air. (laughs) Just the experience that he brings to the table, he’s seen it all. He had tons of [good] players while he was coaching, understands the ups and downs, the trials and tribulations, some of the mistakes that players make. I think having a guy like him, with his experience, with his pedigree, can only help a player succeed at the next level.
Q: What should fans expect to see on February 9?
A: Exciting football. An exciting brand of football, making it affordable for families to come check it out. We’re trying to get these games down, cut down to about two and a half hours. But, an uptempo game, no extra points, going for it for two, changing the rules up for the safety of the game, to help our players. At the end of the day, it’s going to be competitive, it’s going to be exciting and knowing Coach Spurrier, he’s trying to light up the scoreboard. He’s trying to put 70 points up every time he gets out on the football field. Fans [should] be excited about it. We start February 9, a week after the Super Bowl. You don’t want to miss it.
The Orlando Apollos host the Atlanta Legends Saturday, February 9, at Spectrum Stadium on the UCF campus. The game is broadcast nationally on CBS, but if you want to see the dawn of a new era of professional football in person, you can get your tickets here: http://bit.ly/ApollosTix