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updated: 2/8/2019 11:30 AM

O'Donnell: 'NFL complementary league' fills the void starting Saturday night

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  • Former Bears middle linebacker Mike Singletary will coach Memphis in the new Alliance of American Football league, which opens Saturday.

    Former Bears middle linebacker Mike Singletary will coach Memphis in the new Alliance of American Football league, which opens Saturday.
    Associated Press

  • Former Indianapolis Colts General Manager Bill Polian is co-founder of the Alliance of American Football league. He's joined by Charlie Ebersol, a longtime TV and film producer.

    Former Indianapolis Colts General Manager Bill Polian is co-founder of the Alliance of American Football league. He's joined by Charlie Ebersol, a longtime TV and film producer.
    Associated Press


IF TV PEDIGREE MATTERS, young Charlie Ebersol and his new Alliance of American Football can't miss.

The eight-team "developmental league" -- coast-to-coast if you lop off all of America north of Memphis -- begins its 12-week debut season in CBS prime time at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Chicago viewers (WBBM-Channel 2) can see a 30-minute "introductory show" followed by an inaugural AAF snap-off involving the fabled San Diego Fleet vs. the equally legacied San Antonio Commanders.

After week one, the AAF will be seen every weekend on CBSSN with periodic presentations by Turner Sports and The NFL Network.

The Westgate Superbook became the first Vegas house to post week one lines for AAF games late Thursday afternoon, according to Bill Adee, the COO of Vegas Stats and Info ( The host Commanders are -5 over the Fleet. The William Hill sports book, somehow, has Arizona as the 7-2 favorite to win the league's first championship.

Spirals spring eternal. And Ebersol, 32, certainly has the media and entrepreneurial genetics to make it work -- along with what is reported to be an impressive chunk of venture capital. His mother is Susan Saint James ("McMillan & Wife," "Kate & Allie," et al). His father is Dick Ebersol, who, as the 28-year-old Director of Late Night Programming at NBC in 1975, teamed with Lorne Michaels to crochet a regenerating, hip blanket called "Saturday Night Live."

Ebersol went on to a long run as president of NBC Sports (1989-2011). He's on the board of directors of the AAF, along with co-founder Bill Polian, a six-time NFL Executive of the Year. The core concept of the AAF, according to Charlie Ebersol: "We're a complementary league to the NFL. Close to 98 percent of our players have been on NFL rosters, either active or practice squad, in the last 18 months.

"The NFL generated roughly $35 billion in a six-month window this past season. That leaves a six-month window of no football. We are filling part of that window, from the week after the Super Bowl on up until our championship game just before the NFL draft."

The AAF is split into two conferences. Atlanta, Birmingham, Memphis and Orlando comprise the East. Arizona, Salt Lake, San Antonio and San Diego make up the West.

Rosters are set at 50 players. Average salary is reported to be $75,000. All teams are owned by the league. Rules tweaks include: no kickoffs, only two-point conversions and a 30-second play clock. All games are targeted to end in 2 hours. Five of the eight head coaches are former NFL chiefs, none more prominent for Bears fans than Mike Singletary, who will oversee the Memphis Express. Son Matt Singletary is the team's defensive line coach.

One prominent opt out is Brad Childress, the Aurora native who Matt Nagy brought to his Bears trick shop last January as "senior offensive consultant." Childress resigned last summer to become head coach of the AAF's Atlanta Legends. He then abruptly quit that post last month. Smart money says he's back at Halas Hall any day now.

A second "no thanks" came from Scott Tolzien, the Fremd High QB who led the Wisconsin Badgers to the 2011 Rose Bowl and then managed a seven-season career in the NFL (2011-17). Tolzien was drafted by the Birmingham Iron but declined to sign after attending an AAF quarterback combine.

Ebersol eventually hopes to introduce a real-time gaming app to enable the more chase intensive to bet AAF games on a play-by-play basis. He is making no small plans.

But with the genes and the green there, the critical question for his AAF will be: How much stomach remains until the voracious appetite of the American viewing public for football is satisfied?

JIMMY KIMMEL'S POWER ALLEY remains sports and the late-night whiz played it very well after New England's remarkably nuanced 13-3 victory in Super Bowl 53.

Among Kimmel's Hope / Carson heat seekers: "The game was so slow the Patriots dumped Gatorade on Bill Belichick just to wake him up. … And that halftime show … It reminded me of a 'Sweet Sixteen' party for the daughter of (a) Saudi Arabian prince."

Kimmel's staff assisted with the hustling "get" of Sony Michel, the NE running back who scored the game's only TD. Somehow the Haitian-rooted Michel -- and there's a $2,000 "Jeopardy!" setup -- won a Super Bowl, partied postgame in Atlanta and zoomed to L.A. for the late-afternoon taping of "Kimmel" on Monday. He was back in Boston by Tuesday morning for his first NFL victory parade.

Limelight maiden Jared Goff and the Rams offense should have flashed such hop and sing.

STREET-BEATIN': Final sally from SB 53 -- NE cornerback Stephon Gilmore was the game's real MVP. Just watch a complete CBS replay in a quiet space with a notepad and a reasonable understanding of full-throttle football impact. … John Cusack should touch upon the 2019 Cubs and the 100th anniversary of the Black Sox scandal ("Eight Men Out") during a live "Evening With" at Waukegan's Genesee Theatre Sunday night. The Evanston-bred is only a stride or two behind Bill Murray for the title of Chicago's Crown King Celebra-Fan. … Patrick Kane's team-rebooting hot streak is a midwinter reminder that the boss Blackhawk will one day go into the Hockey Hall as the greatest American player ever. Petulant puck pickers who say "Brett Hull" face one big asterisk: Father Bobby remains Canadian, mother Joanne was a professional American figure skater and Brett himself holds dual citizenships. … Isiah Thomas -- who has tried more autumnal gigs than Ted Danson -- is bringing his crocodile smile to play-by-play on Turner / NBA Network "Players Only" gamecasts. He's no Brent Barry, but who is? … Fantasia Corner speculation will not go away that WMVP-AM (1000) is set to deal David Kaplan to WSCR-AM (670) for two ad salesmen and a weekend board operator to be named later. Middays at both mule teams have devolved into "Death Valley Days."…NBC Sports Chicago is looking to fill its "Bulls Insider" job. Capable Kelly Crull and Mark Strotman have been pulling double duty handling the digital / social slot since Vincent Goodwill split for Yahoo Sports. … After 41 years of passionate brilliance, John Heisler is no longer affiliated with any aspect of media relations or sports history at Notre Dame. To cross-shamrocked ND administrators -- who love to tout their $13 billion endowment -- how do you say "profoundly diminishing and calloused" in Old Gaelic? … Sure it might turn out a speck sanctimonious, but Hubie Brown attempting to explain a polar vortex would make for a fascinating stab at interspecies communication.