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New league is in the works

- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2007

Nearly 40 years after he last saw his beloved Bulldogs play between the hedges as a student, Marcus Katz is trying to bring pro football to the University of Georgia.

The West Coast entrepreneur isn't, however, trying to compete with the NFL as did the World League of the 1970s, the USFL of the 1980s and the XFL earlier this decade — leagues that lasted all of a cumulative six seasons.

Katz hopes to combine a college atmosphere with a pro flavor in his proposed All American Football League, which held its first player tryouts Monday and Tuesday in Orlando, Fla. Katz plans to field an eight-team league next spring on college campuses, primarily in the South.

"A bunch of us who love college football were sitting around wondering what had ever happened to this player or that player," said Katz, who made his fortune in the student loan business and who initially will own every AAFL franchise. "There's a void from the bowl games until the next season starts. I had the idea to get those great players together again and play in the college stadiums."

Fortunately for Katz, former NCAA president Cedric Dempsey is one of his neighbors in La Jolla, Calif. Dempsey hooked Katz up with bigwigs like former ACC commissioner Gene Corrigan, one-time Florida chancellor Charles Young and ex-Gators coach Doug Dickey.

Corrigan, who convinced his fellow board members to require all AAFL players to have college degrees, believes the league will be comparable to "high-level, Triple-A baseball."

He, Young and Dickey helped secure contracts with the universities of Florida, Tennessee, Purdue and N.C. State and with Ford Field in Detroit and Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala.

Deals are pending for the 10-game season with the universities of Florida State, Mississippi and Iowa and with War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, Ark., and the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.

Given that Southern emphasis, Katz is aiming for regional, not national, television contracts. He envisions regionally-based 40-man rosters so that, for example, the team that plays at Florida includes a large number of former Gators. Among them is receiver Travis McGriff, who had stints with the Denver Broncos and in Arena Football but at 31 is still itching to play.

"There are plenty of us who are a step slow or an inch too short for the NFL who can still play at a high level," McGriff said. "The XFL was bad football. This will be much higher quality."

McGriff, quarterback Shane Matthews and receiver Willie Jackson aren't household names nationwide, but they still are in Gainesville.

"The most passionate fans in the country are in the South. Danny Wuerffel is bigger than Joe Montana in Gainesville," McGriff said of the Heisman Trophy-winning ex-quarterback of the Gators.

The AAFL got a boost last week from the NFL's decision to fold NFL Europa. The shutdown leaves the gimmicky Arena League, with its 50-yard field and high-scoring games, as its only spring competition.

The traditional rules of the AAFL and a projected average salary of $100,000 — more than twice what Arena players earn — figure to help the league attract players, McGriff said.

"I played Arena ball, and I believe a lot of guys will prefer the [AAFL] money, playing under regular rules and in college stadiums," he said.

Size overrated? — The Buffalo Bills were the only team in 2006 whose top four receivers all were under 6 feet.

But the Bills haven't added a big target to the quartet of 5-foot-11 Peerless Price, 5-10 Lee Evans and Josh Reed and 5-9 Roscoe Parrish.

"I've never [cared] that much about size," offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild told the Buffalo News. "If a guy can separate and run, he'll find a way to get open. It isn't to say a big receiver isn't something good. It's just not the most important thing."

The Bills ranked 28th in passing last year, but Fairchild's previous stop was with the St. Louis Rams, whose vertically challenged wideouts Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce perennially thrive in the vertical passing game.

Thick as a brick — Fred Graves, the Tennessee Titans rookie receivers coach, has a new twist for making sure his players concentrate: bricks.

"If I toss you a football and you drop it, no big deal unless I'm yelling at you," Graves said. "But if I toss you a brick ... you're going to look at it with your hands and eyes."