SAN ANTONIO — As Bill Polian walked out onto the Alamodome field in February, he could already feel excitement brewing in the Alamo City. Walking up and down the sideline, the six-time NFL Executive of the Year and co-founder of The Alliance of American Football could not believe how many San Antonio Commanders fans were donned head to foot in gear representing their new franchise.
A few moments later, fellow Alliance co-founder Charlie Ebersol approached Polian on the field, smiling at what he had seen.
The San Antonio Commanders return home from a four-game road trip on Saturday, March 23, to host the Salt Lake Stallions at 8 p.m. ET (7 p.m. local) in a game televised on NFL Network. For tickets to that and all Commanders games, click here.
“We’re the head of a real football league aren’t we?” Ebersol said.
“You bet we are,” Polian replied.
Four-plus weeks into The Alliance’s inaugural season and Polian is still impressed with the Commanders’ success in building a fan base from the ground up. While he hopes all eight teams can establish fan bases as welcoming as the one the Commanders enjoy, San Antonio has set the bar high for other cities to follow.
“I think it’s so gratifying to see how the San Antonio community has really adopted its team,” Polian said. “Not only was it a great crowd but they were engaged from the get-go.
“That’s what we’re aiming for and this has been the flagship franchise.”
The Commanders’ fans were expected to be slow in hopping on the bandwagon considering the history of football in the city. They might have received a little hometown help to begin their season off on the right foot.
Following the quarterback combine held in The Alamodome, The Alliance elected to host training camps for all eight teams in San Antonio, as well. Building a fan base early, Commanders general manager Daryl Johnston believes that the history of San Antonio football teams ultimately played a role in the team’s growing fandom.
“You have to remember the history of San Antonio when talking about professional football,” Johnston said. “Going all the way to the early 1990s and the World League where Mike Riley was coach the first time around down there and is now our head coach. You also had the Saints come to San Antonio when (Hurricane) Katrina hit.”
The Commanders fans are the standard for what The Alliance had planned in terms of fandom in its first season. In Week 1 against the San Diego Fleet, the Alamodome had 27,857 fans in-house to watch the team claim their first victory. A week later, 29,176 people watched the Orlando Apollos claim victory, but they didn’t make it easy on the visitors.
Those are the two highest attendance marks in The Alliance to date.
“Coming down from Syracuse, New York, in 1989, I understood what everybody had talked about with the Friday Night Lights and everything that had been associated with football in the state of Texas and it’s absolutely true,” Johnston said. “It’s a part of the community and life. We knew we had the ability to be successful in San Antonio.
“I credit our coaching staff and our players for being able to be a continual good team week in and week out.”
Polian, a native New Yorker, knew a team in Texas would have success. Much like Johnston, he had seen firsthand how the game and the culture of the Lone Star State go hand in hand.
But even he was pleasantly surprised by the initial numbers following opening weekend for a brand new league. His point had been proven: football thrives among fans in Texas.
“It is football and it is Texas,” Polian said. “That’s. . . . what you expect but it has been nonetheless terrific. It has been a lot of fun to be in San Antonio and watch the Commanders play.”
As for Johnston, he cannot wait for his team to finally return home after its current four-game road trip and see how fans welcome the home team back inside the Alamodome.
“Hopefully we get back after this month-long road trip and get back to San Antonio 4-2,” said Johnston, whose team is currently 2-2. “I’d love to see what those numbers are March 23.”