XFL Championship Recap: The Underdog Story is Complete
The first XFL Championship Game in 22 years sees the Arlington Renegades pull off a massive upset
As I said in past stories about the XFL, my memories about the original XFL are decreasing. I do remember the championship, which was known as "The Million Dollar Game," and it was the Los Angeles Xtreme who won and emerged as the best team in the league. Of course, that XFL is no more, but even so, the Xtreme's championship remains part of that history. No champion was crowned in the XFL's return in 2020 due to the incoming pandemic cancelling the rest of the season, but regarding the 2023 season, we would get a full campaign, followed by an actual champion being crowned.
In this year's go around, the DC Defenders faced off against the Arlington Renegades at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. This was a tale of two different teams; one strong and powerful, the other scrappy, yet determined. The Defenders only lost once all year and took over the North Division, and flat out blasted the Seattle Sea Dragons in the North Division Championship. The Renegades, however, struggled for the most part, but managed to hold on to second place in the South Division due to the division collapsing. They capitalized big time when it counted; upsetting the original championship favorites, the Houston Roughnecks, in the South Division Championship.
The game took place on Saturday, May 13, 2023, two weeks after the division championships. I do like that they actually did the NFL thing and took two weeks to promote this game, and after co-owners Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Dany Garcia were interviewed, kickoff took place. The Defenders were 8.5 point favorites at kickoff, which is a bit lower than I expected. Yet on Arlington's first possession, they capitalized. A drive that lasted 3:02 and ended with a 41-yard touchdown pass from Luis Perez to Sal Cannella. The conversion fell short, but the Renegades would make up for that big time, as after DC went three and out, Arlington went all the way again at the tail end of the opening frame. This time, it was Tyler Vaughns who caught it in the end zone, and following a successful two-point conversion, the Renegades were up 14-0 after one.
Strangely, things go from bad to worse for the Defenders. Just as they're about to go on the board, Jordan Ta'amu is intercepted in the end zone, and that turns into points later on, a field goal this time. DC does find the end zone this gime, a short touchdown run by Abram Smith, but the conversion falls short. Arlington's last drive of the half ends up beneficial, another field goal in the last half minute. At halftime, the Renegades--8.5 point underdogs at kickoff--were up by 14.
With that, the Defenders took on a "take no prisoners" demeanor in the 2nd half. It resulted in Smith running 52 yards all the way on a 4th and 1 play to cut Arlington's lead to eight points. The conversion was no good, but still, it was momentum for DC. However, Leddie Brown would run one in for the Renegades, but DC would answer back, in the form of a 72-yard TD reception from Josh Hammond. It was 26-20, but the 3rd quarter ended with Brown scoring his second touchdown of the game, a receiving one this time. It was 32-20 entering the fourth quarter, which began with Ta'amu being intercepted for the second time, resulting in an Arlington field goal. With under two minutes left, Hammond found the end zone for the second time, but after a failed conversion, DC was down by 9 and needed to convert a 4th and 15 play to keep the ball. Ta'amu's pass was intercepted, and that was all she wrote.
The Arlington Renegades defeated the DC Defenders, 35-26, to capture the XFL Championship, and for the team's head coach, Bob Stoops, it's another notch in his impressive career. The man known as "Big Game Bob" is a legend in college football, having coached at the University of Oklahoma for 18 seasons, resulting in 10 Big 12 championships, and a National Championship in 2000. He had actually been out of coaching for four years until the XFL returned in 2020, after which Stoops accepted the positions of head coach and general manager of the then-Dallas Renegades. The team went 2-3 before the season was canceled, meaning that Stoops is only 6-9 in his pro football coaching career, yet this campaign ended up resulting in Stoops' first pro football championship.
Luis Perez completed his "rags to riches" story by being named as the MVP of the XFL Championship Game. His numbers: 26/36, 288 yards, 3 TD, no picks, resulting in a QBR of 123.4. Perez literally started the 2023 season as a Vegas Viper, and ironically, the Vipers faced off against the team he would be traded to, the Renegades. He went from being on a team that was going nowhere, to leading a team to the XFL Championship, and becoming the game's MVP. The fantasy enthusiast can't help but bring this up, but Perez actually racked up 30.52 fantasy points, which is what you want in a QB.
So the 2023 XFL season is done, and I enjoyed every second. I think the league returned better than ever after that three-year hiatus, and I think it's because of ESPN having the rights. ESPN really promoted the XFL very well; in 2020, Fox had the games, and I don't recall Fox's promotion being as heavy or well-played out as ESPN's was. The Rock and Dany Garcia at the helm are also a huge help; everything they touch turns to absolute gold, and with the pair leading the charge and really promoting this league, I am certain that the XFL has some staying power. With that said, I am still hopeful that new teams are added, but for now, I'll continue to enjoy the fact that we saw an amazing XFL season, with an epic championship contest.
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