As the clock ran down at Lumen Field, with a dominant 28-9 score in Seattle’s favor, St. Louis fans were becoming equal parts downtrodden and downright confused.
Even with a historic 53-28 rout of the Orlando Guardians to wrap up the regular season this Saturday, the 7-3 St. Louis Battlehawks’ destiny was not in their hands as they waited patiently for the result of Vegas Vipers and Seattle Sea Dragons on Sunday. With both St. Louis and Seattle having similar records, division win/loss percentage, and even strength of victories, the tiebreaker came down to combined points scored/allowed (and no, not even the on-air analysts could really make sense of it either).
Regardless, the Sea Dragons got an emotional win and punched their ticket to the playoffs, ready to pay former Hawks QB Jordan Ta’amu and the league-best DC Defenders a visit in the North Division Final. Meanwhile, the Houston Roughnecks and Arlington Renegades will duke it out for the South title.
Despite the disappointing end result, the Battlehawks had a plethora of reasons to hold their heads up high in their rebooted 2023 campaign. In a relatively stacked division, the Hawks managed a respectable 7-3 record, including the first and only overtime win in XFL history. Former Bengals QB A.J. McCarron played so out of his mind this year that NFL teams might take another look at his tape. In 9 games, the XFL MVP frontrunner handily led the league in touchdowns with 24 and was only second in yardage to Sea Dragons QB Ben Dinucci with 2,150. In the regular season finale, McCarron made XFL history with a whopping 420 yards and 6 TDs (no, you read that right).
As for McCarron’s weapons, Hakeem Butler of Iowa State and Darrius Shepherd of North Dakota State were two of the top 3 WRs in the league, combining for over 1,100 receiving yards and 14 TDs. Running back Brian Hill (an alumnus of Belleville West High School) finished third in the league in rush yardage in only eight games played. On the defensive side of the ball, several Battlehawks players, including DB Brandon Sebastian, LB Travis Feeney, and LB Willis Harvey, cracked the top 10 in interceptions, tackles, and forced fumbles. Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention kicker Donald Hageman kicking a league-record 59-yard field goal back in week seven or that Gary Jennings fake punt TD in week 8.
Perhaps more surprising than any of St. Louis’ eyebrow-raising stats, however, was the overwhelming support they received from its fans. The Battlehawks’ attendance numbers obliterated any other team in the XFL, averaging 35,104 fans per game this season, with over 33,000 filling the Dome at America’s Center for the season finale. Head coach Anthony Becht knew how unique those numbers were. “The fan base has been great,” Becht said in an emotional end-of-season press conference. “We thank our fans for coming out and supporting us. It’s been an awesome experience for them, the players appreciate it.”
So, what is next for the Hawks? It’s a potent question, given the previous tumultuous nature that is the XFL. The league lasted one season back in its initial founding in 2001, and only five games in the 2020 reboot thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the first time, we could see a second consecutive season of the XFL, and it’s anyone’s best guess as to what happens next.
For the Battlehawks, however, this was a season worth remembering. Despite losses to Seattle and DC, the Hawks firmly established themselves as a top-three team in the league with immediate chemistry, a talented roster, and an intelligent coaching staff (as the kids would say, the vibes are immaculate). Could McCarron, Butler, or Shepherd get another invitation back to the NFL? Will Becht and the rest of the staff try and run it back? Will The Rock suddenly about-face and decide this league isn’t for him?
While XFL 3.0’s future is still murky, one thing is not: St. Louis has proven they are hungry for football again. With the Blues’ lackluster ’22-23 campaign finished and the Cardinals’ season off to a poor start, the hype for STL City SC and the St. Louis Battlehawks could not be higher, and this team could do real damage again and make some more history in 2024. For now, we’ll just have to wait and see… And remind everyone else that Ka-Kaw is indeed the Law.