You wouldn’t know it if you live in LA, but currently we are still in the heart of Winter. The thermometer in New York City reads 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and it reads 35 in Chicago, and 45 in Seattle. But sunny LA has the luxury of a 73 degree day in February. A pristine day for football, wouldn’t you say.
Many people around the country scoff at the idea of another football team in the City of Angeles. Not only does the XFL have an uphill battle to climb with a start-up spring league, but why would they choose Los Angeles as one of their host cities? A city that can’t even solidify a fanbase for one of it’s two NFL franchises, or so they say at least.
LA is much more complicated than that, however. Like every good relationship, you have to earn an Angeleno’s trust and respect, it isn’t just given because you don the twelfth and first letters of the alphabet on your helmet. Not only do you have to look good, play with flair, and offer state of the art gameday amenities, but, most importantly, you have to win.
So yes, the Los Angeles Wildcats will have their work cut out for them, but they also have the leadership and the foundation to create something great. And when you create something great in Los Angeles, there is nothing like it. As Head Coach Winston Moss said in his press conference, “When an LA crowd gets behind you, there’s nothing like it.”
— Ryan Dyrud (@RyanDyrudLAFB) February 16, 2020
Here is an inside look at the Los Angeles Wildcats home opener.
As I pulled up to the stadium two hours before kickoff, you could already feel the energy. It was palpable. The parking lot was full of tailgaters, playing games and throwing back White Claws (although the official beer of the XFL is Bud Light Seltzer, so fans may need to make the switch soon). It was a fun environment, and fans were pumped to have another Sunday full of football.
I walked into the stadium and made my way up to the press box. Activities were strewn about the stadium for fans and families to partake in. Kids all over were donning freshly pressed black, red, and orange Wildcats’ jerseys.
The mood was positive, the energy was high, and yet no one knew what to expect. What was about to take place in just two hours was a complete mystery to most. Sure, this was week 2 of the season, so we did get a preview of what this new league would look like. But this was the first live game that we would see, and we had no idea how many fans would actually show up to watch a spring football game after a rough week 1 road loss.
As I entered the press box, the mood was similar. A lot of excitement, some confusion, a lot of questions, and ample anticipation.
As game time neared, the seats in the 27,000 seat Dignity Health Sports Park remained mostly unclaimed. Lower bowl sections were littered with scattered patrons, but from a visiting tourist, this had to look a bit concerning. However, any local knows that Angelenos love to be fashionably late, plus beer is much cheaper outside the gate in the parking lot.
I took my seat and prepared for the opening kickoff.
By now, you know the results of the game. A turnover riddled first half that finished as a low-scoring affair 3-3. A more uptempo 3rd-quarter, but with a very similar result, 6-3. But then, an explosion in the 4th quarter, and the hype that we had all been waiting for.
The Wildcats offense came to life with some big plays, but unfortunately, the defense ran out of gas and allowed the Renegades to counter every time the ‘Cats struck.
Down 10 with roughly 4 minutes left, QB Josh Johnson connected with Nelson Spruce on a 44-yard touch pass for a touchdown. Then history was made as LA completed the first 3-point conversion in the league’s history. All of a sudden, with two plays and 10 seconds off the clock, it was a one-point game.
Of all the rule changes in the XFL, the point-after-touchdown scenario is the one that has intrigued fans the most, myself included. Well, safe to say, that the new rule is electrifying. The 15,000 fans that experienced it live will attest to its pure entertainment and genius.
This chapter, however, didn’t have a fairytale ending as the Renegades scored on their next possession, and then the Wildcats went four and out to end the game. But luckily, this story is not only a chapter long. There are at least eight more chapters that have yet to be written.
What this chapter does tell us, here are the cliff notes for those that do not appreciate good literature, is that football can work in the Spring in Los Angeles. Don’t believe the headlines. Don’t believe the criticism that the official attendance of 14, 979 was the lowest of the four games (by a mere 322 to DC).
If you were there you know that it can work. The passion was there. The energy was there. The excitement, while drained through 3-quarters, was at its peak to close out the game.
Great things come to those that wait. This is not going to be a flash in the pan league, and this is not going to be an overnight success story in Los Angeles. What in Los Angeles has ever been an overnight success story?
As I sit out here in sunny Long Beach, watching a team prepare for battle and a week 3 clash with the “Pre-Determined Champion” DC Defenders, I can see the level of play rising. While the Wildcats may have never lacked confidence or passion, at times, they have seemed to lack fundamentals. That appears to be shifting.
QB Josh Johnson, fully healthy, has full command over his offense. While running back Elijah Hood looks on, without his armor on, Larry Rose and Martez Carter look poised to carry the load and improve the running game that has struggled thus far.
This may be an 0-2 team, but you wouldn’t know that on the practice field. While the season is only 10-weeks long, there is still plenty of time to get things turned around. And there is still plenty of time to prove even more that football in February can work in Los Angeles.