July 22, 2021 — Molly Goodwin, owner of the Boston Renegades, felt something was different when she got on a call last week with a Kraft Sports + Entertainment editor alongside Renegades receiver Adrienne Smith to talk about her team vying for its third-straight championship in the Women’s Football Alliance.
“Basically, she says, ‘Hold on a second,’ and her Zoom blacks out and up pops Bob Kraft,” Goodwin said.
The Patriots owner had some news to share about the team’s travel to Canton, Ohio for Saturday’s WFA Pro Division National Championship Game against the Minnesota Vixen at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
“We’d like the privilege of flying you on our Patriot team plane to Canton,” he said. “Since that’s how we won our six, we’d like to take you there.”
On July 24th, the @GoRenegades are headed to the @WFAfootball National Championship in Canton, Ohio.— New England Patriots (@Patriots) July 14, 2021
This week, as they prepare to seek their sixth overall title for women’s football in Boston, they received a surprise call from Robert Kraft. pic.twitter.com/MDGMl4bZ8r
It was a big moment for a team that’s been through maybe its toughest season yet.
The Renegades were able to play only five regular season games this year, a little over half of what they usually play. Still, it was a world away from last year’s campaign that went without a single snap of the ball because COVID-19 slammed the brakes on sports across the country.
Wide receiver Stephanie Pascual remembers the team having all the preparations in place for that season. Eventually, in-person practices turned into Zoom meetings and, after about three weeks, those died off, along with any hopes of playing in 2020.
“And so even with this year, I think going into it we were just like, ‘Are we gonna have a season?’” she said. “Almost like you didn’t want to get too excited about it, just in case it got ripped away from you.”
During the COVID-19 shutdown, left guard Jessica Hayden went to her family’s five acres of land in Maine where she worked on staying in football shape.
“My dad had me doing a lot of chopping wood or moving large rocks,” she remembers. “I was able to keep very active in kind of the outside life there.“
When the Renegades finally started playing again in May, they had to do so with restrictions like masks underneath helmets and limited interaction outside of practice and games. But none of that mattered if they just could still play.
“I think all of us had this mental mentality that whatever we have to do to be on that field, if we had to wear masks, if we had to wear shields, whatever we have to do, we’re ready, we need to be on that field,” Hayden said. “You know the first play, the first snap, the first hit, it was like my first game all over again essentially because it had been so long.”
Not playing any games in 2020 hurt the team on the field, but Goodwin points out it hurt the organization’s bottom line as well.
“With our season canceled last year, we had spent three quarters or more of our entire year’s budget and we’d been practicing and doing all of that without any real opportunity to sell season tickets, merchandise,” she said. “We pretty much lost all of our lines of revenue.”
Those financial problems carried over into this year. That, along with what Goodwin describes as a “fire drill” of making plans around COVID-19, has made just playing feel like a miracle.
But the Renegades picked up where they left off, dominating their opponents and cruising to a perfect record so far.
This week, the team, almost completely vaccinated, will finally have a chance to relax a bit and just play football. Whether Boston wins or loses against the Minnesota Vixen, the Renegades will have a story to tell: Not many folks can say they flew first class on Kraft Air. For Goodwin, though, what really matters has nothing to do with the plane.
“I mean the plane’s cool and all that’s great, but the fact that they actually held a meeting with Bob Kraft and their staff about our team, I can’t put into words how long we’ve hoped that that would happen,” she said. “But I think it speak volumes about our organization that the Patriots like the product that they see, on the field, off the field. And our hard work of trying to do that season after season is starting to pay off.”
Offering to fly the team to Canton on Thursday was nice, but Goodwin said Kraft gave them a caveat for a return trip: They’ll need a W to board the plane.