Allison Cahill has made a habit of quarterbacking championship games. So when she couldn’t lead the Boston Renegades in last year’s Women’s Football Alliance championship against the Minnesota Vixen after suffering a torn Achilles’ earlier in the playoffs, she knew she had to dedicate herself to a comeback, and fast.
“My highest and best use for the team is on the field,” said Cahill.
The Uxbridge native diligently rehabbed for months, returning in time for the Renegades’ first game of this season in April, marking her 20th anniversary playing women’s professional football. On Saturday, Cahill will lead the Renegades (7-0) in yet another WFA semifinal, against the Alabama Fire at Revere’s Harry Della Russo Stadium at 6 p.m., with a victory allowing them to play for their fifth straight league title.
Cahill is back to the form that led to five league MVP awards and 14 All-Star selections since 2003. She leads the WFA in passing, completing 106 of 155 attempts for 1,558 yards and an outstanding 135.2 rating.
Rehabbing was “tedious at times,” acknowledged Cahill, but she wasn’t about to leave the sport on anything but her terms.
“You aren’t able to prepare for the season like you would like to,” said Cahill.
What helped Cahill’s mind-set was the fact that over her career, injuries have been few and far between. She did suffer a broken collarbone in 2016, but otherwise, she has been lucky.
“I’ve been fortunate to play behind a great offensive line,” said Cahill.
At 42, it would have been easy for Cahill to use the injury as an excuse to hang it up. She has cemented her name in the record books, having become the first female quarterback to surpass 100 career victories, as well as win seven championships.
But Cahill only had to think back to her childhood for inspiration to continue.
“It was my childhood dream to play football,” she said. “My dad always said, even though I had two brothers, I was the one who watched Patriots games with him as a kid. He took me to games at the old stadium.”
According to her mother, Pam, Cahill told her parents it was her dream to play football before she was even in grade school. Her parents never discouraged her, allowing her to sign up for flag football in middle school, making her the first female player in Uxbridge’s history. Were there questions about Cahill playing with the boys? Yes, but the Cahills never listened. If their daughter, a stellar athlete at any sport she tried growing up, wanted to play football, she was going to play football.
“They never held me back,” said Cahill. “They could tell that I was passionate.”
Cahill didn’t play football in high school, opting for other sports, including basketball, where she set Uxbridge High’s career scoring record. She continued to a career at Princeton University, where she was team captain.
During Cahill’s senior year, she learned about the New England Storm, which at the time was the area’s women’s pro football team. After graduation, she joined the team. That team eventually became the Mass Mutiny, then the Boston Militia, then transitioned to the Renegades in 2015. The team names and ownership may have changed, but there has been one constant: Cahill at quarterback.
“I don’t know when I started if I would have put myself as playing for 20 years,” said Cahill. “I’ve always asked myself if I’ve regretted missing the things I have because I was playing football, and the answer is no.”
Besides following her childhood dream, continuing her football career has been appealing for Cahill because there’s always something more to learn. “I’m always trying to get better,” said Cahill. “Because playing football is not our full-time job, we have so little time to devote to the game, so there’s always something to learn.”
What Cahill and her teammates are learning this week is a new opponent. They have never faced the Fire (6-0), a team that joined the WFA’s top division this year after a four-year absence from the league. In their previous time in the WFA, they played in lower divisions. (The WFA uses the regulation model, similar to European soccer, where teams can be moved between divisions based on the previous season’s performance.)
The Fire are fourth in the league in offense (36.7 points per game) and defense (allowing just 9.3 per game.) Kelli Smith leads the WFA in rushing, averaging 9.7 yards per carry with 15 touchdowns. Alabama also boasts the league’s top four regular-season sack leaders — Geonecia Thomas (10), Montrice Presley (9), Waynicia Thomas (8), and Kerrie Isom (7.5.)
The Fire present the toughest test yet for the Renegades, who have outscored opponents, 435-57. But Cahill and one of the team’s other offensive stars, running back Ruth Matta, think the Renegades’ depth will power them through.
“We’re surrounded by playmakers everywhere,” said Matta. “On offense, it’s great to see the ball moved around. On defense, they continue to make plays, and it’s all over a great team effort.”
If Cahill and the Renegades can withstand the Fire’s heat, they will advance to their fifth consecutive championship game. Cahill believes the Renegades have cemented their dynasty, and their accomplishments shouldn’t be discounted.
“When men’s dynasties are mentioned, it’s not about the competition they faced or didn’t face, it’s about how hard they worked,” said Cahill. “When women’s sports dynasties are mentioned, it’s always about a lack of competition. I hope we’re remembered as an all-time great team, no matter who we played.”
As for Cahill, she will keep playing as long as she is contributing at a high level.
“I don’t think I’ll ever fall out of love with this sport,” she said.