Boston Renegades celebrate a victory
The Boston Renegades celebrate a victory over the D.C. Divas on June 29, 2019, the last Renegades home game before the global pandemic suspended play in the Women's Football Alliance for nearly two years. ©Mitzi Velez Lorenzana

Many Great Returns

Renegades and Dark Angels ready to play after a long suspension due to coronavirus

May 4, 2021

679 days. SIX HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-NINE DAYS.

When the season opener arrives on Saturday, May 8, that’s how long it will have been since the Boston Renegades took the field for a home game at Harry della Russo Stadium in Revere.

The need for social distancing amidst a global pandemic deeply impacted nearly every aspect of human life. Amongst many other events and happenings, the entire 2020 season for the Renegades and the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) was cancelled. Coronavirus has profoundly changed how teams operate, communicate, practice, and prepare so that football can resume safely.

And women’s football finally resumes at 6 pm on Saturday as the Renegades play host to the Detroit Dark Angels. While the long postponed sights and sounds of a simple football game will feel familiar, the ongoing need for social safety precautions will be omnipresent. The opening kickoff will be celebrated as a return, in some ways, to normalcy, while also marking the start of what will surely be an unusual season.

Another thing that makes this season unique for the Renegades is their first opponent. The Renegades and the Dark Angels have never before played against each other, yet the history between the two football programs stretches back nearly twenty years.

THE SUPHER BOWL
Detroit Demolition fullback stretches for a touchdown.
Detroit Demolition fullback Anne Yoches tries to cross the goal line in a game against the Cleveland Fusion in 2003. Amy Leang, Detroit Free Press

In 2002, a newly formed team named the Detroit Danger skyrocketed to the national championship game — an astonishing feat for a team in its first year of existence. Later renamed the Demolition, the team finished the most dominant stretch of play in the history of women’s football. From 2002 to 2007, the team compiled a 63-3 record including 52 consecutive wins. They appeared in six straight league title games, winning five. The Demolition became and have remained the standard of excellence against which all women’s football teams are measured.

With extensive advertising and promotion, a large corporate sponsor, and a Comcast cable television broadcast deal, the 2002 National Women’s Football League (NWFL) championship game — billed as the Essere SupHer Bowl — was the biggest event in women’s football to that point and perhaps ever. The game was well attended with over 5,200 spectators in the stands at Pine-Richland Stadium near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Also in attendance at that game: The Massachusetts Mutiny.

The Mutiny lost the game 48-30.

Renegades linebacker Charlene Casey is the only active player to have been on the Mutiny roster in 2002, but she did not make the trip with the team to the SupHer Bowl due to a torn Achilles tendon.

The Mutiny, of course, are one of the forerunners of the Boston Renegades. In 2001, the aptly named Mutiny were the first of three teams to splinter from the New England Storm, the region’s original women’s football team.

There is little doubt that the Mutiny would have loved a rematch. But they never made it back to the league championship game, and they never faced Detroit again. The Mutiny became The Boston Militia in 2008 and the Demolition abruptly ceased operations after the 2009 season.

Women’s football in Detroit was brought back to life in the form of the Dark Angels in 2010. Under circumstances similar to the Dark Angels, the Renegades formed in 2015 to keep women’s football alive in Boston after the sudden discontinuation of the three-time champion Militia.

Since then, the Renegades have added two more national championship rings to Boston’s legacy in 2018 and 2019. The Dark Angels seek their first national championship for Detroit since 2007. And in all this time, the teams never met on the gridiron.

MATCH GAME

Led by President Alecia Sweeney and Head Coach Keith Thomas since 2016, the Dark Angels have developed into one of the WFA’s top teams, ranking #7 overall at the end of 2019.

Detroit Dark Angels
The Detroit Dark Angels celebrate their 2019 conference championship victory.

Competing in Division II, Detroit became conference champions with an upset win over the Pittsburgh Passion. They were unable to topple the St. Louis Slam in the Division II title game, but reaching the 2019 WFA national championship gave the Dark Angels an opportunity to meet and form new bonds with the Renegades, who defeated the Cali War in the Division I final that same weekend.

“We met them when we went to Denver (for the championship),” says Detroit Running Back Tatyhana Blaise. “They’re a great group of women, and definitely a great team.”

“We met some of the coaches and players during championship weekend in Colorado,” says Renegades Head Coach John Johnson. “A common theme in our conversations was ‘wouldn’t it be awesome if we could play each other?'”

Ultimately, it is those newly formed bonds and a mutual desire for strong competition that finally brings the Boston and Detroit teams together for a game nearly 19 years after the SupHer Bowl.

“We are big fans of football played the right way, and Detroit definitely does it right; a well-run organization with good coaching and tough physical players,” says Johnson.

“We are excited to play a well-known and recognized team,” says Blaise. “We don’t expect anything less than a fight and to really get down to it.

Despite a global pandemic that kept people apart and wiped out an entire season of play, the social bonds formed before the pandemic are bearing fruit at the onset of the 2021 season. It is ironic and poetic. And hopefully it is a harbinger of good things to come for both teams.

“Everyone is excited to get back on the field and just play after being off for almost two years,” says Blaise. “We are excited to get back (to the finals). We want to come out as champions.”

 

Portions of this article were previously published on Gridiron Blitz episode 370

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