Bringing football back to St. Louis: Battlehawks enter season three with promise and fanfare

| Staff Writer

Illustration by Manuel Lopez | Student Life

Nearly a decade ago, after the 2015 National Football League (NFL) season, St. Louis’ football team, the Rams, abandoned the city for Los Angeles. It probably did not help that only a few short years later, the Rams would win their second Super Bowl in franchise history. Instead of taking place under the arch, the victory parade happened near the Pacific coastline, with many St. Louisans left feeling angered and empty. However, the city has begun to embrace a new team.

The St. Louis Battlehawks reside in an eight-team league called the United Football League (UFL), newly created and currently undergoing its inaugural season after merging two other football leagues, the XFL and the United States Football League (USFL). The Battlehawks were previously part of the XFL, but due to the pandemic, were only able to play five games in the inaugural 2020 season, finishing with a 3-2 record, before all play was suspended until this past year. 

The city of St. Louis has certainly shown support to their new team. The Battlehawks have thus far led all UFL teams in attendance, social media followers, and television viewership. The team was forced to open up more seats to fans in The Dome, where the Battlehawks play their home games, after two consecutive sellouts back in 2020. The team averages over 35,000 fans in attendance per game, more than many St. Louis Cardinals games manage to gain in viewership, with all seven home games the Battlehawks hosted last year ranking in the Top 8 of UFL attendance. The team was so popular that their average attendance more than doubled the second-place DC Defenders. At their last game, on April 6, the team set a new record with 40,000 fans in attendance. St. Louis wanted a football team — now it has one.

“I’m really excited for us to have a football team again to support,” Missouri native and former Rams fan sophomore Oliver Tramel said. “We haven’t had football since the Rams left, but I’m definitely gonna tune in — it’s a pretty clutch situation.”

In the 2023 season, the Battlehawks ended with a strong 7-3 record, but missed the playoffs altogether due to a tiebreaker with the Seattle Sea Dragons. Now, they look for a bounceback season, hoping to put it all together and reach the postseason. Led by quarterback A.J. McCarron — who led The University of Alabama to back-to-back college football national championship games in 2012 and 2013 and was drafted in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft to the Cincinnati Bengals — the Battlehawks are poised for another strong season. McCarron threw for 24 touchdowns and just six interceptions in only nine games played last year, with a 68.8% completion percentage to go along with 2,150 passing yards. McCarron’s touchdown total was enough to lead the league, and his continued success will be crucial to the Battlehawks’ playoff hopes. 

The road to the championship won’t be easy, however. The Battlehawks will have to cope with the loss of lead running back Brian Hill. Hill, a former NFL player, led the team last year in rushing yards, attempts, and yards per attempt, but is not back on the team for the 2024 season. Now, the Battlehawks look to Wayne Gallman, another former NFL player. He had a quiet debut in the season opener with 40 yards rushing and no touchdowns, but his success will be necessary if the Battlehawks want to have a chance at the title. 

To make the playoffs, the Battlehawks will need to finish in the Top 2 out of the four teams in the XFL division. Last year, despite being 7-3, they missed out on the big dance because of their strong division, while the 4-6 Arlington Renegades, who were in the other division, made the playoffs and went on to win the championship. The divisions were reworked this year due to the merger and are incredibly important if St. Louis wants to win the title. The Battlehawks got the 2024 season off on a good foot, squeaking out a 27-24 win against the Renegades, now a divisional opponent, and bouncing back from a tough 18-16 loss against the Michigan Panthers to bring their record to 1-1. 

As the season progresses, only time will tell if the Battlehawks can make it far into the postseason. But no matter how the team finishes, they now hold an additional responsibility: the Battlehawks are St. Louis’ team and have brought something that the city has been missing for the past few years. Now, they look to create a new legacy of football and be a trailblazer for the UFL in captivating St. Louis.

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