Like pioneers at the confluence of two mighty rivers, head coach Anthony Becht and quarterback A.J. McCarron met in St. Louis two years ago and embarked into the wild spring football frontier.

Success was uncertain.

Could the 31-year-old quarterback with a surgically repaired knee hold up? Would the rookie head coach push the right buttons? Would the league avoid the fate of its predecessors and survive more than one season? Could anyone calculate the playoff tiebreakers?

Will the proud fans in St. Louis continue to show up in droves?

Those questions are answered, and the destination is within reach. If the Battlehawks beat San Antonio at The Dome at America’s Center on Sunday night and advance to the inaugural UFL Championship Game, the flood of KaKaws streaming down North Broadway will breach the levees.

But on the eve of St. Louis’ first playoff football game in 19 years, another question comes to mind: Why is a UFL championship so important to Becht, McCarron, and the City of St. Louis?

Becht was a first-round draft pick that enjoyed an 11-year NFL career that included five trips to the postseason. Doesn’t his football resume boast accomplishments more notable than a UFL championship ring?

McCarron was a household name by age 23 after leading the University of Alabama to consecutive BCS National Championships. Even his nine-year NFL career that followed and made him a multi-millionaire feels anticlimactic. Wouldn’t a UFL title be another footnote in his biography?

St. Louisans aren’t starved for championship moments: Mike Jones’ tackle that won Super Bowl XXXIV, David Freese in Game 6, Pat Maroon’s goal in double overtime – that’s all within living memory of those that tailgate hours before kickoff. Doesn’t a minor league football game during baseball season feel small by comparison?

The answer is no on all counts – everyone has unfinished business to resolve.

ST LOUIS, MISSOURI – JUNE 01: AJ Mccarron #10 of the St. Louis Battlehawks looks to pass during the second quarter against the San Antonio Brahmas at The Dome at America’s Center on June 01, 2024 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/UFL/Getty Images)

 

“I wanted to win a championship last year, I didn’t get it. I was pissed off,” Becht said earlier this week, noting the last time he played for a championship was in high school.

“I hate watching – I hate watching the Super Bowl, because I didn’t get to play in it. I’m mad, like still, I didn’t get there, there’s jealousy – you want that shot.”

McCarron returned from a two-game absence last week, and admitted his injured ankle was sore during the second half of the Battlehawks’ 13-12 win over the Brahmas. Asked if he was worried about the risk of reinjury with the NFL season approaching – McCarron played with Cincinnati last year – the veteran QB was unfazed.

“I want to try and win a championship, that’s all I’m worried about. I’m not promised anything after this, and I signed up for it. I’m not going to bail on my teammates. I think the team needs me, so, play through it and then we’ll deal with whatever happens after,” he said.

The Battlehawks will hand out 15,000 rally signs to an anticipated record crowd that could eclipse 40,000 to witness a conference title game for a league that averages 12,820 per game. A nationally televised primetime audience will be treated – again – to a close-up of St. Louis’ love affair with sports.

And it’s not just the fans.

St. Louis Cardinals football veterans returned to watch the Battlehawks beat the D.C. Defenders from a suite at The Dome on May 19. Mike Martz – the architect of the Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf – will be on the radio broadcast on 97.1 FM for Sunday’s game. UFL President Russ Brandon and other league dignitaries are expected to attend.

The Battlehawks beat San Antonio twice this season and each game was tight affair. The keys to victory over such a familiar foe this Sunday are simple.

St. Louis needs more from the offense. McCarron & company managed just 199 total yards against the Brahmas last week and went 2-for-12 on third down – that’s unlikely to cut it this time.

Slow down Jontre Kirklin. St. Louis defense pitched a shutout in the first half but had trouble slowing the Brahmas top wide receiver after the break. Kirklin went 7-for-127 and a touchdown, with most of the damage in the fourth quarter.

Protect McCarron’s bum ankle. Brahmas’ cornerback Teez Tabor made waves this week when he said he intentionally targeted McCarron’s ankle and hoped to knock him out of last week’s game. Becht said the Brahmas’ strategy was “duly noted”.

 

 

 

Andy Carroll

Andy Carroll

Andy Carroll is a freelance sports writer living in the Ozarks with his wife and four great kids. He loves St. Louis, toasted ravioli and minor league baseball. You can follow him on Twitter @carroll_sgf and Instagram @andycarroll505