Ray Bentley, Beat Writer
The year 2019 is rapidly approaching an end, and for the Simulation Football League, it was nothing short of amazing. Two successful seasons in the books, including a champion three-peating, a new champion rising to the top of the heap, and perhaps most shocking of all, a television deal with a live, televised draft for Season 14. Looking back on it all, it was a pretty amazing year, with surprises around almost every corner. To all of you in the Simulation Football League, enjoy reflecting on the year past as we look forward to the future together!
In January of 2019, the Simulation Football League’s 12th Season kicked off in grand style as the Baltimore Vultures visited the two-time (at the time) championship winning Alaska Storm. While the Vultures walked out of The Eye with a 23-10 victory, it would eventually be the Storm that stood victorious at the end of the season; the black eye of Week 1 a distant memory at that point.
From February 3rd until the 16th, the Mexico City Aztecs scored an astounding 89 unanswered points. During that time span, they shut out an opponent at home and then on the road, allowing this writer’s head to expand exponentially. Fortunately for everyone, on the 16th the Tallahassee Pride would boot a field goal through the uprights against the Aztecs, ending the short-lived reign of terror from down south.
Oh, my goodness. Where to begin. The best I can really do is to point you at this article here which details every single absolutely bonkers playoff scenario going into the final week of the season. Suffice it to say that even with this primer, everything all came down to the very last game of the season to decide who was playing where and at what seed. After all the dust finally settled, the Alaska Storm were once again seeded first, and woe befell anyone who stood in their way on the path to a third championship.
April 22. The 11-3 Denver Nightwings, at the second seed, traveled to the first-seeded Alaska Storm to do battle in the league’s first inclement weather championship game. A thriller of a game saw both teams in equal measure vying for the gold, but in the end, the pedigree of championship was too much for the Nightwings, and the Alaska Storm became the first franchise in league history to win three back-to-back championships with a 35-37 win in The Eye. After the championship, the Indianapolis Spitfire moved to Charleston, South Carolina, to set up shop as the Predators.
Dallas’ MVP Zack Sandlin and ancient curmudgeon MVP Ray Bentley matched wits against each other in a hilariously lopsided Pro Bowl to start the month. The game itself opened with a Hail Mary offense against a goal line defense, and only got worse from there. Down 0-17 at halftime, Bentley’s team rallied and staged an improbable 24 point comeback, capturing the title as well as MVP… for player Zack Sandlin. That same month, his team would be re-branded as the Seattle Tyrants, with ownership changing from Steven Mullenax to Crash Combs. Sporting a fierce blue-and-green color scheme as well as a Tyrannosaurus Rex emblem, the Tyrants would prove to be very fearsome indeed in Season 13.
The Simulation Football League’s branding got a leg up from their partnership with Sector Six Studios, with a new online shop being featured at https://sectorsixapparel.com/pages/SFL. With more teams joining every month, you too can rock SFL branded apparel, as well as that of some of your favorite teams. There was even a handsome Christmas Sweater that was shown off in all its glory during the December Season 14 Live Draft Show, but… I’m getting ahead of myself here. The Season 13 Draft was also held this month, with St. Louis choosing Maur Rivers first overall in a surprising choice – as Rivers played defense, and the Gladiators were in need of a quarterback!
Season 13 began in earnest on July 6th, with the New Orleans Pharaohs visiting the three time champion Alaska Storm. The game was a runaway for the Alaska Storm at 7-40, and for the first two weeks all was well. That was before the league descended onto the city of Atlanta between July 25th and 27th for their second annual convention. For three glorious days, a portion of the league’s members congregated to celebrate the league, welcome new members into the Hall of Fame, and play some of the most intense, low-scoring rounds of bowling human history has ever seen. For a recap of the event, see here to get an insider’s take on what went down in the southern state of Georgia.
The Simulation Football League partners with Eleven Sports / For the Fans to broadcast games on their channels, which are available on providers around the globe. A surge of rookies joining thanks to the new broadcasting agreement has the side-effect of creating the Couch-to-Field program, where rookies can occupy a non-contract space on a team for a season and get the idea of what a Simulation Football League career is like. Rosters were expanded from 12 to 15 to accommodate the new players, and have since been expanded to 17 total currently.
September 23, 2019. Chicago, Illinois. The Chicago Wildcats, a team heavily favored to go far in the playoffs, hosted the Houston Hyenas in a game many wrote off as an easy victory. At the end of the game, the Wildcats were looking at a 21-20 loss and a potential Wildcard berth, if any! The Hyenas, on the other hand would begin one of the most improbable runs to the postseason in SFL history, wherein the Hyenas would take down three postseason heavyweights with the Wildcats, Aztecs and Storm falling and allowing Houston to sneak into the postseason with the 10th seed. Their opponent? The very same team that allowed them to start their run, the Wildcats.
The Denver Nightwings host Crash Combs’ Seattle Tyrants in the Simulation Football League’s 13th Championship game, which was the first to be shown on television. While the Tyrants put up a noble fight, Denver proved why they held the top seed, as they tore away in the second half for a 24-35 victory. Jeremy Vega’s team became the first new team since Season 10’s Alaska Storm to win the championship, but with his announcement that he would be retiring from coaching, will the Nightwings be back in the big dance come Spring 2020? Only time will tell.
Andrew Rastelli became the first person in league history to beat the Commissioner at his own game, securing a 20-33 victory in the Season 13 Pro Bowl over Irvine’s Oakland Venom. Riley Porter of Sioux Falls ended up taking home the Pro Bowl MVP award as the San Diego Thunder rumbled to a decisive victory in the first of hopefully many Championship Playbook matchups – Cam Irvine’s playbook was Alaska’s Season 12 winning playbook, while Rastelli used the pre-progression Mexico City Aztecs book from Season 9. Meanwhile, the Alaska Storm headed south to take on a sunnier disposition as the Florida Storm, while the Tallahassee Pride did a slight interstate shuffle and became the Jacksonville Kings. Not to mention Eddie Gauge left Houston for a warmer climate, taking the Oklahoma City Renegades to the Arizona desert heat to become the Scorpions. The question going into 2020 is: which will be the deadliest?
With Season 14 just around the annual bend, the Draft was looming larger than ever on the horizon. Especially after the deal made back in August with Eleven Sports / FTF Next. On December 14th, a crew of assembled SFL officials, players, owners and rookies gathered for the Season 14 Draft in Woburn, Massachusetts. Over the course of two hours, twenty picks were made, as well as three rookie interviews (all whom ended up being drafted!), and so much going on it could make you (or, really, me) scream. The St. Louis Gladiators selected quarterback Johnny Pichler first overall, and he was there on hand to receive a handshake and a team hat from the Commissioner himself, Cameron Irvine. Most of the draft can be viewed here at the FTFNext Twitch channel.
After such an eventful year, it’s hard to imagine how 2019 will be topped, but rest assured the SFL is always pushing forward. We’ll leave you tonight with a quote from Commissioner Irvine, and the well-wishes from all of us here at the Beat Team and at SFL Headquarters. When asked about the upcoming year, Cam had this to say:
2020 will be a landmark year for the SFL. We’ll be adding new features, adding new gear, adding new teams and will always continue to enhance our player’s experience through our awesome television partners. Get ready, Seasons 14 and 15 will be the best ever.