By Nick “The Sambucan Stallion” La Salla
The Atlanta Swarm walked into S15 the reigning champions of the SFL. Thanks to the high powered combination of then-QB Marcus Dunhill, WR Siege Falco and the 4h ranked RB in the league, BDG Hollewood, they finished S14 1st in total offense with 4,885 combined yards and 42 touchdowns. On the opposite side of the ball, the Swarm also boasted the 4th stingiest defense, allowing only 20.5 points per game, while their offense scored in excess of 20 points in 11 of their 12 regular season games.
Such outright domination of virtually all their opponents is almost unheard of in the SFL, where most games stay interesting until the very last second has ticked off the clock. For the Swarm, who finished the season 10-2, it was almost like they played on another level.
“Going into S14, I knew we were in a position to make a deep run with all the advancements we had made with our player’s progressions,” Swarm owner Mark Chisholm recalls. “We were confident with the time spent [preparing] that our playbook had evolved into what we needed it to be.”
But when S14 began, as confident as Chisholm may have been, it was anything but guaranteed his Swarm would become the dominating ball club of the SFL. They had a very strong offense, sure – Dunhill, Hollewood, Falco, and TE Jamaal Wooding — but something important was missing: their defense faltered, finishing 12th in overall defense and allowing a total of 312 points.
The Swarm played to their strengths, finishing a still respectable 7-5 only to be eliminated from the playoffs by their rivals, the Baltimore Vultures, in a heartbreaking 20-30 loss.
During the offseason, Dunhill approached Chisholm and announced his intention to retire his on-the-field persona so he could take a job as the SFL’s Director of Player Personnel. Fortunately, thanks to Chisholm’s repeated reassurances, Dunhill decided to stick around for what would be the biggest season of his career – including a career best 105.0 QB rating.
“We knew that if we got a hot start to the season, we would be there at the final table holding a flush,” Chisholm recalls. “To our surprise, it happened to be a royal flush.”
Season 14 opened with a bang on Oct. 16th, 2019. In a hard fought matchup with the Jacksonville Kings, they emerged the winner 27-20. The following week, the Swarm dominated the Las Vegas Fury, 6-35. The third week was a little closer with a score 30-42, but the Mexico City Aztecs were no match for the Swarm’s developed offense.
3-0 was a great way to start the new season, but Week 4 was a whole other ballgame, with the Swarm facing the Vultures in their first matchup since the S13 playoffs. It was a chance for Atlanta and Chisholm to make a decisive case for the championship, but the Vultures were more than ready for them. The usually prolific Dunhill was intercepted twice, sacked once and held under 200 passing yards for the first time that season. The Swarm lost to the Vultures, 14-31.
The Swarm spent little time licking their wounds. With only a third of the season complete, there was still plenty of time for the team to gel, and Chisholm knew it was up to him to rally his team.
“I knew after the Baltimore loss we were going to the playoffs,” Chisholm says. “At that moment I knew I had to flip that switch and engage the altered beast. No one was gonna work harder or smarter than me the rest of the season.”
Joshua Williams, DT, never lost hope. “[Chisholm] pushes and challenges everyone in the Atlanta Swarm organization to be a positive leader,” he says.
Wooding agrees. The energy and teamwork behind the scenes in the Atlanta locker room created an environment in which the players could accept the loss and push their performances to the next level. “It’s really a family, we all come together and achieve our goals. We always show up and support our team.”
And show up they did. The Swarm offense and defense hit their stride and they manhandled their next seven opponents.
“We really had things clicking everywhere,” Wooding says. “With BDG [Hollewood, RB] in the backfield and then you add Dunhill and Falco and Chisholm, it was hard to game plan against us.”
The closest any team got to denting the winning streak was the Chicago Wildcats, but the Swarm managed a 6-3 victory in what was otherwise a defensive spectacle.
As the season progressed, the team began to revel in its strengths and adjust to improve their weaknesses. Williams was no longer just a defensive tackle; he became a force of nature, burying opposing quarterbacks in the turf 14 times and making 45 tackles all over the field. Strong safety Aaron Lee intercepted opponent passes 8 times, including 3 in the aforementioned Wildcats game, directly contributing to that hard fought victory.
“We had a good Run/Stop defense and if you threw deep on us you’d regret it,” Williams adds.
The Swarm’s only other game lost was to the Las Vegas Fury in Week 12 to close out the season. Chisholm says the loss was a clever subterfuge to fool his next opponent. Entering Week 12 with a 10-1 record, it was already common knowledge the Swarm would earn a first week bye in the playoffs. “I’ll drop a gem on you here,” Chisholm confides. “Most coaches I’ve sat back and listened to around the league don’t go back multiple games to prep for their next opponent. Everything I inserted that week was nothing more than smoke and mirrors. So I like to think it worked.”
It apparently did because the Swarm played their first playoff game of the season on April 15th, 2020 against the Chicago Wildcats and won by a landslide, 7-29. Hollewood led the charge, rushing 34 times for 150 yards. Dunhill went 27 of 34 for 279 yards and two touchdowns. It was by and large a spotless performance for the Swarm, and a prime example of what Swarm football really is.
The semi-finals found the Swarm in a bruising game with the Vancouver Legion, another team who had a great S14. The Swarm were able to overcome the Legion’s best efforts and won 16-24. Hollewood again had a field day, rushing 28 times for 144 yards and two touchdowns.
Looming next was the SFL championship game, played April 26th against the Sioux Falls Sparrows. Some teams may have felt pressure to perform at such a high level, or at least second guess their game plans, but not Chisholm. “My playbook was done before I knew who my opponent was gonna be,” he says.
Pregame festivities included the official announcement of Dunhill’s retirement following the championship game’s conclusion. It would be a fittingly climactic game to end an already great career.
The first half of the championship game was tight, with both teams managing a meager field goal apiece until Dunhill threw a touchdown pass to Hollewood at its completion. Even though the momentum clearly rode with Atlanta at the start of the second half, it was only a one score ballgame. As the third quarter ran on into the fourth, however, the Swarm managed to throttle the Sparrows’ offense and add 17 points to their lead.
“You just felt the momentum shift from the first half and now they had to play right into our defensive scheme,” Chisholm says. “I knew we were gonna be champions late in the 3rd quarter of the game.”
Dunhill led the Swarm to their first SFL championship with a 10-27 victory, completing 27 passes of 38 attempts for 282 passing yards, three touchdowns and only one interception. In a remarkable finale, Dunhill was named the MVP of the game.
“That moment was truly spectacular,” Chisholm says. “Sharing it with the guys, like my brother, Boo and Hollewood, who’s my brother from another mother, made it that more special. Helping Marcus go out on top is what put it over the edge for me. I wish we could have all been in a room together watching it ’cause I was brought to tears when I heard Cam announce the Atlanta Swarm as S14 champions.”
It was a long, hard road, but through determination and on-field domination, the Atlanta Swarm made it happen. “There is no better accomplishment in my opinion,” Wooding says. “And even though I got injured early on in the game, I never lost faith in my team to pull it off.”
Williams was thrilled to become an SFL champion, being a part of the Swarm is about more than just a sum of their victories. “The best thing about being with the Swarm is the trust, friendship, brotherhood, and loyalty that everyone has for each other.”
* * * * * *
A long offseason over, the Atlanta Swarm of S14 are no more, replaced by a new roster of hungry players. There are many returning members, including the core of their offense, with the exception of Dunhill, of course. In his place stands Bryant Dynasty, who earned his stripes by playing for the Lincoln Rattlesnakes in the debut season of the SFLm and leading his team to a nailbiting S15 game one victory 32-35 at home.
The new Swarm, tasked with defending their SFL championship, have their next test this Sunday against the Sioux Falls Sparrows. Will Dynasty be able to rise to the occasion again against another tough team?
Maybe, maybe not. But teams rally around each other, performances bounce off one another. Teams emerge from the talents of a crew of strangers.
Their return trip to the championship, if there is to be one, may have begun against the Vultures, but the competition won’t be getting any easier any time soon. “We accept the S15 challenge,” Chisholm says. “#TogetherweSWARM.”
Nick “The Sambucan Stallion” La Salla is the starting fullback (#41), SFL content creator and lead reporter for the AZ Scorpions. His previous writing credits include the Arizona Scorpions blog, The Daily Sting, the Gingernuts of Horror, Rock Valley College Voices magazine, the Rockford Register Star newspaper and Famous Monsters of Film Land magazine. He works as a screenwriter and script consultant when he’s not busy making epic blocks.
Much thanks are owed to Swarm owner Mark Chisholm, TE Jamaal Wooding and DT Joshua Williams.