In a city of championship-winning sports teams, it’s the Renegades, Boston’s women’s tackle football team, who have a chance to do something no pro team in this city has done since the Bill Russell-led Celtics of the 1960s.
The Renegades will look to win their third straight Women’s Football Alliance title in Canton, Ohio, on Saturday at 6 p.m. against the Minnesota Vixen. And they are getting some help from the Patriots.
The Renegades will travel on the Patriots’ team plane after Robert Kraft offered Renegades owner Molly Goodwin and receiver Adrienne Smith the aircraft on a video call last week.
The Renegades pay to play for the team, including travel. Total fees can be more than a thousand dollars, according to players. Smith, who lives in Manhattan, travels by Greyhound bus to weekly practices and Saturday games. She already had her flight to Ohio booked before Kraft’s surprise.
“It’s absolutely phenomenal. Look at the screenshot of me on that video,” she said, laughing.
Before the Renegades, the Boston Militia were the city’s WFA team, starting in 2008. The Militia were disbanded in 2014, and former players Goodwin, Mia Brickhouse, and Erin Baumgartner founded the Renegades. Since then, the Renegades have been one of the best teams in the WFA. They are on a 22-game winning streak, dating to 2018.
For many of the players, professional football has filled a void. After defensive back Chanté Bonds finished playing basketball at Bentley University, her hunger for competition never faded.
Bonds joined the WFA in 2009 and has had great success. She moved to the Renegades in 2015, was named WFA Defensive Player of the Year in 2017, and league MVP in 2018. She also was MVP of the 2018 championship game.
“Being a college athlete, and then going into adulthood, and trying to kind of find some type of sport that you’re able to play at a high level is tough. I think for female athletes in particular,” said Bonds, who is from Brockton. “So finding a professional football team playing at a high level was a blessing for me.”
Smith always imagined playing football. When she was 7, her father taught her how to throw a perfect spiral, and she fell in love with the game. Growing up, she said she “idolized” quarterbacks and receivers. She models her game after Jerry Rice, her favorite receiver.
“I wanted to be part of those big moments when the crowd holds its breath as the ball is in the air, and then the receiver comes down with a catch, and everyone roars and cheers,” she said. “I get amped up just talking to you about that right now. So, that’s why I love being a wide receiver.”
Smith, who has played in Boston since 2011, has become one of the most important players to play women’s professional football. She has played the game internationally and scored the first touchdown in women’s international tackle football history on a 52-yard catch and run. She is leading the American Flag Football League’s (AFFL) new women’s division in 2021.
Smith also owns three businesses, one being Gridiron Queendom. She created the company for women and girls who love playing football.
“Girls continue to be bullied and persecuted for simply wanting to play the sport of football,” Smith said. “So I created Gridiron Queendom to serve as a safe space as a place where girls and women can go to see the successes that other females are having in football and to feel inspired and to feel as if they’re not alone.”
Smith is confident heading into the championship game.
“We never take any opponent lightly, period, never,” she said. “Any given Sunday, right? So with us, that’s any given Saturday, and we’re preparing as if we’re about to play the New England Patriots. This is for all the marbles, and we are treating it as such.”
Despite their season-long dominance, including a 63-3 win over the Tampa Bay Inferno in the semifinals, general manager Ben Brown said the Renegades still haven’t played a game with which they are totally satisfied. He hopes that comes on Saturday.
Sami Bloom has played defensive back and linebacker since 2016. She said the biggest concern going into the game is preparing inexperienced players. The Renegades’ home field is Harry Della Russo Stadium in Revere, a stark contrast from the 23,000-seat Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium they will be playing at on Saturday.
Preparation leading up to the big game has been the same.
“We truthfully believe that the best opponent that we’re going to face is each other,” Bloom said. “So we work hard every single practice, whether it’s the first practice of the year in January or whether it’s the practice before the championship, we’re always working to get the opposing side better.”
Kris Rhim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.