In a season full of possible fairytale endings, Joe Burrow is close to stealing the show. After lurking in the league’s basement, Burrow has led the Cincinnati Bengals to Super Bowl 56 against the odds. Before the game, most online sportsbooks had the Bengals as +800 underdogs to beat the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game.
The star quarterback was, as he has been throughout the last six months, unfazed by the oddsmakers’ predictions. His effectiveness lies in his ability to produce, no matter the conditions. Despite frequent poor play-calls, a lack of protection, and a defense that dedicates most of its resources to receiver Ja’Marr Chase, Burrow keeps it moving.
Time and again, the 25-year-old has avoided pressure and extended plays and drives to gift his team point-scoring chances. Although he’s not a supreme athlete, his clever movement has been the key to the Bengals’ resurrection in the last six months.
As news circulated that Tom Brady was thinking of retiring (with NFL sportsbooks even offering odds on it), Burrow stepped up to the plate against Kansas City to herald in the changing of the guard. Brady is seen by many as the heir to his hero Joe Montana. Now it seems the NFL has found an heir to ‘Tom Terrific’. Burrow has shown that he can raise his game in the biggest moments and keep a cool head under pressure to transform the Cincinnati Bengals franchise. Sound familiar?
Also, as only two quarterbacks have won the FBS National Championship and a Super Bowl title – Montana and Joe Namath – Burrow even has a chance to do something Brady couldn’t on February 14.
Another Underdog Win for The Bengals
Most Cincinnati fans will remember last Sunday’s AFC Championship game for Burrow’s incredible performance. Kansas City fans, however, will see it as a missed opportunity. Throughout the first half, the Chiefs looked unstoppable. Mahomes was living up to the hype, the run-game was in full flow, and their defense contained Burrow, Chase, and Joe Mixon by cutting the supply line from the quarterback to receiver with bodies at the line of scrimmage.
Yet, the game turned on its head. A poor fourth-down call from the Chiefs’ coaching staff made them go for a touchdown instead of a field goal that would have increased their half-time lead from 11 to 14 points.
Like in their Week 17 win against the Chiefs, the Bengals adjusted their defense in the second half to lure the Chiefs into running the ball. Once again, Patrick Mahomes opted to pass short, which slowed down proceedings. Cincinnati then eased off the pressure to make Mahomes hold onto the ball. Consequently, the Chiefs’ offense deteriorated into a freelancing mess – Mahomes completed just nine of 19 passes for 55 yards and failed to throw even one touchdown in the second half.
This spell zapped the Kansas City quarterback’s confidence. He became tentative in the pocket, slow in making decisions, and wandered into pressure. Before this matchup, he had only tossed one interception in a playoff game. In this game, he threw two: one to set up Burrow and the Cincy offense in scoring range to change the tide of the game; one in overtime to gift Cincinnatti a shot to walk off. Mahomes’ sloppy display let Burrow use his great movement to extend plays. The QB got four first downs on four rushing attempts to help the Bengals to a 27-24 victory over the pregame Super Bowl favorites.
It’s only taken 21 months for the Ohioan native to win the hearts of Bengals fans. His performances on the field have impressed the older fan base, and his flashy pre-game outfits have wooed younger fans hungry for a player with personality.
Before the win on Sunday, Burrow built upon his growing legend status when speaking to the media: “I’m tired of the underdog narrative. We’ve got good players, good coaches.”
Since joining, the NFL’s new ‘Mr. Cool’ has worked his magic to take what was recently the worst team in the league to the biggest game in football. All that stands in the way of a fairytale ending for Cincinatti is Matthew Stafford’s LA Rams – who’ll be playing at home. Easy, it won’t be. But with Burrow in the team, some Bengals fans will already be making plans for the victory boat parade.
Why USL2 is the Coolest Soccer League in the USA
Soccer continues to grow in popularity in the USA. The most obvious signs of this are in the MLS (Major League Soccer), which has expanded to 28 teams, with two more franchises scheduled to join by 2023. New teams such as LAFC, Austin FC, and Charlotte FC, who broke the MLS attendance record in their first game, have been well received by their local communities. In addition, they have helped to raise the profile of the sport with some clever branding and community engagement.
The MLS has also picked up many new fans from abroad. The creation of fan groups, inspired by European “Ultras”, has resulted in a unique atmosphere. At first, this seemed manufactured, but it has taken on a life of its own. Many MLS teams are adopted by the local Hispanic communities, but they have also gained popularity amongst the LGBT communities, with rainbow pride flags now a regular feature in stadiums across the country.
However, it’s not just the Major League that has developed a cult following. In the lower leagues, there are some incredible soccer communities developing. The USL2 (United Soccer League Two) is a hotbed of cult teams, cool branding, and community spirit.
One such team is the Minneapolis City Soccer Club. The club is known as the Crows, and this is reflected in their logo, which was on a shortlist of five in a vote for the best crest in the league. Their Citizens support group are among the most loyal in the division and their groundbreaking soccer shirts are sought by collectors across the globe. The community-run club previously competed in the NPSL (National Premier Soccer League), winning the North Conference in 2018, 2019, and 2021. They stepped up to the USL2 in 2022.
A new look for West Virginia
Another new name to appear in 2021 was West Virginia United, which reached the conference playoffs. West Virginia has always lacked any major league sports teams but has a thriving college sports scene. It is also becoming a major destination for sports and casino gambling in the east of the country thanks to its five West Virginia online casinos, which offer online sports wagering. This growth in the gambling sector is expected to have a knock-on effect on the sports scene as more revenue is generated in the region. Like Minneapolis, West Virginia has also nailed their branding with a super cool logo that pays pay homage to the blue ridge mountains. The rebranding coincided with a kit deal with major sports brand Puma.
The ink has yet to dry but we are incredibly excited about this one! We have penned our new apparel partnership with @PUMA !! We couldn’t have imagined a better partner to display our badge and colors #WVUTD 🟢🔵⚪️ pic.twitter.com/MiBWqsvUVx
— West Virginia United (@wvutd) May 7, 2021
The team began life as West Virginia Chaos in 2003 before merging with the youth teams of Charleston FC and Fury Soccer Club to form West Virginia Alliance FC in 2018. They joined USL2 in 2019 and it is hoped that the latest change of name will be permanent as the club looks to provide a stable first-team environment in the fourth tier of the US soccer, as well as a development team in the USL Academy system.
Surprisingly, West Virginia United did not make the final shortlist for the best new crest in the USL2 poll. Nonetheless, they were up against some stiff competition, most notably, winners One Knoxville SC who made a brilliant video to show how their crest was designed.
Magic behind the crest! pic.twitter.com/7nnZNadUOF
— One Knoxville SC (@OneKnoxSC) August 19, 2021
Other teams featured in the vote were Louisiana-based Blue Goose SC, Ballard FC of Washington, and Vermont Green FC, but these teams are about more than just branding.
In the tier above (USL1), there are also some cult clubs including Forward Madison FC, the self-styled “world’s second favorite team.” They made an instant impact after launching in 2019 thanks to their smart social media work and colorful kit designs, but it is USL2 that is leading the way in the fast-growing world of cult community soccer clubs.
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