Electrifying, astonishing, thrilling, and league defining. Those are four adjectives that could be used to describe Joe Powell’s 84-yard kick return touchdown for the St. Louis BattleHawks in a February 23rd game against the New York Guardians. Powell’s incredible touchdown gave the BattleHawks a 12-3 lead early in the second quarter and brought a sellout crowd of nearly 30,000 to its feet in roaring fashion. The BattleHawks would go on to win the contest by a score of 29-9 in the first XFL game played in the Dome at America’s Center. The XFL in its inaugural rebranded first season did unfortunately have to be cancelled midway through due to COVID19 but nonetheless in terms of excitement and innovation, Powell’s touchdown was the single hallmark moment that defined the 2020 XFL season and everything the XFL wanted to represent.
The whole play started with the new kickoff system implemented by the XFL. Instead of the kickoff team running 50 yards down field at full speed to try and tackle the ball carrier, teams lined up five yards apart from each other at the 30 and 35-yard lines with the exclusion of the kicker and returner. The kicker kicks the ball off and no player can move until the ball is caught. The new kickoff system was a smashing success and many reputable football reporters, analysts, and the like all approved of it and even said they would like to see it added to the NFL and college football. The play itself is safer and there is a bigger likelihood for a big play developing off the kickoff.
With 12:24 remaining in the second quarter of the BattleHawks first ever home game, after making a 53-yard field goal to cut the New York deficit to 6-3, Guardians kicker Matt McCrane took his strides and booted the ball deep on the ensuing kickoff. BattleHawks return man Keith Mumphrey caught the ball outside the right hashmarks at the BattleHawks 10-yard line. I was sitting in section 125 at the time, which is located in the corner behind the endzone where Mumphrey received the ball and where the team enters and exits the field. As soon as he caught the ball, he was near the 10-yard line mark on the field. My immediate thought was “why on earth is he running to the left when he has lane up the right sideline?” Little did I know what would happen next would make the dome go crazy.
Mumphrey would run to the 18-yard line at the left hashmarks and pitch the ball behind him to safety Joe Powell. Powell would catch the ball at the 16-yard line and begin his legendary scamper. Powell picked up some big blocks and was able to weave and avoid tacklers just near the 50-yard line. Powell was off to the races and on his way to the endzone. However, a Guardians player would nearly catch Powell, as he closed in on him near the Guardian five-yard line. He was able to tackle Powell down to the ground, but not before the ball could cross the plane: Touchdown BattleHawks.
The dome went from light noise and slowly ascended into one of the loudest crowd roars I have ever heard at a professional sporting event ever. The dome was going insane and by the noise, you would have thought all 67,277 seats were filled with the KaKaw Nation. The kickoff return touchdown not only brought joy to BattleHawks fans, but to the XFL as a whole. This single play represented the innovation and the excitement all in one that the league wanted and needs to be sustainable. In a poll on the XFL’s Twitter account, Powell’s kick return is on the cusp of being voted the best moment from the XFL season, as it leads the vote 66% to 34% over P.J. Walker’s (Houston Roughnecks) sidearm touchdown throw. The kick return touchdown has been undoubtedly the biggest talked about moment from the 2020 XFL season and we will continue to revel in it until the next season is on the horizon. The XFL had to do something to stand out from past failed secondary football leagues in America and Joe Powell’s touchdown represented everything the XFL needed in a 16 second span on a February St. Louis Sunday afternoon.