(PHOENIX) — Before fans flocked to Phoenix for this weekend’s Super Bowl, the city hosted another major football championship event featuring a different group of hard-hitting players.
The Wheelchair Football League held its second Super Bowl on Tuesday with a match between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Rams.
The league, which was created by the NFL, the Bob Woodruff Foundation and Move United, is made up of athletes with disabilities who compete in wheelchairs, complete with uniforms and helmets of NFL teams.
Many of the players are veterans who were wounded abroad, and for some, like Alex Nguyen, a wide receiver and defensive back for the WFL’s Chiefs, the league has given them a new meaning in life.
“I guess finding sports kind of just turned it around a little bit for me,” Nguyen, who lost his leg while serving in Afghanistan, told ABC News. “Everybody’s got that fire that an able-bodied football player does.”
The league was founded in 2020 and now has 400 athletes in 11 teams across the country. Passes, receptions and throws take place on a 60-yard hard ground, in some cases a parking lot, and tackling is done by touching the upper part of the body.
Bart Salgado, a former Marine who plays for the WFL’s LA Rams, told ABC News there are plenty of times players crash into the pavement.
“Some guys can just get themselves back up. Some guys need a little bit of help,” he said.
The league’s fanbase has been growing throughout the years, according to Anne Marie Dougherty, the CEO of the Bob Woodruff Foundation.
“I saw the championship game last year, [and] I was like, ‘Wow those are some hard hits! OK!’ We’re here for it, those are some great throws,” she said.
Cam Jordan, a defensive end for the New Orleans Saints who attended this week’s championship game, agreed.
“These guys out here smashing into each other with reckless abandon. And I love the mentality,” he told ABC News.
One of the best parts of the league, according to the players, is the new community they’ve grown and the camaraderie they’ve created.
Even though the Chiefs defeated the Rams in the game 7-0, players on both teams said they were ready to celebrate with some post-game drinks.
“Yeah during the game. We might hate each other a little bit,” Nguyen said.
“But it’s just trash-talking and sportsmanship,” Salgado added.
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