- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 5, 2020

Rahim Moore played in plenty of stadiums around the country during his five seasons in the NFL. But the DC Defenders safety said Audi Field, the Defenders’ home field in Southeast Washington, and the fans that have showed up there were among the best he’s ever seen.

“They’re loud, man. For a minute I thought the XFL paid them to be loud,” Moore said. “I was shocked.”

The Defenders are back in town this Sunday to host the Eastern Conference-leading St. Louis BattleHawks in Week 5 of the XFL’s inaugural season. With the team 2-0 at home and 0-2 on the road, fans likely aren’t the only ones happy to see the Defenders back on home turf.

In turn, it’s not just the Defenders who appear to have a distinct home-field advantage. Through four weeks and 16 games of the XFL’s debut season, home teams are 11-5. DC, St. Louis, New York and Houston are all 2-0 at home.

While both game attendance and TV ratings alike ticked slightly down in Week 4, the XFL’s eight fan bases are now established and showing up to create game-day atmospheres that impress and inspire their players and coaches.

Defenders coach Pep Hamilton has taken to calling DC’s fans the “12-pack.” Is that a take on the so-called 12th man? A reference to how certain alcoholic beverages are commonly sold?

“That’s just something that we’re having fun with,” Hamilton said. “We appreciate the fans and we appreciate the energy that our fans bring on game day. I think it makes all the difference with our players. They’ll tell you firsthand that the energy that we get from our fan base, it fuels them not only emotionally but it gets them fired up and excited about giving the fans more reason to celebrate.”

The Defenders hosted the league’s inaugural game on Feb. 8, a 31-19 win over the Seattle Dragons, and followed that up a week later with a home shutout of the New York Guardians. But then the offense went cold on the road as the Defenders lost at Los Angeles, 39-9, and Tampa Bay, 25-0.

Quarterback Cardale Jones said losing on the road wasn’t a matter of raucous fans creating a tough environment.

“I think we got the best home-field advantage and definitely the best fans overall,” he said. “We just didn’t execute (on the road).”

But the team is nonetheless happy to be back in the friendly confines of Audi Field. Hamilton and team president Erik A. Moses each put out a call on social media early this week, reminding fans to get loud at Sunday’s game.

“We have superfans already who have dressed up and taken on different identities,” Moses told The Washington Times. “We have kids and families coming to our games and making their own battle shields. We’ve got adults painting their faces and making costumes and doing stuff like that. The passion that we have seen of our fan base and their attachment to this team, it feels like the kind of passion you see from fans who have been following a team for decades.”

The XFL’s best week for attendance was Week 3, when the four games combined for 81,942 fans thanks to home games for both Seattle and St. Louis.

Seattle is a city known for its sports fans’ passion from the NFL to Major League Soccer. St. Louis, meanwhile, lost the NFL’s Rams to Los Angeles five years ago. The city welcomed the XFL’s BattleHawks to the Rams’ former home, The Dome at America’s Center, with crowds of 29,554 and 27,527, two of the three best single-game attendance figures so far.

That still pales in comparison to the NFL and its stadiums that hold between 60,000 and 100,000 people. But Moore pointed out that Audi Field and its capacity of 20,000 create a different sort of atmosphere.

“It’s funny, when you’re in there, you can see everybody (in the stands),” Moore said. “I think that’s what makes it so great … I saw everybody and their shields. They’re just so in-tune. They love football.”

“Our crowds for football, because you’re so close to the field and it feels so intimate of a building, the energy in there is just infectious and it’s really great,” Moses added.

Moses said the Defenders’ ticket sales have become progressively “more robust” since about a month before the season started. Tickets are still available for the rest of the season, and as the weather warms it would be little surprise if the Defenders pulled off their first sellout after crowds of 17,163 for Week 1 and 15,031 in Week 2.

With the Defenders at 2-2 and the BattleHawks 3-1, Sunday’s matchup will decide first place in the conference at the midway point of the season.

“We have a great opponent coming in that are hitting on all cylinders,” Moore said, also calling St. Louis quarterback Jordan Ta’amu “spectacular.”

“So we got our hands full. So what better time to play than right in front of our home fans?”


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