News & Politics

Everything You Need to Know About the DC Defenders, Washington’s Best Sports Team

The XFL team is 8-1 and has a home playoff game at Audi Field on April 30th.

Photograph courtesy of the DC Defenders.

Outside of the hot-starting Washington Spirit and expected-to-be-solid Washington Mystics, these are tough times for DC professional sports. The Nationals and DC United are rebuilding, the Commanders and Capitals are meh, and the Wizards are, uh, out there Wizarding

However, there’s one local men’s team that looks pretty darn good: your DC Defenders! A member of the XFL—the newish spring football league that’s also a third-time’s-a-charm reboot of the totally extreme early aughts league originally created and owned by pro wrestling capo Vince McMahon—the Defenders are 8-1 and have secured a home playoff game on April 30 at Audi Field.

Oh, and the Defenders also have a fanbase that XFL co-owner Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson—yep, that The Rock—calls the “rowdiest gang in the #XFL.”

If you’re not already part of that gang, then you might be wondering who the Defenders are—and, frankly, what the XFL is. No worries! We have you covered. Here’s a crash course on DC’s newest sports franchise, a football team that isn’t mired in scandal and dubious leadership:


What is the XFL?

The XFL is a minor football league. It was initially founded in 2001 by WWE executive chairman McMahon, but shuttered after a single, little-watched season. It was briefly resurrected for a few weeks in 2020, declared bankruptcy after suspending operations due to the pandemic, and was then purchased by The Rock and private investment firm RedBird Capital Partners for $15 million. 

The XFL’s current season, which began in February, is the league’s third attempt to get off the ground. The league has eight teams, four in its Northern division (DC, St. Louis, Seattle, Las Vegas) and four in its Southern division (Houston, Arlington, San Antonio, Orlando).  The winner of each division will face off in a championship game on May 13 in the Alamodome in San Antonio. 


How are XFL rules different from those in the National Football League?

There are a number of differences related to game timing, possession, scoring, and other areas. The wackiest/most interesting ones are:

  • No kicked extra points (booor-ing!) after touchdowns. Instead, teams can run a play to score either one, two, or three extra points, which means XFL teams can score nine-point touchdowns. Bet the over!
  • Offenses can throw two forward passes during the same play, so long as the first one is caught behind the line of scrimmage. This is, to use a term of football art, cool as hell.
  • On kickoffs, the kicking team kicks from their own 30-yard line with every blocker lined up on the opposing team’s 35-yard line. The return team blockers line up their own 30, just five yards away.
  • Overtimes work like shootouts in soccer, with each team’s offense getting five attempts to complete a two-point conversion from the five-yard line. The team with the most points at the end wins.

According to the official XFL rules page, the game’s guidelines “deliver fans a faster pace of play and more action.” 


When did the Defenders start playing?

The team played five games in 2020 before the league closed down due to the pandemic, ended the abbreviated season with a 3-2 record.


So, who are these guys?

One of the team’s emerging stars is quarterback Jordan Ta’amu, who played for two seasons at the New Mexico Military Institute before transferring to  for Ole Miss. Ta’amu is currently third in the league in passing yards and fourth in passing touchdowns.  

Head coach Reggie Barlow, a former Alabama State receiver, joined the XFL after coaching at Virginia State. Prior to the season, he told the Washington Post that he would apply a “fast and furious” approach to offense and “extremely physical and combative” approach to defense.

Speaking of defense, the Defenders feature a familiar name: Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams, a longtime NFL coach who once worked for the Commanders and was famously—infamously?—suspended for the 2012 season after offering players “bounties” to injure opponents. 


What are Defenders Fans Like?

Defenders cornerback KJ Sails calls the team’s fans “the best in the XFL.” They began making a name for themselves in the second game of the 2020 season, when they birthed “the beer snake”—a pile of empty beer cups stacked in such great numbers they formed, well, a giant snake.

By the end of that season, the beer snake reached an estimated 1,237 cups.

This season, lemons—yes, the citrus fruit—have emerged as a secondary totem. After security guards at the season’s first game began confiscating empty beer cups that appeared to be the beginnings of a beer snake, angry fans threw lemons from other drinks onto the field in protest. The Defenders Reddit page, which boasts 4,200 members, calls itself  “the Lemon Brigade” and features some of the lemon-themed signs and sentiments fans have brought to Audi Field.

Speaking of Audi Field: beverages sold there no longer contain lemons, but fans have been given the go-ahead to create the beer snake, provided they abide by the official “Beer Snake Code of Conduct.”

Julia Rosenberg
Editorial Fellow