Clash of the Champions: Whipsnakes and Cannons Square Off in Week 2


Matt Rambo, the league's MVP in 2019, is confident in his Whipsnakes heading into this weekend's game against the Cannons.

On December 6, 1963, American Football league commissioner Joe Foss wrote a letter to National Football League Commissioner Pete Rozelle issuing a challenge: the winner of the AFL playoffs against the winner of the NFL playoffs in an annual championship game.

Rozelle initially rebuffed the invitation, but in July 1966, an agreement was finally made between Rozelle and Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt to merge the two leagues and hold a championship game between the AFL and NFL — what we now know as the Super Bowl.

For the past two years, once the PLL and MLL seasons crowned their respective champions, the discussion turned to fans and pundits wondering what would happen if the PLL champs took on the MLL champs. The hypothetical competition seemed like a pipe dream until, like the NFL, the PLL and MLL merged prior to the 2021 season.

There won’t be an annual championship game between the two leagues, but the upcoming Week 2 matchup between Whipsnakes LC and Cannons LC is the clash of champions lacrosse fans have waited for.

“To have this opportunity now is great,” Cannons goalie Nick Marrocco said. “It’s a perfect scenario where we’re bringing the champions of the PLL and the history of the Cannons facing off. It’s going to be a special game and a cool moment for fans.”

The Boston Cannons won the 2020 Major League Lacrosse championship. They were the lone team to be absorbed into the PLL, keeping the same team name and colors while honoring the club’s rich MLL history.

While technically an expansion team, Cannons LC feels a lot like its MLL iteration. Sean Quirk remained the head coach, and he brought his assistants, Sean Kirwin and John Klepacki, with him. While the team wasn’t allowed to transfer over its entire roster to the new league, two of Quirk’s three selections in the Entry Draft were members of his 2020 squad (Zach Goodrich and Marrocco), as were four additions to the training camp roster through waivers (Bryce Wasserman, Justin Uppgren, Justin Pugal and Scott Hooper). Even some of the veterans the team added from PLL rosters through the expansion draft — like Paul Rabil and Brodie Merrill — played for the Cannons in the past.

Marrocco and Uppgren both acknowledged that while this is a new Cannons team, the culture remains the same.

“With the continuity of the coaching staff, myself, Nick, Pugal, Scott Hooper, we knew what the tone was and the culture [Quirk] envisioned for the team,” Uppgren said. “We could be go-betweens for guys that hadn’t played for Coach Quirk.”

While Marrocco and Uppgren may be new to the PLL, they know all about the success the Whipsnakes have had, and they welcome the challenge to go up against them in the second week of the PLL season.

“The lacrosse world is small. I played with [Whipsnakes players] Joe Nardella and Zed [Williams], so I wasn’t surprised to see their success,” Uppgren said. “Just from talking to guys in the league, there is a lot of respect for the team and culture and what they accomplished.”

“It’s always great to play against the team people consider to be the best,” Marrocco added. “I’m always excited to play against Zed Williams. He was on our team for a few years. He’s one of the nicest kids ever. He’s one of the most difficult players to go up against, and he’s one of the craftiest players. He knows what the sport means and how it’s more than just a sport. He appreciates the game and is so ridiculously good. It’s a huge test to face him and game plan for his style. It’s a good test.”

The Whipsnakes are the only champion in PLL history, capturing titles in each of the league’s first two seasons. They are coming off a big 13-7 Week 1 victory over the Chaos, the team they beat in the championship game last summer.

As the team turns its focus to the Cannons, Whipsnakes attackman Matt Rambo knows his Whips will have their hands full. Rambo saw firsthand the talent the Cannons deploy when the two teams scrimmaged during training camp — a game the Cannons won, albeit unofficially.

“I respect what the MLL guys did last year. They won a championship, so we have to respect that,” he said. “They’re a great team. Give them a lot of credit — they played a good game. They were playing some guys in the starting lineup, playing some guys that were new. We took it seriously, but now, it’s the regular season. We’re preparing more seriously, watching the film to see if we can break them down. We’re excited to play a new team and a new face.”

While the players said the meeting of the two teams for the first time in the regular season would be fun for the fans, they also said they were more concerned with helping their teams win a game and build a foundation that would help them succeed throughout the season.

The league and broadcast partner NBC know the hype and excitement surrounding the game. The Week 2 matchup between these 2020 champions will be broadcast Saturday afternoon on NBC, the first game to do so this season and one of only two regular-season games on NBC all year.

Rambo said it would be great for all teams to get a game on NBC, but he’s not surprised the Whipsnakes are getting the first one.

“I just think our history with the Whipsnakes, we deserve to be on big-time TV,” he said. “We’ve won two championships. From the years past, if there’s any team that should be on NBC, all the teams should get to because it’s good for the sport, but especially us being the first game, it fits perfectly with the history of our team and what we’ve done and accomplished. It’s out of respect.”

When the players step on the field in Atlanta, they won’t be thinking about being on broadcast television. They won’t be thinking about their success in 2020. The focus will be on the execution of their respective game plans.

Until then, though, they are happy to have people talking about the game.

“It’s going to be a great showing,” Rambo said. “It’s good for the league. It’s good for NBC.”

“You try not to get too caught up in the other stuff, but it’s cool people are even bringing it up,” Marrocco said. “It’s all good for the sport at the end of the day.”

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