‘Mahomes of wheelchair football’ driving the game upwards as Super Bowl looms

Sunday’s Super Bowl LV will be particularly poignant for Matt Bollig, star quarterback of the Kansas City Wheelchair Football team. 06 Feb 2021
Matt Bollig
Kansas City Wheelchair football quarterback Matt Bollig during a training session.
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By AMP Media I For The IPC

One day soon Patrick Mahomes may not be the only all-conquering quarterback in Kansas City.

“Right now we are all at home so anybody can say that, but if we get out on the field and I do good I’d like to compare myself to Patrick,” Matt Bollig, quarterback for the burgeoning Kansas City Wheelchair Football team, said with a chuckle.

The former top-ranked high school football recruit has the pedigree, not to mention passion, to back up such pronouncements, even when they involve Mahomes, the undoubted rising star of the NFL. In college, Bollig was briefly in the same squad as Jason Pierre-Paul and Levonte David, linebackers who will both play for Tampa Bay Buccaneers against Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs in Sunday’s Super Bowl.

Bollig, who was paralysed from the waist down following an accident in the gym weights room in 2012, is now a leading light in the NFL-backed USA Wheelchair Football League. It launched in April 2020 with teams in Kansas City, Chicago, Los Angeles and Phoenix, and, with numerous other franchises keen to join, the game’s seated version is going in only one direction.

Indeed, but for the intervention of the COVID-19 pandemic, football fans all over the USA may have had a chance to see Bollig and his peers in action on Super Bowl Sunday, getting a feel for what is a high-octane, no-holds-barred version of the game.

“I love it,” said Bollig, who briefly represented the USA in wheelchair basketball. “The different skills would be being able to manipulate your chair, number one, and then I would say understanding that you are not going to be able to jump. So putting yourself in the right position and as a quarterback throwing to a smaller target in a sense because being able to jump makes your target a little bit bigger.

“Similarities is just the play-calling, being on the same page, having signals for different things… Another similarity would be the roughness of it. You are going right at each other in the contact.”

The plan now is for the Wheelchair Football League to start up in the spring and play again in the autumn before culminating in their championship game at the venue for next year’s Super Bowl – perhaps just ahead of the NFL game. The link to the NFL has always been tight, with Bollig and team hosting most of their initial practice sessions in the parking lots outside the Chiefs’ Arrowhead Stadium.

“Hopefully, we can get some of these [NFL] guys in chairs so they can see how hard it is,” Bollig said.

For now though, he, like millions of others, will simply pull on his team’s jersey and cheer them on in the biggest game of the year. While COVID restrictions mean the usual mass of friends, family and fellow lifelong fans won’t be able to join Bollig and his wife in front of the TV, the pair will still have a genuine sense of the Chiefs in the living room.

“They re-did the stadium last year and we bought some seats,” Bollig said with a grin, before delivering an unsurprisingly Chiefs-centric score prediction. “42-38, I think that’s good. You are not really going to be able to stop Tom Brady [Tampa’s record-breaking quarterback who is gunning for his seventh Super Bowl title], you are going to have to outscore him.”