By Vishakha Deshpande
Boston University News Service
When a 4-year-old girl says that she’s going to be a football player when she grows up, you might laugh it off. But when that little girl is Allison Cahill, you’d better believe she will grow up to be one of the greatest quarterbacks the world has ever seen.
Cahill, who plays for the Boston Renegades, is a six-time national champion. An athletic talent that rarely comes up in any sport, she has carved out a name for herself in the Women’s Football Alliance, the largest professional women’s tackle football league. The young girl that watched the NFL with her dad on TV, is now statistically one of the best quarterbacks to play football — in the same era as Tom Brady.
Growing up, Cahill played football with her two brothers. “I loved playing with my brothers,” she recalled. “However, I wasn’t aware that football was something that women did not play. I actually believed that football was just football.”
“There’s was nothing about me saying that I want to be a tackle football player at the age of four that made any sense at that time,” said Cahill. The adults around her were encouraging and politely said, “yeah you can do it,” but they felt she was just another kid dreaming. “Like a lot of kids’ dreams, it sounded pretty outrageous,” she added.
With a career spanning over 18 years, four league MVP honors, and 13 All-star appearances, Cahill has come a long way from her 4-year-old version.
Cahill’s playmaking abilities are just as spectacular as her achievements. She has a stellar win-loss record of 134-24 and an enviable 28-8 postseason statistic. Her quarterback rating stands at 118.25 because of her more than 300 passing touchdowns and 20,000 passing yards.
Cahill’s favorite game of her career came a few years ago on a chilly evening in Chicago. The Renegades were playing against Chicago Force, one of their rivals. “That was a pretty epic game to play,” she reminisced. “We had a comeback drive to tie it up and went into overtime and won. It was a massively challenging game because of the weather conditions and our opponent.”
Cahill’s love of sports goes back a long way. A Princeton graduate and basketball player, she etched her name in record books after she scored 1000 points in her four-year-long career. She is also touted as the best 3-point shooter in Princeton University’s history. Cahill has played football for almost two decades — twice as long as she played competitive basketball. “If you consider my basketball career, [high school and college] that’s just eight years and now I’ve played football for 18 years,” she said. So, of course, football claims a higher number of laurels and memories.
But for a country that is obsessed with Tom Brady, the Super Bowl, and the NFL in general, Cahill’s 18-year illustrious football career might not be the first thing American football fans speak about.
However, the greatness of Brady as a sportsperson is not lost on Cahill: “Which quarterback in the world would not want to be compared to Tom Brady?” She thinks that he is the “gold standard” for quarterbacks all around the world. “I have always admired his work ethic, team-first mentality, and his ability to make quick decisions,” said Cahill. She knows she will never be as “tall as him” or “throw a ball 60 yards long.” But as a sportsperson, she is smart enough to appreciate the player he is, learn from him, and apply his tactics on the field.
Cahill and the Renegades — a team that has been a six-time champion of the Women’s Football Alliance — have consistently performed in the league. Just like the New England Patriots and Brady, they too have played a large role in keeping Boston’s name at the top in football, but haven’t received the same kind of recognition.
“Americans, particularly, have a preconceived notion of what the caliber of play would be for women,” says Molly Goodwin, owner of the Boston Renegades. “There’s a cultural bias that does not value us as athletes at the same level as our male counterparts.”
Female athletes all across the world face cultural, structural, and physical barriers to playing their sport. However, according to Goodwin, “We are our biggest barriers and we are our biggest advocates.”
Cahill’s 19th season with the Renegades will soon begin in April 2022, when the team plays against their arch-rivals: D.C. Divas. “Our main goal is to keep her healthy,” says Goodwin. “She has all the boxes ticked for winning the MVP title again and we have to provide her the right tools for that.”
About her dream to play football, Cahill had just one thing to say: “I am 40 and I’m out here living my dream. With every ounce of gratitude in my heart, I am going to keep living my dream for as long as I can. I don’t know many people in my life who can say that.”