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Romar Dennis and Eric Law

Home Again: Cannons, Outlaws Back Where They Belong

November 27, 2023
Phil Shore
Premier Lacrosse League

Jeremy Sieverts sat at work and opened ESPN to watch SportsCenter, eager to find out where each of the eight Premier Lacrosse League teams would be assigned.

While he had played two seasons in the PLL with the Whipsnakes — who seemed like a sure bet to call Maryland home — Sieverts played the bulk of his Major League Lacrosse career with the Denver Outlaws. He loved Denver. He lived there for four summers and thought it would be his forever home until work and his wife took him to Las Vegas.

Once the PLL and MLL merged, he believed the Outlaws would be a leading candidate for when the league was ready to expand. Denver and the Rocky Mountain region were both among the 26 finalists to be the new home of one of the PLL teams.

But Sieverts had turned on the wrong channel. Instead of looking at Paul Rabil, he was staring at Stephen A. Smith. Then the text came from Max Schmidt, his friend, business partner and former teammate in Denver.

“The Outlaws are back,” the text read.

On SportsCenter, Rabil revealed not only would the Cannons — an original MLL franchise and the only one that survived after the leagues merged — return to Boston, but the Chrome would now be the resurrected Outlaws, calling Denver home once again.

Many fans expressed joy on social media, and for Outlaws icons like Sieverts, it was personal. It felt like their legacies were rejuvenated.

“I can go around and say, ‘I played for that team,’” he said, “versus, ‘Yeah, I used to play for a team in Denver that’s no longer there.’”

There’s a sense of pride when those involved with the MLL’s iteration of the franchise talk about the Outlaws, and when you dig into everything the team accomplished, it’s easy to see why.

The Outlaws organization was one of the first four expansion franchises in MLL as the league tried to grow west. They were owned by Pat Bowlen, who also owned the NFL’s Denver Broncos.

In 15 seasons, the Outlaws finished .500 or better every season. They made the playoffs every season but one. They finished with a 14-0 undefeated regular season in 2013. Denver played in a league-best 10 championship games, winning three times (2014, 2016, 2018), which was tied for second-most in league history. Denver played in the last five MLL championship games from 2016-20.

“There was no other way but a championship,” said Jon Cohen, who spent 14 years with the Outlaws in a variety of roles, including assistant general manager (2011-18) and general manager (2019-20). “That was the standard, and we were treated like that. As employees, as the general manager, I went into meetings with Broncos guys. I could pick their brains. It was run like an NFL organization. We didn’t have the scouting departments or the money or some of the other resources, but we were still held to the same expectations.”

The Outlaws were special because of more than just their success. It was how they were successful. The Outlaws were known for finding diamonds in the rough, finding key pieces in the supplemental draft or the late rounds of the college draft, with several of their former picks still producing in the PLL.

Eric Law, Chris Cloutier and Romar Dennis were all fourth-round draft picks. Mikie Schlosser was a sixth-round draft pick. Max Adler and Jack Kelly were selected in the seventh round, the last round in the MLL college draft. Dillon Ward, Finn Sullivan and Eli Gobrecht were all acquired through the supplemental draft.

“I think finding young guys that got passed over that had a chip on their shoulder is that brand or niche we were looking for as Outlaws guys,” Cohen said.

“We owe a ton of loyalty,” said Adler, who now plays for the Chaos. “A lot of us wouldn’t have even gotten a chance if it wasn’t for the Outlaws and [former general manager and head coach] Tony Seaman and Jon Cohen and [former head coach] B.J. O’Hara, [former president] Mac Freeman and Bowlen, too.”

Matt Bocklet is another former Outlaw whose career is tied to the organization. He played for Denver for 11 seasons and served as an assistant coach. He was eventually promoted to team president for their final season. He played alongside both of his brothers and said the entire organization felt like extended family.

When the Outlaws were no more, Bocklet said he felt partially responsible for the end. To see so many people clamoring for the team’s return, however, was special.

“Everyone’s role within that organization, whether you were the original president or a player or a coach or a fan that went to every game, everyone’s role played a part in the success of the Outlaws organization,” he said. “It justifies what everyone believes, that they were part of a team that was different and special, and it didn’t matter what your role was. They played a part in that team’s success.

“It goes to show that that team was an important part of people’s lives.”

The Outlaws weren’t the only former MLL team returning home. The Cannons, who wore throwback uniforms that said “Boston” on the chest, are officially the Boston Cannons once again.

Much like the Outlaws icons, former Cannons legends were excited for the fans.

“The Cannons have been part of the Boston culture for, I imagine, almost 20 years. You can’t say that about too many professional sports organizations in general, definitely not in the lacrosse world,” said Mitch Belisle, who played for the Cannons from 2009-18. “The really cool piece to it is there are adults playing and coaching in the lacrosse community in Boston that grew up as kids going to Cannons games. It’s one of the first markets you’ve seen that full life cycle of professional lacrosse.”

The PLL has seen the effects of the relationship between Boston and the Cannons. Nick Marrocco, who played for the Cannons in 2019-20 and then for the PLL version in 2021-22, is from Duxbury, Mass., and went to Cannons games as a kid, especially to see former attackman and Duxbury-native Max Quinzani.

Current Cannons midfielder Jeff Trainor is from Billerica, Mass., and also grew up a Cannons fan. This past season, when the PLL quarterfinals were played at Gillette Stadium, Trainor was late to the post-game press conference because he was still signing autographs for hometown friends, family and fans.

Kevin Buchanan, who played for the Cannons from 2010-17, said those stories fire him up and remind him of when he was kid growing up in Maryland and being inspired by players at Loyola, Towson and Johns Hopkins, as well as seeing Gary Gait play for the Baltimore Thunder. He said that kind of relationship between the team and its fans is important for the continued success and health of the team.

“You look as a little kid and say, ‘I want to be there.’ That starts the dream and allows your imagination to soar and allows you to envision what it means to get there or what it might look like to get there and see it first-hand,” he said. “That’s just fuel for the youth. It’s great to have [the Cannons] back because it gets kids engaged in the sport. It gets kids a passion for it, and they’re future recruits for the game.”

It seemed like close to a sure thing that the Cannons would again call Boston home. The return of the Outlaws was arguably the biggest surprise and thus the biggest news of the home city announcement. But it wasn’t universally loved.

The top of the Outlaws Wikipedia page reads, “It has been suggested that this article should be split into articles titled Denver Outlaws (MLL) and Denver Outlaws (PLL).” The Outlaws account on X (formerly Twitter) posted a timeline of the team’s achievements, and between their last championship in 2018 and the announcement of them joining the PLL, it says, “This time is a little (awkward).”

Despite the PLL’s attempts to connect the history of the Outlaws with their reincarnation, even using the same logo, it bothers some, such as Adler, that the team being turned into the Outlaws is one of the only PLL teams that doesn’t have a single player from the MLL version of the franchise. Additionally, without the front office that Adler said treated the players the best in all of professional lacrosse, it is not the same team.

“What the Outlaws represented and stood for, it wasn’t just the Outlaws logo or the Denver Outlaws on your jersey,” he said. “There were so many people you represented in that organization. With management and everyone that came before you on the team, there was a culture and a standard, and you were representing so much more than yourself. I think our culture was the best in professional lacrosse.

“I don’t think it’s right that you can let a bunch of random guys who have no connection to the culture and what came before them just wear the jersey.”

Not to mention that the Chrome finished last in the standings in 2023 and has finished with the worst record in three of five seasons.

Head coach Tim Soudan is aware of the concerns that the new Outlaws could tarnish the franchise’s reputation. When he posted on X about his excitement to be part of Outlaws, he saw the reply from a user saying, “Coach you better not break the streak of never having a losing record.”

Soudan isn’t a stranger to the success of the Outlaws. He coached the Rochester Rattlers from 2011-17, and their championship hopes were ruined by the Outlaws twice, losing in the championship game in 2014 and the semifinals in 2017. (The Rattlers would lose to the Outlaws again in the championship in 2018, the first year after Soudan.)

He remembers the huge crowds, as well as the loyal fanbase that was there throughout the season. He remembers the presence the team had with the local media.

He believes his current team is in a good position to add talent, especially with the first and ninth picks in the draft. He also admitted one of the first things he thought about was trying to acquire some familiar faces to Outlaws fans.

Overall, he’s excited about being part of the franchise’s legacy.

“I really love Denver,” he said. “I think it’s a great place. The fanbase has always been great. There were negative comments from Chrome fans, which I understand, but it almost seemed like there were so many Denver Outlaws fans saying positive things, so excited that we’re coming back, that I feel great about it. It motivates you to work that much harder to put the best product on the field and go from worst to first.”

Bocklet believes becoming the Denver Outlaws can give this team some of the boost it needed going into next season.

“If it’s done right, it can be a great thing,” he said. “It can be a huge opportunity that this team clearly needs. There was something different about the Outlaws organization, and the Outlaws locker room, which made it really special, and that was the team was more important than any individual. It was truly ego free. Nobody cared about stats or Instagram followers or anything like that. We just cared about being part of a great team and winning championships.”

While Chrome players will change jerseys, and Chrome fans will have to decide if they move with the team or explore their own free agency, Sieverts thinks there were some Outlaws fans who dusted off their old jerseys in anticipation of the new season.

He knows there are a lot out there, too. He remembers playing in the team’s annual Mile High Fourth of July game, where the Outlaws would play in front of record-setting crowds with a fireworks show following the game. Twice the crowd in Denver reached over 31,000 people, including in 2015, when 31,644 saw the Outlaws take on the Cannons.

Sieverts remembers taking the wing on the faceoff and lining up next to Belisle. He remembered looking at Belisle, looking up at the crowd, and then back to Belisle.

“One day,” he said to Belisle, “it’s going to be like this for every game.”

In bringing the Outlaws and Cannons home, it’s what the PLL is hoping for, too.