The solution?
by Lucas Swineford

With time winding down to a few ticks in the first half of last Sunday’s game between the Orlando Rage and the NY/NJ Hitmen, Coach Rusty Tillman uttered two words about Charles Puleri that everyone else in the metro area seemed to be saying for weeks – “He’s done.”

Most fans had voiced their opinion that Puleri was done during the previous weekend’s game against the Bolts, but Tillman stuck with his guy for one more half. Then, he turned to Wally Richardson for an answer.

Despite the fact that everywhere you looked people were saying Puleri should have taken his last snap against Birmingham, Richardson insists he didn’t know for sure he’d see action against the undefeated Rage.

“I didn’t know for certain what the situation was,” Richardson said. “All I thought was that I would make the best of the opportunity if it came my way by helping the offense and putting some points on the board.”

Although points have been somewhat of a rare commodity for the New York offense this year, Wally followed through on his promise. With over 13 minutes to go in the final quarter, Richardson hit Marcus Hinton from 20 yards out for the first Hitmen passing TD of the season. As he came off the field, the crowd at Giants Stadium greeted him with “Wal-ly! Wal-ly!” (Which was much different from the chant the crowd had set aside for Charles Puleri earlier.) Not known to be an emotional firecracker, Richardson said hearing thousands of fans screaming his name felt “pretty good.”

For a few moments, Richardson gave Hitmen fans a glimpse of what the future holds for this team with him leading the way. Relying on his strong arm, Wally orchestrated a number of productive drives for New York. Although Richardson’s debut did not have a happy ending, Hitmen fans should be excited about the next seven games with this athletic QB barking the signals.

And it all starts now. Richardson will have 60 minutes to prove what he can do this Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET against the Chicago Enforcers, a team with the most explosive offensive weapon in the XFL – John Avery. Despite only putting 3 points on the board last weekend, the Enforcers remain the second highest scoring team in the XFL. And Wally knows his team will have to put together a complete game on offense if the Hitmen are to walk out of Soldier Field with the $100,000 bonus in their pockets.

“We have to make the most of each opportunity we have on offense,” the former Penn State field general said. “We have to come away with points every time we’re in the red zone.”

Although he won’t be part of the Hitmen brigade trying to stop Avery, Richardson has spent some time watching the Week 1 Player of the Week and is impressed with what he sees. Saying Avery has the ability to “break one off every time he touches the ball,” Richardson knows he can be a big help to the defense by making sure each Hitmen possession takes time off the clock.

“We need to run the ball better,” Richardson said. “And by that I mean not only running, but hitting our backs out of the backfield with short passes. We’ll see what type of D Chicago comes at us with and then adapt.”

And adapting seems something the Hitmen are more than willing to do these days. Late last week there were supposedly grumblings that a few of the Hitmen were losing faith in Puleri – and they let him know it. So far, Richardson admits that his teammates have been extremely supportive of the change. “They know I’ll do everything I can out there. I’m committed to getting a win for this team on Saturday night.”

But if you saw the very end of Sunday’s game against the Rage, you know Puleri isn’t ready to drop out of sight. When it became clear the Hitmen were about to lose their third straight. Chuck went over to the man who had taken his job and “offered some words of encouragement,” according to Richardson. “I think that showed an enormous amount of character on his part.”

Hopefully for Hitmen fans, Richardson won’t be in the position to “offer words of encouragement” to the next QB anytime soon.

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