Air Raid underdog Stan Bedwell’s fit-for-Hollywood story reaching its climax in The Spring League

Hollywood loves a football underdog, but when someone eventually gets around to writing the movie about Stan Bedwell’s life, they are likely to take some creative license with his first professional touchdown pass.

A seven-yard wide receiver screen at the end of a 47-7 blowout lacks some of the gravitas of a game-winning drive or last second hail mary, but then again Rudy’s famous tackle never determined an outcome and Vince Papale’s touchdown in Invincible never counted in real life. What matters to the audience is the moment a fantastical dream becomes a reality. In that area, Bedwell has few equals.

American audiences are just now being introduced to the 36-year-old’s unlikely journey thanks to Fox’s weekly broadcasts of The Spring League, where Bedwell plays for the TSL Linemen, but for fans of football overseas, he’s a familiar face. A former junior college baseball player who rarely passed the ball as a high school quarterback, he turned one season for Trinity Bible College, known as the worst college football program in the US, into a 15-year Hall of Fame career as a European passer. Now, when most quarterbacks of his background have long retired, he’s playing for the first time alongside NFL veterans and hopefuls.

“This has been a dream come true.  After 15 years in Europe, having the opportunity to play at a professional level in the States is amazing,” Bedwell says of his opportunity in The Spring League. “Being on national TV every week playing football is something I’ve dreamed of since I was a child and it’s now something I can check off the bucket list. “

Stan Bedwell led Serbia’s Kragujevac Wild Boars to a Serbian championship and to the finals of European Federation of American Football tournament.

Bedwell first arrived in Europe in 2006 as an import for the Basel Gladiators of Switzerland, raw and hardly utilized as a passer. Over the last decade and a half, he’s played in nine different countries, claiming four national championships and nine MVP awards. At the same time, he’s served as a head coach in Romania, Germany, Finland, Switzerland, Denmark, and Serbia, compiling a 96-25 career record. Time and again, the love of the game has kept him coming back.

“I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do.  As a single man, what’s better than getting to travel the world, experiencing different cultures, making connections with so many people, and playing a game that you’ve loved since you were a child?” Bedwell says.  “It sure as hell beats hot tile roofing.”

36,648 career yards and 438 touchdowns are gaudy numbers, but how they came to be is the serendipitous part of the story. When the Bedwell biopic hits theatres, the opening scene would have to take place in 1998 at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, Arkansas. That’s where a young quarterback saw the Kentucky Wildcats take to the air against his beloved Razorbacks and his whole life changed.

“The way they threw the ball all around the field and spread it around to so many different receivers was like nothing I’d ever seen before,” Bedwell recalls fondly.

That was his introduction to the Air Raid offence and to it’s inventor, then Kentucky head coach Hal Mumme. He was instantly captivated but it took a decade for Bedwell to get a chance to try the system himself. Coming off a career high 25 touchdown passes in 2008, he was brought back by the Kragujevac Wild Boars of Serbia as both head coach and quarterback. His next season was one for the ages.

“We went full air raid that season and I threw for 569 yards and seven touchdowns in our first game.  That’s when I knew we were on to something,” Bedwell explains.

“I finished that season with 4,400 passing yards and 68 touchdowns, including 11 touchdowns in a single game and a 28-of-32 for 545 yards and nine touchdown performance in our 67-33 championship win over the Belgrade Blue Dragons.  After that, I was all in.”

Stan Bedwell served as head coach of the Allgäu Comets in Germany’s top league in 2018

Over the next few years, Bedwell became a master of the Air Raid as both a player and coach in Europe and soon found jobs in the US junior college ranks, often simultaneous to his playing exploits. Then in 2013, a fortuitous plot twist took place at an Air Raid coaching clinic and he caught the attention of his own inspiration, coach Hal Mumme. Intellectually the pair were a perfect match and Bedwell joined Mumme’s staff at Belhaven University in 2015.

Now the man who sparked his football journey is both a close friend and mentor, going so far to visit him in Rome. The relationship opened doors, including an opportunity to guest coach with the XFL’s Dallas Renegades, but even so the chance to strap on the pads in The Spring League was an unexpected phone call. The role of backup QB in a showcase league isn’t a glamourous one and the newly hired Linemen bench boss needed someone who could double as a coach while running his offence. Bedwell jumped at the chance.

At 36, Bedwell is well aware that he isn’t the NFL hopeful that many of his teammates are. In fact, he’s been around the game so long that two of his opponents, EJ Ejiya and Joseph Putu of the TSL Aviators, are players he coached at North Dakota State College of Science way back in 2014. Still he’s grasped the opportunity with both hands, holding field goals and the clipboard with equal passion as he provides valuable wisdom to league leading passer Ryan Willis.

With one week remaining, the Linemen sit atop the TSL North Division and are on the brink of clinching their spot in the TSL Championship game in Houston on June 19th. It’s been the experience of a lifetime and Bedwell remains laser-focused on securing victory, but this isn’t the cap to some incredible career.

Bedwell plans to play until his arm falls off and there is no gas left in the tank, something his connections in Europe will more than allow.

“The plan is to go back to Arkansas, pick up my dog Bobby, then fly to Finland to play and coach with the Rovaniemi Nordmen,” he says of the immediate future, but adds that his return to the States has given him some bigger aspirations off the field.

“Long-term, I’m hoping that the experience in The Spring League and the connections I’ve built here will lead to more professional coaching opportunities in the States…maybe even the NFL.”

A job in the world’s premier football league is the only way Stan Bedwell’s unlikely football journey could get more unbelievable, but every underdog story needs a fitting postscript. Let the movie rights bidding war begin.

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.