Marquise Williams played for the San Antonio Commanders in 2019. A dangerous scrambler with great pocket presence and a great touch on the ball, Williams was a great change of pace for the Commanders from starter Logan Woodside. Initially moonlighting on 2 point conversions, Williams saw his play time increase as injuries, and a porous offensive line plagued Woodside over the season. After the Alliance collapsed in April of 2019, Marquise was spotted at the XFL tryouts.
Williams was selected by the New York Guardians in the XFL 2020 draft. He’d back up Matt McGloin at quarterback as the Guardians traded for Luis Perez from the Wildcats. With McGloin melting down early in the season, Williams saw some gametime action in relief against the Defenders and the Battlehawks, but by late February Luis Perez was named starter for the Guardians. Two games later the XFL ceased operations due to COVID.
Marquise has some great authentic autographs, so I wanted to pick these up since I was never able to get them while he was with the Commanders. The XFL certified was a pull, and much like its AAF predecessor, showcases just a simplified, nice, wholesome press photo of Marquise. Panini Contenders was doing some interesting stuff at the time of this evolutionary cycle of design with an image of Marquise on a design focused canvas. I am not much for the gaudiness of the Prism sets, but I really liked how Williams’ blue uniform pops from this silver background.
Connor Cook was a 3 year starter for the Michigan State Spartans. He played college ball there from from 2011 to 2015, and saw action in 43 games, passing for 9,184 yards and 71 TDs to 22 interceptions. Cook was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the 4th round of the 2016 NFL Draft. The Raiders saw value selecting him and decided to groom Cook behind incumbent quarterback Derek Carr.
He was pressed into his first starting duty- a grinder of a game against the Houston Texans in the first round of the 2016 Playoffs. The Raiders fell 27-14, as Cook threw for 161 yards and a TD to 3 interceptions. Connor saw no action in 2017 and was cut in 2018 after the Raiders traded for AJ McCarron.
Connor spent the next year on and off the rosters of the Panthers, Bengals and Lions. He was selected in the first round of the XFL 2020 Draft by the Houston Roughnecks. I sort of questioned the move considering the Roughnecks already had Philip Walker allocated to the team, but coach June Jones insisted that he was picking the best player available with NFL experience.
I pulled every card I had of Connor and added 2 or 3 more hoping to get Connor’s autograph during the season. Luck was on my side as the Roughnecks frequently put together fan events.
The Roughnecks put together an event in the Woodlands where they had Connor Cook and Sammie Coates at. It was a no brainer. I was going to call it a success if I could get 2 or 3 cards signed- but in the end I was able to get all 5 knocked out along with a stack of cards of Sammie as well.
The event itself went well. The players were friendly and approachable. Connor talked to me one on one for a few minutes. We talked about briefly about the AAF and how it failed before he had to go up on stage. There Connor really shined, with a quick wit and clever smile. Afterwards both he and Sammie signed more autographs for fans. I was able to get them both on posters before I headed back out.
Of this group, the Panini Contenders cards really stood out. I love the Gameday cards. I wasn’t really fond of either of the Leaf entries, but the Score Scorecard makes up for the Leaf cards trite design.
Well the quarterback competition between Cook and Walker apparently went down to the wire. In the end PJ was named starting quarterback of the Roughnecks. I really had hoped to see more of Connor, but PJ played lights out the entire way. Still I think Connor has the prospects of being one of the brighter stars in a spring league if he decides to try that route again.
I got a few more cards of his after being caught flat footed at the Roughnecks season ticket holder event, but the cards, ordered 2 weeks before the league shut down- didn’t arrive until after 2 months after the league shut down. Still that gave me a chance to add his Topps XFL 2020 card to the batch, which really pushed him up on my list of players I wanted to get an autograph from thru. I really liked how the Elite cards were designed in 2016 as well. The abstract design is actually really smart as the lines all cross artistic points of emphasis. It’s a beautiful card, but like many the distribution kills my interest in making this one a set to collect. I’m not very hot on the gaudy Prism set, but I liked the die cut helmet one enough as it is eye catching.
Mike’s career continued after his release from the Cardinals. In 2018, he signed with the fledgling Alliance of American Football. (I recognized the name immediately when he was assigned to the Arizona Hotshots thanks in part to the league’s territorial allocation.) Later in the year- perhaps out of the fact that some teams were unfairly blessed with an abundance at quarterback, the AAF decided to hold a Pick or Protect draft, to balance out the rosters a bit.
Mike was taken at the top of Round 2 by the San Diego Fleet, where it was planned he’d grow under the tutelage of offensive mastermind Mike Martz, and behind overall #1 pick Josh Johnson. This didn’t happen because almost immediately after the draft, Josh signed with the NFL Washington Redskins. Moving ahead with Berco at starting quarterback allowed the Fleet to plan around him however and prepare him for the rigors of the AAF season.
I didn’t get Mike’s autograph before the first game in league history, even though they were practicing only a few feet from me. I didn’t realize how he’d be a poster boy for the league in the league’s brief highlight film.
“Hey, whatever this league needs to get people excited, if that’s what it takes, then I’ll take the bullet.”
-Mike Bercovici (on ‘the hit’)
The Commanders ended up beating the Fleet on opening night in San Antonio, punctuated by 6 sacks and 2 interceptions. One of those sacks, LB Shaan Washington came across the line and almost decapitated Mike Bercovici from his blindside. The crowd was dead silent fora brief second as we looked around, and then erupted into a gladiator-like rousing applause at the fact that there was no flag. I thought that perhaps he suffered a concussion, but at some point during that game, Berco was sat for Philip Nelson.
Mike regained the starting position a few games later after Nelson went down with an injury. He’d complete 22 or 43 passes (304 yards) with a TD, leading the Fleet to the game winning drive over the Stallions 27-25. In fact he’d throw for 300 yards in the next two games as well, against the Iron (311 yards) and the Hotshots (310 yards).
Despite Mike’s struggles, he was quite lovable as a quarterback. He finished with 5 TDs to 9 picks, on 51% completions with 1,311 yards. His numbers are actually all the more impressive because he only started 4 games. The league folded after Week 8, and Mike decided to hang up his cleats and go into coaching.
He currently works as a graduate assistant at Arizona State.
I really wanted Mike’s autograph on these cards of his, and after a bit of digging, missing on an address, and a little help from Mark’s Signing Bonus, I was able to track him down on these great cards of his. I liked Berco and I had high hopes that he’d make a great ambassador of the league as the AAF moved forward.
Celebrating the game, the players, the cards, and the autographs for over 25 years.