The University of Canberra Firebirds are an American Football club established in 1993 to compete in the ACT Gridiron league.
Based in the Belconnen area in the northern part of Canberra, the Firebirds were one of five clubs originally formed for the seniors competition and one of only two still remaining (along with the Tuggeranong Tornadoes).
Funding and support by the University of Canberra Union resulted in the club adopting the organisation's colours – yellow, red and blue. The original playing strip consisted of yellow jerseys and yellow helmets.
The Firebirds have won the most championships in ACT Gridiron history with 10 Capital Bowl victories from 17 appearances. The club has also won 11 minor premierships by having the best regular season win-loss record (1994, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2016, 2017, 2018).
The Firebirds are nine-time winners of the Charity Bowl (2001, 2006–08, 2011–12, 2016–18), which is annually held in the first week of the season between the previous season's winners of the Capital Bowl and Charity Bowl. If one team holds both trophies, the opponent is the Capital Bowl runner-up.
During this period, the Firebirds under 18s team won ACT championships in 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. The 1999 championship was as the University Rockets – a joint venture with the ACT Astros side then competing in the NSW Gridiron League.
The championship seasons
The Firebirds' first championship came in 1994 when it finished the regular season with an 8–0 record, followed by a 28–0 victory over the Belconnen Thunderbolts in Capital Bowl II. The dominance of the team was reflected in the fact that the offence scored more than 300 points, while the defence conceded only 20 points throughout the regular season. The Firebirds recorded six shutouts, with a seventh in the Capital Bowl. Quarterback Chris Laughlin was named ACT Gridiron MVP, while Tight End Bryan Hann was named Team MVP. Both were exchange students from the United States. The side was coached by John Etminan.
An 11-year championship drought ensued before the Firebirds claimed a second title in 2005 with a 15–14 overtime win against the Astros in Capital Bowl XIII. With the score tied at 7-all at the end of regulation, the Astros scored a touchdown on the first drive of overtime, with the successful PAT giving them a 14–7 lead. The Firebirds responded with a 10-yard touchdown run by slot receiver Andrew Jackson. Head coach Shawn Willis decided to go for a two-point conversion. Running a counter to the right, running back Travis Ford cut back up the middle and into the endzone for the winning points. Ford was named Capital Bowl MVP with 40 carries for 121 yards and one touchdown.
The Firebirds followed up in 2006 with the club's second perfect season, posting an 8–0 regular-season record and a 19–7 victory over the Tuggeranong Tornadoes in Capital Bowl XIV. Travis Ford won a second consecutive Capital Bowl MVP with 212 rushing yards and one touchdown on 23 carries. He also recorded six total tackles and one interception as middle linebacker.
A third consecutive title came from the Firebirds' 12–6 double-overtime win over the Tornadoes in Capital Bowl XV. With less than three minutes remaining, the Firebirds were trailing 6–0 and faced with a fourth down and five near midfield. Quarterback Luke Job successfully ran an option left and pitched to running back Travis Ford, who ran for a 10-yard gain. After Job scrambled for another first down, he hit receiver Mark Skinner with a 21-yard touchdown pass to tie the score. Job won the game in the second period of overtime with a 20-yard scramble for touchdown around the left end.
Firebirds Head Coach Shawn Willis became the first coach in ACT Gridiron history to win four consecutive championships in 2008 as the Firebirds beat the Tornadoes 21–6 in Capital Bowl XVI. The Firebirds lost league-leading rusher and 2008 ACT Gridiron MVP Jeremy Milne to a broken leg early in the second quarter when leading 7–6, but used touchdown runs by back-up David Hicks and fullback Reece Cheater to secure the win. Firebirds quarterback Luke Job was named Capital Bowl MVP.
The Firebirds' sixth championship came with a 28–11 win over the Woden Valley Gladiators to close out a 9–1 season in 2010. Jeremy Milne was named Capital Bowl XVIII MVP after racking up 157 total yards (133 rushing, 24 receiving) and one touchdown off 17 touches (13 carries, four receptions). Quarterback Luke Job threw two touchdown passes to receiver Beau Kennett and scored another on a one-yard sneak. Linebackers Reece Cheater and James Case each recorded 10 solo tackles.
The club's record seventh title – and sixth in seven years – came the following season with an 18–12 win over the Gungahlin Wildcats in Capital Bowl XIX. Despite losing four-time ACT Gridiron MVP Jeremy Milne to an ankle injury in the second quarter, the Firebirds built an 18–0 lead with less than five minutes remaining. The Wildcats scored two late touchdowns, but it wasn't enough to snatch the win. Free safety and back-up running back Ian Lanham was named Capital Bowl MVP after rushing for 160 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, in addition to making three solo tackles. Milne ran for 80 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries before his injury.
An eighth championship came when the Firebirds ended the four-year reign of the Central Spears with a 34–14 win over the Spears in Capital Bowl XXIV. Running back Brent Williams gained 200 yards on 27 carries and scored four touchdowns, the first of which was a 65-yard scoring run on the first offensive snap of the game. With a 14–8 lead at halftime, the Firebirds defence held the Spears on the first drive of the third quarter, forcing a punt from the Spears' 17-yard line. Defensive tackle Sam Jones broke through to block the kick, with defensive end Sandy Maskell-Knight diving on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown and a 21–8 lead. Williams scored the final two touchdowns, while also recording a fourth-quarter sack while playing defensive tackle. Quarterback Luke Job finished 8-of-11 passing for 66 yards, and carried four times for 31 yards – three of them first downs. Julian Ingall caught six passes for 43 yards. Nathan Long became the third head coach to guide the club to an undefeated championship season.
The Firebirds capped their second consecutive undefeated season with a 56–0 win over the Tuggeranong Tornadoes in Capital Bowl XXV. A 49-point first half highlighted the record-breaking performance, which included the highest score in a championship game and largest margin of victory. James Thornhill was named Most Valuable Player after scoring four touchdowns. He ran for 161 yards and three touchdowns on only six carries, while also returning an interception 94 yards for the game’s first touchdown. Quarterback Luke Job passed for 158 yards and three touchdowns (completing 7 of 9 passes), ran six yards for another touchdown and kicked eight extra points. The Firebirds defence forced four turnovers, with a fifth occurring on a special teams play, and recorded seven tackles for a loss and one quarterback sack. The win capped a dominant season in which the team scored 376 points in nine games while conceding only 20. Opponents were shut out in seven of those nine games. Firebirds captain Sam Babic retired after 21 seasons and nine Capital Bowl wins as a player.
A third consecutive championship following an undefeated season came with a 29–6 win over the Centurions in Capital Bowl XXVI in November 2018. Receiver Shaquille Garner was named Capital Bowl MVP after catching two touchdown passes from Quarterback Luke Job, who also ran for a touchdown, a two-point conversion and kicked three extra points. Running back James Thornhill also ran for a TD as the Firebirds built a 22–6 half-time lead. The Capital Bowl success marked the club's 27th consecutive victory.