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The Chicago Lions and Chicago Griffins butt heads in both team’s league opener Saturday, and the importance of the game can’t be overstated for a few reasons.

Firstly, the Lions and Griffins are heated rivals. Secondly, they are now back to playing their first sides in the same league. Last year, the Lions put their top team in DI, while the Griffins remained in the Super League. The rivalry matches were still hotly contested, but this year there is more on the line.

“With the old guys, I already see the blood going,” said second-year Lion flyhalf Nick Viviani. “People are very excited. Coaches are very fired up. It’s definitely more important now that we’re in the same league and it’s the first game of the season.”

And thirdly, the new Midwest setup increases the stakes. The Midwest is split into three pools. The top two teams from each pool advance to the Midwest quarterfinals, as do the top two third-place teams. The Lions and Griffins meet twice this season, and the top seed from their pool could well be decided in those two games.

For the Lions, who started off 1-2 last year in their first season back in DI after leaving the Super League, getting off on the right foot this season is of utmost importance.

“Last year we had a real slow start. We didn’t even know if we were going to make it, and we finally put it all together,” said Viviani.

“This time it’s very important that we’re off to a fast start and get at it right from the beginning. Some of our 7s guys are coming back, so we should be ready, should be more fit. Can’t have any wakeup calls, so we’ve got to jump right back into it.”