I wish. That's right, I said it. I was one of the many fans of the XFL but one of the very few who will actually admit that fact to this very day. The league only lasted for one season and then had the carpet ripped out from under its feet as it was gearing up for a second season.
Back in 2000, WWE (WWF at the time) owner Vince McMahon announced he was going to launch his own football league called the XFL (the X really didn't stand for anything). WWF was red hot back at the time, so being the innovator he is, McMahon attempted to bring a new brand of football to the public. He promoted it as a "non-competitor" to the NFL and a spring league. NBC, UPN and TNN (now SPIKE) signed on to cover the live games and give their full support of the league.
The XFL already had two strikes against it going in. One simple fact was EVERYONE in the sports media wanted it to fail. The sports media gave it negative coverage because it was headed by McMahon and you know how the sports industry loves to diss professional wrestling anytime it gets a chance. Jokes were made that defensive linemen were going to hit QBs over the head with chairs - an obvious nod to wrestling. McMahon didn't help his cause when he firing back by calling the NFL the "No Fun League" and stating that "our QB don't wear panties". It was typical McMahon arrogant hype-talk, but he really just wanted to bring a new brand of football with some innovative ideas. No matter how innovative, the naysayers trashed his concepts before given a chance (more on that later).
Some innovation the XFL brought to the table:
- No coin toss to determine if a team kicked off or received. The ball was placed at mid-field and one player from each team had to scramble 20 yards to get possession of the ball. The player who came up with control of the ball was the winner. A safety from Orlando injured himself and was out of the season after leading the league's first "scramble", so a sense of danger established early.
- All games were to be played on grass fields; no artificial turf
- There were no PAT kicks after touchdowns and teams had to run a play. If they ran the ball in successfully, the team was awarded one point and two if it was passed in. A 3-point conversion was established for the league's playoffs.
- Full Bump and Run coverages, no halos or fair catches allowed, forward motion, and "quick kicks" were other rules that separated them from the NFL standard.
- The cheerleaders were scantily dresses (a favorite rule of mine)
Why was this considered a bad thing, by male sports writers no less?
- In-Game interviews: Sideline reporters could interview coaches and players at any moment, which led to some funny shouting matches. Especially after players would throw an interception/fumble or if a coach made a horrible call.
- Full locker room access and uncensored helmet mics.
- The Sky Cam, which provided an excellent view of the field, but was TRASHED every week by members of the sports media. Concerns were that it was not a traditional camera angle and should not be used. Naysayers insisted it would get in the way of plays (which it NEVER did) and that it was a gimmick that would never catch on (it did...oh it really, really did).
Another detractor of the league came from the hyping of former and recognizable NFL players like Tommy Maddox, John Avery, Rashaan Salaam, Jim Druckenmiller, and Casey Weldon. These players were the names of NFL busts, flame-outs and disappointments so no one was really getting excited about seeing these guys on the field. Even if I chuckled when I heard these guys were going to be in the league. Little did people know that the lesser known players were going to be the heart and soul of the the league and that these busts actually busted their asses with this second chance. Plus the notable commentators were Jesse "The Body" Ventura, Bob Golic, Jim Ross, Jerry "The King" Lawler, and Brian "The Boz" Bosworth. Ventura, Ross and Lawler represented the WWF and Bosworth was the quintessential definition for the term NFL bust, so their work behind the mic was easily goofed on. Too bad that Boz did a respectable job in the booth and Ross was amazing as a football commentator. Football announcing was good ol' JR's background and original career with the Oklahoma Sooners.
There were eight teams:
New York/New Jersey Hitmen
Las Vegas Outlaws
Los Angles Xtreme
San Francisco Demons
The season started off with a bang. The ratings were monstrous on NBC and UPN for the opening weekend, but fell to Earth quickly afterward. The media took shots at the fact that players wore their "nicknames" on the back of their jerseys as opposed to their real last names. For example, Outlaws RB Rod Smart became the poster boy for the league with his "He Hate Me" moniker. Then the racy nature of the cheerleaders were also turning a lot of people off...because somewhere along the way, guys stopped liking sexy cheerleaders or something. Yeah I never understood that point. But to be honest, the football during the first week was lacking.
His moniker became a Trivial Pursuit question...seriously
One notable incident that made national news in the league's following weeks was that a double overtime between the Xtreme and the Demons, which was an outstanding game to watch, caused an hour and a half delay of Saturday Night Live (with special host Jennifer Lopez) that gave them horrible ratings. SNL creator Loren Michaels was so pissed because the ratings were worse than a SNL re-run that aired the previous week. He blamed the XFL, but maybe Jennifer Lopez being the host was what chased people away. Just kidding. She was HUGE back then and pre-Gigli, so the low ratings enraged Michaels which in turn infuriated NBC. This was already not looking good for the XFL/NBC relationship.
As the weeks went on, the football action got better and stars were being born on the field:
- Tommy Maddox had a career resurrection with Xtreme by passing all over the league's defenses to Jermaine Copeland and Darnell McDonald, who were two other lesser known NFL castoffs.
- Meanwhile, the Orlando Rage was undefeated led by quarterback Jeff Brohm and running back Derrick Clark. Orlando had the league's best attendance and most diehard XFL following. Living in O-Town at the time and attending a few games at the Citrus Bowl, I can personally note that the stadium was always packed and the crowds were loud and enthusiastic for the Rage.
- Everyone loved to mention "He Hate Me", but the real star of the Outlaws was QB Ryan Clement. Clement came into the league during week one for injured starter Chuck Clements and guided the team to several victories. His main target, Mike Furrey...recognize that name? (More on him later). And Brandon Sanders and Corey Ivy were feared in the secondary.
- NY/NJ had a switch under center, when the coach benched Charles Puleri for Wally Richardson, leading to a certain level of success.
- John Avery was tearing up the league on the ground for the Enforcers while someone names Corey Ivy was the league's most feared defender in the secondary.
- Kevin Prentiss and Salaam were doing great for Memphis, while Stepfret Williams was utting up numbers for the Birmingham Bolts.
The XFL Playoffs saw the L.A. Xtreme take out the Chicago Enforcers while the San Francisco Demons upset the Orlando Rage. Orlando was a favorite to make the finals and win the whole thing, but the team was decimated with injuries by time they played the playoff game against Demons. The Rage were down to using their third string running back and their third string quarterback. To make matters worse, their third string quarterback was injured in the second quarter and the fourth string (signed the day before this game!) had to QB the rest of the way. While the Rage converted the first and only three-point conversion in pro football history (at the time), the Demons rolled past them and into the finals.
In the final game of the season, dubbed the "Million Dollar Game" with the players spliting $1m between them if they were victorious, the L.A. Xtreme waxed the San Francisco Demons 38-6. Kicker Jose Cortez was named the game's MVP while Maddox was awarded league MVP and coach Al Luginbill was named the league's top coach.
Here are the XFL's final 2001 standings per Wikipedia:
|New York/New Jersey Hitmen||4||6|
|Los Angeles Xtreme||7||3|
|San Francisco Demons||5||5|
|Las Vegas Outlaws||4||6|
Playoffs:L.A. Xtreme defeated Chicago Enforcers
San Francisco Demons defeated Orlando Rage
Million Dollar Game:L.A. Xtreme 38, San Francisco Demons 6
In the end...
The XFL closed down operations on May 10, 2001 after NBC dropped covering any future games and McMahon could not come to terms with TNN and UPN. This was on the heels of McMahon promising a second season and naming expansion teams in D.C. and Detroit. Also, McMahon was going to allow high school players turned down for college or could not afford to go to college XFL draft eligibility. There were also serious plans to have a supplemental draft for the CFL players. But the ratings were not what was expected and the league's attendance did not meet its' expectations. I understand that argument, but businesses usually begin with starts off with financial loses and recovery of that lost revenue manifests over time. And for the ratings issue, the XFL averaged better ratings then the NHL and the WNBA, so if a semi-pro league grabbed better ratings than those two pro leagues...hmm?
It was too little too late for the XFL by season's end:
- The XFL began to cease the crossover promotion of the WWF and stupid halftime shenanigans, like the elderly McMahon sneaking into the cheerleaders' locker room or having WWF wrestlers show up all the time and cutting ridiculous "lay the smack down" promos.
- The football action got extremely entertaining. Players started getting used to the national stage and the different rules. Players were performing their fundamentals at a higher level: passing, catching, blocking, etc.
- Fans started recognizing and accepting the players on their respective teams. Jeff Brohm, who was seriously injured on a play, went back into the game and led the Rage down the field for a score. When the sideline reporter asked him why would he go back into a game if he seriously hurt, Brohm screamed out, "Why?? Do I have a pulse!?" When asked about his remarkable game winning catch in the Xtreme's Double OT win, Jermaine Copeland proclaimed, "Big players make big plays in big games!" I have heard that reiterated by many athletes in different variations hundreds of times since then. There were more quotes that made the fans love the players, but these were the only two I can recall from memory.
- Except for ESPN (owned by ABC) and FOX Sports (owned by FOX), the sports media in general stopped bashing the NBC-backed league out of respect for the guys who were busting their asses on the field.
Don't get me wrong when reading this post, I love the NFL and that league is my true passion. But the XFL was a great league to watch and a fun carryover sport until NFL preseason in the Spring. Especially during my time living in Orlando (I have moved back to PA since then), who still does not have a NFL team.
I like to root for the "underdog" and this league was full of them. It was many of these guys' last chance to make an impression and make some money doing what they love with their God-given abilities. While that sounds good and all, I am a realist. Bottom line: it lost money and it's national television backing. That was a critical blow. It makes some sense that Vince would pull out as well, but he really needed to carryover the good things about the second half of the first season into at least one more season and try to get a bigger audience. This was a heck of a lot better than his WBF league. You remember that? I'm trying to burn it out of my brain.
My belief is that had the XFL not been promoted or connected to the WWF, it would still be around today and moderately successful. No question in my mind. Why? Let's take a look...
- When trying to create reasons for the XFL folding, some sports writers stated that the XFL should have been more extreme and "have the defensive linemen hit the QBs over the head with steel chairs". Wait...isn't that what the writers used to bash the league in its inception?
- Wanna see the XFL/McMahon Sky Cam everyone hated so much? Watch an NFL game. They own that technology now and has become a new standard in the sport. Vince was light years ahead with that one. To me, it's just as cool now as it was then but it was spit on since it was in the XFL at the time. That camera was a constant complaint by the sports media and now it is praised.
Maddox hoists the first and only XFL championship
- So many players went onto the NFL and had good careers. Maddox was the starting QB for the Pittsburgh Steelers and won Comeback Player of the Year Award. Rod "He Hate Me" Smart started as the KR in the Super Bowl for the Carolina Panthers. Corey Ivy was a defensive starter for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Super Bowl Championship team. In 2006, Mike Furrey set the pro football record for most catches in a season (98) by a non-rookie. And other players served time for the NFL teams with lesser exposure, but there was obviously a little pool of talent in the XFL. Even to be third string, you have to be prettu damn good to make an NFL roster. The XFL could have served as a great developmental league rather than NFL Europe or the AFL.
- Players are mic'ed for all-access on sports broadcasts nowadays? XFL started it
- Coach interviews during games? XFL started it.
- The aforementioned SKY CAM. It was a main XFL-bashing point. Now no one says anything. I ma glad the NFL adopted it because I have always loved that angle.
So many new standards were set by the league and carried over by all other professional sports leagues. Not just football, but hockey, baseball, basketball, bowling, racquetball, poker. Okay I was kidding after basketball.
There's still some love for the XFL out there and I wanna take the time to recognize them as well as thank them for the information on their websites. It helped jog my memory of events that happened 9 years ago. Their websites keep the torching burning...
Remember the XFL
All-XFL Memorial Network
I doubt that I will get a comment on this post, but this was a fun ride down memory lane. My friend even started an XFL Fantasy Football League at our job and got a lot of people to join. It was a way to learn the players and made the league a little more interesting. Thank God he knew a lot about some of these players' past because I was clueless. My team won the league but I shared my trophy with him for a major GM credit. I even remember when the same friend bought an official XFL ball that we used to throw around all of the time.
Overall, the XFL's one and only season was a fun ride and an alternative to hold me over until the following NFL season. After visiting the above listed sites, a lot of memories came flooding back and I felt enthusiastic to post a little retrospect on the defunct league.
I had high hopes for a XFL resurgence when the new United Football League was announced last summer. But the game and presentation was boring, plus VS. is not the greatest channel on the planet. After three weeks, I gave up. They seemed like the longest games I have ever watched. The football didn't seem to get better and their championship game contained just as much excitement. But hey, they got a second season (thanks to their support from the NFL) and the XFL didn't, so what do I know.
If you have any XFL memories and would like to share, please comment here and I will update this post and credit you/plug your blog. Thanks for reading.