The XFL is back, and although there is a sense of déjà vu in the air, there’s also a fresh new feeling to this.
For those unaware, this isn’t Steve McMahon’s first stab at creating an alternative professional American Football league, but for better or worse, it may be his last.
In 2001 the first season of the XFL began, but we’d have to wait until 2020 before seeing another XFL team take the field. However, this time despite sharing the same name, it would be as a completely new incarnation.
So let’s take a little walk down history lane, seeing what happened to the first attempt, what’s different about this new one, and whether or not the results will be the same.
Our journey starts all the way back in 2000…
2000 – The Announcement
At the turn of the century the grand plans for the XFL were announced, although they had been a year in the making.
In a move that caught the attention of most football fans, NBC and WWF (now the WWE) would team up to create their own football league. Promising to be more entertaining and physical than the NFL at the time.
The idea of teaming up American Football and the exciting world of Professional Wrestling was intriguing. Could it work, or would it just be a gimmick. Steve McMahon promised to bring over similar entertainment style from the WWF to the XFL.
FUN FACT: Steve McMahon had originally looked at buying the CFL and moving it to America. Thankfully for Canadian football fans this never happened!
2001 – The First (and Last) Season
Following on from the idea of incorporating a WWF style of entertainment to football, the XFL announced many new features to the world of American Football.
There was an emphasis on building up rivalries between players, with trash talking, mic’d up players and coaches, cameras in the huddle and locker rooms, and staged stunts between the players similar to the WWF. It very much was McMahon’s attempt at mashing together two worlds of entertainment, in a bid to create a new hybrid version.
Along with the flair of the WWF being sprinkled in, they also planned on creating a more physical league by reducing the amount of penalties, as compared to the NFL, and by changing up some of the existing rules.
Some interesting ones were the human coin toss. Where the ball would be left at center field and one player from each team would contest the possession of the ball. They’d both start 20 yards away and rush to the center. Winner gets to choose to kick or return.
Another was the no PAT kicks. After a touchdown the team would instead attempt a play from the two yard line. Pretty much a two-point conversion but for 1 point.
Overtime was actually better than the current NFL overtime in my view. It would give both teams a chance of having the ball, something so simple yet for some reason the NFL still haven’t made it work. You’d get 4 downs from the 20 yard line of your opponent. If a team scored a TD on their 2nd down then the opposition team would get the ball from the 20 yard line and need to score within two downs also. This was one of my favorites changes.
The league also had some more gimmickey type of rules and changes, like letting the defensive backs hit a wide receiver before the QB had even snapped the ball, nicknames on jerseys, and racier cheerleaders who were encouraged to get begin relationships with players.
8 teams made up the XFL. 2 Divisions. East and West.
At the time they tried to target what they perceived as big market areas, and areas which lacked a professional football team. One of these areas were LA, where XFL was bringing football back.
The top two teams of each division would progress to the semi-finals before playing it out for the XFL championship.
Chicago, Orlando, San Fran and LA all made the playoffs before LA would win the first ever XFL championship, which did feel a bit setup to be honest. Why I say this is mainly due to the big deal that was being made of bringing football back to LA.
FUN FACT: The XFL Championship game was called the Million Dollar game, due to the fact that the winning players would split the Million Dollar prize fund for winning the game. That worked out at little over 25 thousand per a player. Yeah….I know. Players would have been better off applying for Jeopardy.
We’re not going to go into every result but look at the reception of the league. Some cool stuff came out of it while most of it was a flash in the pan gimmick.
The league started off with great views, the idea of beginning the season after the NFL had finished was smart and by the time the opening game came around people were curious to see what the XFL was going to be like.
Unfortunately viewership and attendance had dwindled. The initial WWF style gimmick was enough to drag people in at the beginning but the level of play wasn’t good enough to capture football fans attention.
All in all it was a good idea, but just wasn’t executed in a way to give it longevity. Once the viewership started dwindling NBC backed out of the partnership. McMahon tried to keep the XFL going with providers UPN and TNN before finally accepting the leagues fate and announcing the closure of the XFL. So the XFL turned out to be a one and done. After only one season the league had been closed.
FUN FACT: In order to continue broadcasting UPN demanded that the WWF cut it’s Smackdown program from 2 hours to 1 hour and 30 minutes. This allegedly was the demand which caused McMahon to decline and agree to close the league.
2002-2018– The Great Unknown
For many years the XFL would start conversations again. That experiment that didn’t go to plan. McMahon always maintained that he wanted to try to create a football league again, even using the XFL trademark.
After years of XFL just being a random conversation topic in a bar, the league popped up again in 2009. The now named WWE did apply to extend the trademark of the XFL name. Again in 2012 the news of the WWE applying to extend the XFL trademark hit the press, and in 2015 this extension was granted.
Then in 2017 McMahon announced his ambitions to expand into other sporting entertainment including American Football, this time a little differently. The WWE wouldn’t be involved but rather McMahon’s newly formed company Alpha Entertainment.
Eventually in 2018 it was announced by Alpha Entertainment that the XFL was coming back in 2020. People had their reservations about this, but McMahon promised to focus on the game itself rather than bringing back the gimmicks which, while drawing in initial attention, couldn’t keep the XFL going previously.
It’s crazy to think that nearly 20 years on the XFL was returning with the same name, especially considering how flash in the pan it was. In truth it may have been good timing. With fans of the NFL growing more and more frustrated the gap was there for a league which would look to improve rules and the speed of play.
2019 – The New XFL
Throughout 2019 we heard updates about the XFL and proposed changes. People were rightfully hesitant of getting their hopes up. This time around McMahon and Alpha Entertainment assured that the focus would be on the quality of football rather than a novelty form of the sport.
Many rule changes were implemented and the aim seemed to be to make the sport quicker and more entertaining for the fans. To reinforce this idea Andre Luck’s father Oliver Luck was instated as the Commissioner of the league. It was a wise move to bring in someone with not only playing experience in the NFL, but also coaching experience in NFL Europe, and NCAA experience. Surely a man of that knowledge and experience knows what it takes.
The new and improved XFL will be discussed in another article dedicated to all the new changes, format and teams. For now we can only hope that it’s a success, as no doubt if it is us football fans will have football year round, and the NFL will finally have a proper feeder league. Not to mention some of the cool new rules may make their way to the NFL.
Only time will tell of course but I’m excited!
Check back for a link to the XFL 2020 overview here!