Written by- Jack Bourgeois
Back in 2001, Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation started the XFL, a violent, minimal rules football league that was supposed to be everything the National Football League wasn’t. At the time, fans were starting to groan over the changes the NFL was making to the rule books in order to make the game safer. It was the very beginning of the league’s shift towards improving player safety, limiting the hard hits America had been accustomed to seeing since the dawn of football itself.
McMahon saw an opportunity to capitalize on the growing absence of violence, convincing NBC Executive Dick Ebersol to partner with the WWF and form a football league that was willing to break all the rules.
It consisted of 8 teams and 2 divisions across the U.S., including Birmingham, Las Vegas, Memphis, Orlando, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. Players were given the freedom to put nicknames on their jerseys. Rod Smart, for example, is more famously known as “He Hate Me”, a name that became synonymous with the XFL brand.
The rule book was all but thrown out the window. Players weren’t allowed to call for a fair catch, DB’s were able to play aggressive bump and run coverage, and there was no roughing the passer. The coin toss was replaced with a challenge called the “opening scramble”, which was quickly revoked as the XFL’s “star” players were getting hurt at an excessive rate before the game even started.
The league also paid its players a set salary between $3500-$5500 a week, with bonuses of $2500 for each regular season win, $7500 per playoff win, and roughly $25,000 to win the championship.
The opening game featured an astonishing 14 million views, but instantly turned off the football purists and proved to not be very family friendly. The XFL was a spectacle, prominently featuring risqué cheerleaders in a “sex sells” type of marketing scheme with Vince McMahon over-inserting himself as the face of league.
The XFL was doomed from week one, lasting only one season and losing the NBC/WWF partnership that was worth anywhere from $35-$70 million. Now, fast forward nearly 20 years, and ESPN’s 30 for 30 releases an XFL documentary, not only reinvigorating Vince’s interests in the football industry but sparking the interest of the entire football world.
Now more than ever, football is desperate for another league, whether it be an NFL developmental league or the reinvention of the XFL. With the National Football League being under such scrutiny over the National Anthem protests, the lack of quality refereeing, and concussion protocol, a new league done right could certainly steal some thunder from a somewhat vulnerable NFL.
The rumors are officially true; a press conference held earlier today announced the return of the XFL, stating, “The new XFL will kick off in 2020, and quite frankly, we’re going to give the game of football back to fans.”- Vince McMahon.
Coincidentally, the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement with the NFLPA expires in 2020. With a possible holdout coming, the XFL seems to be lining itself up to possibly snake talent from the NFL if a holdout were in fact to occur.
McMahon, the owner of newly formed Alpha Entertainment, sold $100 million in WWE shares to invest into the sports company. He also stated that players such as Tim Tebow, Colin Kaepernick, and Johnny Manziel would all be considered to possibly play in the league, but that the XFL would sign individuals based on performance and not publicity. Furthermore, signing players with criminal records (including DUI’s) will be against league policy. McMahon made it clear that they will not rely on the same sexually suggestive sideline entertainment as before in an attempt to make the experience much more viewer friendly than it was back in 2001.
Will this be another failed attempt to compete with the NFL? Or did the league’s founders learn enough from their early mistakes to create a respectable game of football? Stay tuned, because this could get interesting!