I have to admit, I went into Saturday’s relaunch of the XFL with zero expectations. And who can really blame anyone for thinking that, the XFL when it originally launched in 2001 was bad football, with worse gimmicks, and lasted all of one season.
Since then, virtually every attempt at an NFL-alternative has been nothing short of a disaster. There was the FXFL (Fall Experimental Football League), UFL (United Football League), AAF, and many others that ran into all the usual problems: Bad football that tried to play under the same boring NFL rules. And when the players aren’t good enough to play in the league that actually uses those rules, well, it’s not hard to see why none of those leagues are still around.
That said, Saturday’s games (Seattle at Washington DC, and Los Angeles at Houston) were legit entertaining football and an honest-to-goodness fun thing to watch. The atmosphere was great, there were big plays, the quarterbacks and offensive lines played well (which is key), lots of points (Both games hit the over), and a lot of fun things the league did in terms of its rules and broadcasts. Right away I thought, “This is already better than the AAF was.” Which, admittedly isn’t exactly a high bar to clear, but to have a pair of games that were seriously a fun watch was way more than I expected from the XFL.
The different rules were somewhat hit and miss, the kick-off rule is brilliant and should probably be picked up by the NFL ASAP, seeing how replay reviews are conducted (the AAF did this as well) is another thing the NFL should do, but never will because it might make their officials look bad. And the 1-2-3 plays for after touchdowns is a cool idea, but one I think has fallen a little flat, mainly because coaches haven’t been utilizing it correctly. Seriously, stop going for one coaches, it’s a terrible idea for so many reasons. And the sideline interviews immediately after key plays like touchdowns or turnovers was a mixed bag, but something that can be fine tuned to be better. I was intrigued and wanted to see more.
And then Sunday’s games happened, and hit the usual pitfalls of a new startup football league. The first game between Tampa and New York was a combination of impressive defense from New York, and just brutal play from the Tampa offensive line and quarterback Aaron Murray. It was a game that was 17-0 at halftime, and even that made it sound closer than it was. The nightcap wasn’t much better. The crowd in Dallas for their game against St. Louis was pumped up to start…and then we all found out that former Steelers QB Landry Jones, the apparent face of the XFL, wouldn’t be playing and hooooo boy.
If you liked field goals and punts, this was the game for you. By the second half, the crowd was so dead, and the plays were so vanilla, it felt you were back to an AAF game, no amount of fun rules and fancy broadcast tricks can make a boring game feel more exciting. Hopefully Jones isn’t out too long, because watching whoever the Dallas QB was complete 30+ passes for 209 yards in front of 15,000 silent fans isn’t exactly the way to sell the league.
But all in all, it was OK! It had it’s moments where you can really see how this might work. The different rules were refreshing, but it still felt like football, and credit to Vince McMahon and the rest of the XFL brass, it wasn’t 90s WWE/F repackaged in the form of football. But as with most football leagues that aren’t the NFL, there are games and teams that are going to be duds because of the QB, the lines, or the coaches. I’ll keep watching and if we get more games like we had Saturday, it’s not the worst way to kill three hours, but if you get a game like Sunday’s were, well, there’s always golf, the NHL, or college basketball to watch until baseball starts.
The XFL: It’s OK so far!