Farewell, XFL. We hardly knew ya.
Two months and two days after the league — backed by entertainment magnate Vince McMahon — hosted its first game, the XFL informed employees Friday that it was ceasing operations and fired its entire staff. As of now, it doesn’t look like there will be a return in 2021, like the league promised when it was forced to cancel its season halfway through the 10-week slate.
The entire sports world is feeling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, and the XFL’s timing couldn’t have been worse. The league was supposed to thrive by bridging the “gap” in sports between the Super Bowl and March Madness, holding its playoffs just as the NBA and NHL were starting their own postseasons.
It’s a shame, because XFL 2.0 was a quality product that dwarfed its original version and served as a reasonably interesting alternative to the NFL for football fanatics. The difference was clear from the very first game that bright Saturday in February in the nation’s capital, where the DC Defenders defeated the Seattle Dragons with the support of a nearly sold-out and raucous crowd.
Commissioner Oliver Luck and his team hired people who loved football (the league slogan was "For The Love of Football") and let them create. It proved wise. Those individuals, all of whom lost their jobs Friday, are hurt most by this – even more than the fledgling, albeit passionate, fan bases that were growing, and the players who found a second (or third) chance in professional football.
The slight innovations didn’t make the game look like a different sport, but they added the necessary intrigue to compensate for the natural decline in play compared to the NFL. The kickoff rule has gained widespread acknowledgement for both its safety and practicality. Watching teams attempt three-point conversions from the 10-yard line following a touchdown will never not be entertaining.
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Football broadcasts are likely forever altered partly because of the access the XFL provided its broadcast partners, ESPN and Fox, particularly in the replay booth. In-game sideline interviews and hearing coaches’ play calls may not become the norm for NFL broadcasts, but bringing fans closer to the game is something all rights-holders should be exploring, especially if fans aren't allowed in stadiums anytime soon.
That’s not to suggest the league didn’t have shortcomings. Quarterback play could have been better. Coaches should have been more aggressive, and the league should definitely reconsider the coach-QB combos it banked on serving as the foundation – if the XFL does make a comeback someday. General interest in the league waned after the shine of the first few weeks, and transforming that feeling of novelty into consistency will be a challenge.
We’ll remember Houston Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker, who probably would have won MVP and is now with the Carolina Panthers. We’ll remember the St. Louis BattleHawks, who exceeded expectations and temporarily satisfied the hunger of a football-starved city. We’ll remember Bob Stoops, who left retirement for his first professional opportunity, coaching the Dallas Renegades.
The XFL knew what it needed to be. Here’s hoping it can recapture that vision and return one day.
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