The XFL, Home of the... Surprisingly Entertaining Football?
Updated: Feb 19, 2020
Image from Athlon Sports
The United States of America. Home of freedom, family, and football. Every year football fans across the nation go through a post-Super Bowl depression as we see the nation's most popular sport dwindle off for seven long months. Collegiate and professional football have the two longest offseasons of all the major sports in the United States, with NCAA basketball a close third.
Enter the XFL, the Spring Football League that began not even a full week after the final snap of the Super Bowl. Commissioner Oliver Luck, the father of retired NFL quarterback Andrew Luck, has made it clear that the league is not competing with the NFL but only complimenting it. The XFL is facing its fair share of adversity with Landry Jones and Cardale Jones being the faces of the league. Landry Jones was a 4th round pick of the NFL by the Pittsburg Steelers out of the University of Oklahoma. He only threw 169 career passes in the NFL, and he mostly served as a backup to Ben Roethlisberger. He was the first player to commit to playing for the XFL, and it will be very interesting to see him reunite with his former Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops in Dallas to play for the Renegades. Landry Jones set Big 12 records for the most passing yards (16,646), completions (1,388), and touchdown passes (123) where he was a four-year starter for Stoops. Cardale Jones was a 4th round pick of the Buffalo Bills after his magical run at Ohio State. He began the 2014 season at Ohio State as the third-string quarterback. After injuries to Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, he was thrusted into the starting role for the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship Game. After a shocking 59-0 victory over a powerhouse Wisconsin team, Cardale later led them to a National Championship in resounding fashion and stayed at Ohio State for his senior season. After an up and down year, and then only throwing 11 passes in the NFL his football career seemed to be over. The XFL gives Cardale another opportunity in hopes of recapturing the success he once had. Other notable XFL players include quarterback Josh Johnson (Los Angeles Wildcats), quarterback Matt McGloin (New York Guardians), running back Christian Michael (St. Louis Battlehawks), wide receiver Sammie Coates (Houston Roughnecks), former All-Pro punter Marquette King (St. Louis Battlehawks), and longtime NFL kicker Nick Novak (Los Angeles Wildcats).
The XFL also came up with many rule changes that should spice up the game and create added excitement. The most glaring change is kickoffs. The kicking team lines up on the receiving teams 35-yard line and the receiving team lines up on the 30-yard line. The only two people who can move are the kicker and the kick returner. Once the kick returner receives the ball then everyone can move. This limits the number of injuries and also encourages kick returns. This is much more exciting than seeing most kickoffs in the NFL and College ending with touchbacks and fair catches. Another rule change is the scoring after a touchdown. Teams can score 1 point by running a play from the 2-yard line, 2 points by running a play from the 5-yard line, and 3 points by running a play from the 10-yard line. This adds an extra flair compared to the boring 33-yard extra point in the NFL. The rule that I am most excited about is the 25-second play clock. The NFL has a 40-second play clock in between snaps, and with our generation's short attention span the 25-second clock will speed up the game and results in nonstop action. Other notable new rules include 2 timeouts per half, 2 forward passes allowed in one play (before the line of scrimmage), and the overtime shootout style of 5 "rounds" of alternating single-play possessions from the 5-yard line.
The eight teams will battle throughout the ten-week schedule in hopes to make the four-team playoff system. The DC Defenders and Houston Roughnecks are the early favorites to win it all, but if the Dallas Renegades gel they could become a very tough team to beat. The other five teams include the New York Guardians, Seattle Dragons, Los Angeles Wildcats, Tampa Bay Vipers, and the St. Louis Battlehawks. The XFL has done an outstanding job in putting these eight teams in fairly big markets, and the owner of the league, Vince McMahon, has stated that he is willing to put 500 million dollars into the league. This is five times the amount that McMahon put into the XFL in 2001 when it failed miserably after attempting to blend below-average football with the WWE and over the top entertainment. McMahon and commissioner Oliver Luck have made it clear that the only similarity between the 2001 XFL and present-day XFL is the name. The 500 million dollars should fund the league for at least three years, and the numbers and popularity have already surpassed the failed AAF (Alliance of American Football) in only two weeks. The entertainment for this league is also top-notch as it enhances the viewer's experience by taking them into the challenge booth and has them listen in on play calls. The XFL is very active on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and other social media platforms as well. The XFL and Vince McMahon also struck a sweet deal with Walt Disney and Fox to have weekly games broadcasted on ABC and Fox. These broadcasts will be supplemented on the company's cable networks as well, including ESPN, ESPN 2, FS1, and FS2. On-field commentators get to interview players directly after plays to capture their reactions. This past week, after a horrid first half against the DC Defenders, an on-field reporter interviewed Matt McGloin for the New York Guardians. He shocked viewers by ripping his team and his coaching staff. This led to him being benched after a pick-six to start the second half.
Through the first two weeks of the season, it is clear that passing reigns supreme. The leading rusher of the XFL after the first week was running back Matt Jones (yes Redskins fans that Matt Jones). He rushed for 85-yards on 21 carries as he was the only running back in the entire league to eclipse 80-yards. The top quarterback in this league through the first two weeks has been P.J. Walker. The Houston Roughnecks QB has been the clear MVP after compiling 442 passing yards and 7 passing touchdowns compared to only 1 interception through the first two games. He is the Lamar Jackson of the XFL. Walker can break off large runs and use many different arm angles to fit passes into tiny openings. P.J. Walker was recommended to the XFL commissioner Oliver Luck by his son Andrew Luck. Walker spent two seasons on the Colts practice squad, and Andrew told his father "you've got to sign him. He can play!" After Walker threw 4 touchdowns in the first week, maybe Andrew Luck should be recommending more players to his dad. Walker was slotted to be the 2nd string quarterback before the season began but beat out Phillip Walker for the starting gig and he has not looked back.
The XFL has gotten off to a great start with their quick-paced gameplay and interesting nuances to provide an entertaining experience. In a world where every new football league faces an uphill climb compared to the juggernaut of the NFL, the revamped XFL is around to stay.