The new XFL: eXciting or eXcessive?

By: Joe Pohoryles

For months, football fans waited with growing anticipation for a landmark match-up at the beginning of February. The biggest football game of 2020 promised a new era in football that will be looked back on for years.

I’m not talking about Super Bowl LIV, where the Kansas City Chiefs won on Feb. 2. I’m talking about the XFL. The latest attempt for a secondary football league started its first week of play on Feb. 8, with the local DC Defenders defeating the Seattle Dragons 31-19 in the very first game. Rounding out the rest of the eight-team league is the New York Guardians, LA Wildcats, Dallas Renegades, Houston Roughnecks, St. Louis BattleHawks and Tampa Bay Vipers.

With multiple failed attempts at second leagues in the past — including the Arena Football League, which folded in 2019, and the Alliance of American Football (AAF) that did not even last a full season — the XFL has many skeptics. Even the first attempt at the league failed back in 2001, although that was more “WWE meets novelty football,” whereas this new XFL looks like a second-tier football league.

That is just fine. The XFL does not have to be the NFL. The best players are in the NFL, so the XFL product will not be as good, but if it can be entertaining and at a respectable level of play, it should be able to stick around. There has just been one weekend of play so far, but watching the DC Defenders in action was… surprisingly fun.

It’s not as if I’m a fan starved of football and willing to watch just anything that is thrown out there — the Super Bowl was only a week ago. Watching your team win obviously makes it more fun, too, but it’s not as if I have been rooting for this team my whole life. My only attachment to them is that they represent my home city/metro area; the bonds have yet to be established.

Highlights from the first game of the new XFL between the DC Defenders and the Seattle Dragons.

Looking at it unbiasedly, the first XFL game was entertaining. The quality of play was not that of the NFL — for every highlight reel catch, there was probably two more dropped balls — but it was solid football based on its standards. With more practices and games coming in the future, hopefully those early season issues can be ironed out.

Still, DC had two D/ST touchdowns, living up to their team name, and DC quarterback Cardale Jones pulled off a nice double-flea flicker trick play to create a 39-yard Khari Lee touchdown. Jones, who joins the Redskins’ Dwayne Haskins as the other former Ohio State Buckeye running the offense in DC, was among the more recognizable names on the field on Saturday, and he even received MVP chants by the end of the game.

From what I saw, the atmosphere at Audi Field was strong, but that was with the excitement of a new league opening. The ratings and attendance will be much more important a month from now, once everything is settled in.

Another cool thing to watch was the new rules that went into effect. Among them was the new PAT rules, where instead of kicking, the scoring team must choose whether to run the PAT play from the two-, five- or 10-yard line, which will earn them one, two or three points (corresponding with the distances from the goal line) if converted.

Photo Credit: XFL News Hub

The league also implements certain clock rules and devotes an official whose only role is to place the ball down for the next play; it’s an attempt to decrease downtime between plays and keep the game moving quicker. The new kickoff format also appears to be much safer than the traditional one, something I could definitely see any level of football adopting in the future.

The kicker boots the ball, where the returner (off screen) will field it. The lines of blockers and rushers cannot move until the ball reaches the returner’s hands.

There is still a long way to go, and if it follows the path of its predecessors, may not even stick around for too long. I hope it does, because having spring football is a great for any football fan. Something that could be key in its survival could be developing a relationship with NFL that the AAF could not pull off: a feeder system. The NFL is the only one of the four major US leagues that does not have a minor league system, so if the XFL can get that type of support from the NFL, it could work out in their favor.

It’s too early to decide the league’s fate, but the early showings had potential. If there is one thing we can determine, it’s that Cardale Jones plays his best wearing red:

Cardale Jones hoists the College Football Playoff trophy after winning the first CFP with Ohio State. Could he be the one to lift the first XFL championship trophy? (Photo Credit: Pinterest).

Ranking the XFL team names:

1. St. Louis BattleHawks: It’s unique, it has an intimidation factor (at least as far as names go) and for a city that just recently lost a football team, at least they get the XFL team with the coolest name. Plus, their logo is a sword with wings. What’s not to like?

2. Seattle Dragons: Perhaps not the most creative, but it is a tough mascot that is underutilized in today’s sports leagues. Definitely among the best in the XFL.

3. Dallas Renegades: Interesting name, and it fits that Wild West trope of Texas history (although perhaps Dallas is not the city that best fits that description). Regardless, it rolls off the tongue, and has that intimidating sound to it. Although, the logo does look a tad… generic.

4. Tampa Bay Vipers: Another cool, uncommon name that is easy to get behind. It gets extra points based on the fact that several different species of vipers can be found in Florida, making the name even more fitting.

5. Houston Roughnecks: The Oxford English Dictionary defines a roughneck as “a person with rough manners; an uncultivated or uneducated person,” and it also refers to a worker on an oil rig. That certainly fits geographically (the oil rig part, not the first definition), but as someone who is not from Houston, I was confused as to what it meant. Personally, I don’t think it has the best ring to it, though it certainly speaks to anyone who struggles to combat neck beards, including myself.

6. New York Guardians: It’s a fine name, and it sounds better to me than Roughnecks, but at least Houston’s name makes geographic sense. New York also loses points for reasons you’ll see under the worst team name.

7. LA Wildcats: All these unique, interesting team names, and Wildcats — the most generic team name in all of sports — is the best they could come up with for LA? They really should be ranked last if it were not for…

8. DC Defenders: I’m sorry, but I don’t understand the thinking here. It’s like a soccer team being named “the Goalkeepers,” or a basketball team called “the Power Forwards.” How are fans supposed to cheer them on? Cardale Jones could be driving the offense down the field into scoring position, but if the fans are cheering “Go Defenders!” then doesn’t it sound like they are rooting for the opposition’s defense to stop them? It’s too confusing.

It would be bad enough to have the worst defensive unit in any league, but if that becomes a reality for the Defenders, it will just be painfully ironic. Also, aren’t “Guardians” and “Defenders” technically synonymous? A definition of guardian is literally, “one who guards, protects or preserves; a keeper, defender.” Why has no one brought this up?

There are two teams in the league that essentially have the same name, except DC has the worst of the two. It would be as if the NFL had the New York Giants and the Washington Large People. Perhaps people would like that better than the Redskins, but I’m not sure which DC football team name I dislike more. I’ll still root for the Defenders, but they couldn’t have come up with anything better?

(Photo Credit: All-Pro Reels/Brian Murphy)

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