By Shaun Blundell (@Shaun_F10Y)
I retweeted out the following statement over the weekend:
I saw plenty of comments of the caliber, “It’s not as good as the NFL”. Really? Is that the standard we are expecting on opening weekend, or ever for that matter? The NFL has just celebrated its 100th season, has established fan bases, a global audience and obviously the best players on the planet. Throw in 32 rich owners, a truck load of TV money and I’d say its pretty safe to assume the NFL will always reign supreme.
That is exactly where the original concept of the XFL failed, it tried too hard to compete. When it realized that the main attraction would be the standard of play and it was naturally lacking they tried to pump up on the sex and violence to draw in viewers. Too much WWE and not enough football lead to its quick demise, but XFL 2.0 already feels different. With the opening weekend in the books, lets have some takeaways from my initial impressions.
The Lack of WWE was a Good Thing
Apart from the odd ringing out of the Undertaker’s “gong” between some plays you wouldn’t have known that Vince McMahon was involved with XFL this time around. The only other connection I saw was, Jordan Smallwood celebrating his 2 touchdowns with a Randy Orton style pose. However, when you consider that Gronk and more recently George Kittle have hyped up WWE whilst in the NFL, you could hardly see this as an issue. The focus was very much on the football, no plugs for Smackdown (I thought FOX might go there), no superstars in the crowd or tossing the coin and most importantly, no Jerry “The King” Lawler snooping through the cheerleaders locker room at halftime.
The Halftime Alternative
So if the decision was made to not show half naked cheerleaders at halftime then what exactly were we going to get instead? Well, here is a novel idea…… some actual focus on coaching and tactics. We hear a lot on NFL broadcasts about halftime adjustments but never get to actually see or hear any of it being discussed in the locker room. Thanks to the access that the broadcasters have during the XFL we actually get a view inside the locker room to find out what tweaks the coaches are implementing. A great addition to the broadcast and surely better than listening to the likes of Terry Bradshaw, Phil Simms and company state the obvious for 10 minutes or so.
We were told ahead of time to expect unrivaled access to the teams throughout the broadcast and the opening weekend did not disappoint. Hearing Pep Hamilton talk his offence through an entire play as it developed was a great insight into the headset. Sideline interviews had mixed results with an early “F bomb” being dropped and the sideline reporter trying to chat with a cornerback who was trying to get back on the field providing 2 of the more amusing moments. The general concept however was again good and providing the timing is right and its not overly used it can be a big enhancement.
There wasn’t a horrendous commentary booth to be found, and in fact the crew of Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen was a nice surprise. The graphics were slick with FOX continuing the presentation style that they debuted during the Superbowl. Even the preview shows that were available via the XFL youtube channel were good 15 minute updates to get you set for the game. Overall I enjoyed the coverage, even though I wish BT sport would give some opportunities to upcoming media enthusiasts to get in a UK studio (nudge, nudge, wink, wink)
Hearing the officials debate calls and the replay booth (armed with an Xbox controller) digesting footage of plays under review was also another good addition. I’ve always liked Dean Blandino and it was good to see him pop up every now and again to provide some clarity on what had just been called and why.
Just before kick off it was revealed that the league has already sold more tickets for its debut season than the AAF did for the entirety of its run. It’s a great sign for the longevity prospects of the league. Playing predominantly in markets with existing NFL teams may have raised a few eyebrows, but there was plenty of passion on display from the stands in week 1.
Playing in smaller stadiums, or only selling portions of the larger venues both seem sensible decisions in the early going. Fans who were in attendance made plenty of noise and seemingly had purchased plenty of merchandise ahead of opening weekend. With 4 teams obviously still to play a home opener this will be 1 to monitor.
I’m yet to find somebody who doesn’t love the new kick off rule. I really hope that the NFL was paying close attention because one of the most exciting plays in football certainly has life in the XFL. It was strange on the eyes to begin with as the poor kicker stood alone in his own half but the concept worked brilliantly. If safety is the primary concern on this play then I believe we have found a perfectly acceptable answer.
The PAT adds an intriguing strategy element and I’m sure it will grow organically over time. The idea that an 18 point lead is only a 2 possession game means again that the original concept has legs. I would probably like to see an option to kick for 1 point included but it has to be for argument sake a 50 yard attempt so that it’s not a “gimme”.
The timing rules inside of 2 minutes are again a good concept to allow for more offence with the clock stoppages opening up the entire playbook. That however brings me to my 1 minor complaint of the weekend, the games took too long. I say that in the context of the league marketing itself as a fast paced game. A continual running clock (outside of 2 minutes), fewer timeouts and a shorter halftime were all intended to shave time off the game.
The reality saw games around the 3 hour mark, with the 2nd game on Saturday actually kicking off before the 1st game had finished. It’s by no means a disaster but if the XFL wants to market itself as the place to see a faster game then it needs to produce 1.
Bring on Week 2
Near enough everything that was wrong in 2001 was put right on opening weekend of 2020. What was seen was some solid, hard-hitting football with some highlight reel plays thrown in. The presentation was excellent and as the league continues to learn will no doubt be refined throughout the season.
It feels only right as a Browns fan that I decided to root for the team that put up the fewest points in week 1. If it means I now get to be miserable for another 10 weekends every year then I’m all for it. More football is a good thing! Yes, it’s no NFL – IT’S NOT TRYING TO BE!
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