By Shaun Blundell – @Shaun_F10Y
Maybe next year the full 10 yards will need to add another branch to its portfolio? The XFL is set to return, 19 years after its initial introduction as “competition” to the NFL, the Vince McMahon backed venture will once again attempt to establish itself in the world of football. In a mini-series of articles I will look at why it failed previously, introduce you to the new teams and what it needs to do this time around to succeed. So chronologically lets begin with a history lesson…
What Was The XFL?
The XFL was initially founded 20 years ago as a joint venture between television Amercian TV network NBC and WWE chairman Vince McMahon with both parties having a 50% stake in the project. The initial concept was to build on the success of the NFL and WWE, combining the traditional game of American football with the stunts and storytelling of professional wrestling. This was at a time when WWE wasn’t rated PG so there was a heavy emphasis on sex and violence. In a nutshell, it was marketed as football with less rules, more violence and more fun with the “sex element” being provided by scantily clad cheerleaders.
The league comprised of 8 teams split into 2 divisions and all were given names associated with insanity or violence to play into the leagues branding. The original name for the Birmingham team was initially Birmingham Blast but was changed due to local protests. The teams were as follows: –
Eastern Division – Birmingham Thunderbolts, Chicago Enforcers, New York/New Jersey Hitmen, Orlando Rage
Western Division – Las Vegas Outlaws, Los Angeles Xtreme, Memphis Maniax, San Francisco Demons
The draft for the league took place in October of 2000 where 475 players were selected. This was added to by a supplemental draft in December of the same year where a further 65 players were selected for teams.
The format was simple enough in that each team would play home and away against their own division and play 1 game against teams from the opposing conference. The winner of the East division would play the runner up of the West division and vice versa in a playoff semi final, before the championship game.
It was the rules of the game that distinguished it as different product from its NFL counterpart. Here are some of the key differences.
Opening scramble – Replacing the coin toss at the beginning of each game was an event in which one player from each team sprinted towards the ball in an attempt to be the first player to recover it. The winner of this scramble would then choose if they wished to defend or possess the ball first. Absolutely pointless really, and it actually resulted in a serious injury on opening night when one player separated his shoulder on said play, he ended up missing the remainder of the season.
No PAT Kicks – After every touchdown scored, no point after kicks were attempted. To earn a point after a touchdown, teams ran a single offensive down from the two-yard line. As the season progressed the rules were tweaked further and two-point and three-point conversions had been added to the rules. Teams could opt for the bonus points by playing the conversion farther back from the goal line.
Bump and Run – The XFL allowed full bump and run coverage early in the season. Defensive backs were allowed to hit wide receivers any time before the quarterback released the ball, as long as the hit came from the front or the side playing into the leagues “violent” persona. However this limited offensive production and during the season was restricted to the first five yards from the line of scrimmage.
Play Clock – The XFL deployed a 35 second play clock, shorter than the NFL in an attempt to speed up gameplay.
Punting – There were several tweaks to the rules around punting, designed with the intention of making it an exciting play. These included not allowing fair catches and greater opportunities for the kicking team to retain possession.
Jersey Nicknames – Not necessarily a rule as such but another noticeable change was that players did not have to have their surname on their jerseys and could instead have nicknames displayed in their place.
The opening game of the XFL took place on February 3, 2001 with New York travelling to Los Vegas. The regular season spanned the next 10 weeks as no bye weeks were included in the schedules. After 10 weeks of competition the Orlando rage finished the season with the best record at 8-2 and were joined in the playoffs by Chicago, LA and San Francisco. The 2 Western conference teams came through the initial playoff games with the championship game (known as “The Million Dollar Game” due to prize money) being won by the Los Angeles Xtreme. LA quarterback Tommy Maddox was named the league MVP having completed the most passes for the most yards and touchdowns throughout the regular season. Google away for more stats and info on the season itself if you are interested and if you want to watch any of the games, they are owned by WWE and are available through their network.
So far, so good. A new football league that managed to get through its inaugural season. However everything was not well and the first season would also be the last. In part 2 we delve into what went wrong for the league and why it disappeared for what will be 19 years.