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WATCHING FOOTBALL: Wait, The XFL’s Back?

Yes, and it's spectacular.

Next week all of America will gather in our annual commercial-watching ritual, with occasional breaks where some people play football.

If you like football like I do, though, the Super Bowl is a bittersweet experience. Yes, it’s a glorious three-and-a-half hours, but afterwards comes almost six solid months where nary a football game is to be found.

Not this year though. The usual football drought is cut in half by an awesome deluge of pigskin-chucking action, filled to the brim with high-level college talent and elite coaches, available across network television all the way through April. What am I talking about?

The return of the XFL.

You probably have some questions. Questions like: 

So what is an XFL, exactly?

Glad you asked! It’s a new spring football league, essentially the reboot of this absolutely disastrous attempt to combine pro wrestling and football. If you want to know more about that, go check out ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary called “This Was The XFL.” It’s really, really good.

How is this XFL different than the last XFL?

Well, did you ever see the Star Wars prequels? You didn’t, because you’re a sane person who doesn’t like bad movies? Then this upcoming analogy will make a tad less sense.

In the second of George Lucas’s valiant attempts to make sci-fi as boring and awkward as possible, Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi walks into a bar. (No, this isn’t a joke setup.) And some idiot tries to sell him drugs. So Obi-Wan uses a Jedi mind trick.

Basically, Mr. Death Sticks here is the old XFL, blunderously and unapologetically dumb, a desperate and pathetic character. I mean, he’s basically trying to sell drugs to a Jedi, Star Wars‘ equivalent of the cops. This was not going to go well. This was never going to go well.

Now, the new XFL is like if this unfortunate criminal took Obi-Wan’s sound advice, went home, kicked the habit, and fully reformed. He put on his best space dress suit, aced a space interview, and got a good honest nine-to-five space job. Soon, he became a faithful attendee at his space therapist, working through his problems. Heck, he even reunited with his space ex, and they’re really trying to make it work.

What a comeback story. We’re all rooting for you now, Mr. Death Sticks!

You are a massive nerd.

Thank you!

But wait, wasn’t there just a spring football league that went belly-up? How’s this one going to be any different?

There was! It was called the AAF. I wrote about it. It was fun. But it didn’t become profitable fast enough. Like lots of startup, it started in debt, and its stakeholders thought continued investment wasn’t worthwhile. 

But the XFL already has their angel investor, a bombastic billionaire with a legendary ego: Vincent Kennedy McMahon.

Mr. McMahon’s the most successful sports entertainment tycoon of all time. He knows how to put on a good show, and run a highly profitable company. But for years, he’s been haunted by his failure to make an entrance into real-life, non-scripted sports. He’s had time to consider his mistakes. And he’s reemerged with an eight-team league laser-focused on the game itself. No wrestling-style gimmickry to be found here.

Also, didn’t Donald Trump shave his head at Wrestlemania?

Yes, he did! Good memory. Here’s that.

So there’s eight teams. What are they, and where do they play?

Well, that’ll take a while to answer. So let me give you a brief overview of each team, starting with the…

DALLAS RENEGADES: Playing in the converted former home of the Texas Rangers, the Renegades are led by former Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops. Their offense, led by the legendary Hal Mumme, promises to be some variant on the air raid, commanded by QB Eric Dungey, the former Syracuse standout. (Landry Jones, one of Stoops’s players at Oklahoma, was all set to lead the team until he got injured in training camp.)

DC DEFENDERS: Hailing from our nation’s capital and playing in Washington’s MLS stadium, the Defenders boast the extremely skilled former Heisman candidate Cardale Jones. He’ll have another recent college talent, LSU receiver Malachi Dupre, to target.

HOUSTON ROUGHNECKS: Sporting a logo that straight up rips off the old Oilers sigil, offensive mastermind June Jones leads this squad, which’ll play in the University of Houston’s stadium. Michigan State’s old QB, Connor Cook (most famous for breaking countless Baylor hearts in the Cotton Bowl a few years ago) will be handling the offense, but Houston also boasts a terrifying defensive line led by standouts Kony Ealy and Corey Crawford.

LA WILDCATS: The team with the most boring name and funniest head coach (former Green Bay assistant HC Winston Moss), California’s team also boasts stellar offensive coaching led by the enigmatic Norm Chow. At first glance, the roster’s a tad lighter on big names, but might I draw your attention to speed freak KD Cannon at wide receiver? Yes, I might.

NEW YORK GUARDIANS: Another boring name, another interesting head ball coach in longtime NFL coordinator Kevin Gilbride. Their QB’s the hard-working Penn State standout Matt McGloin. And they play in the Meadowlands, a full-fledged pro stadium known for weird weather. What I’m saying is we could get a few snow games early in the season if we’re lucky.

SEATTLE DRAGONS: Sporting really fun uniforms and coached by Jim Zorn and (on the offensive end) Mike Riley, the Dragons also play in NFL confines: the earthquake zone that is Century Link Field, home of the Seahawks. Another roster seemingly light on recognized names. This’ll give everyone an equal chance to make a name for themselves.

ST. LOUIS BATTLEHAWKS: Just listen to that name. BATTLEHAWKS. The Gateway City can’t wait for the XFL season. They’ve got a home football team, playing in the exact same place as their beloved Rams used to. Notably, they have a stacked group at QB, including Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald and Ole Miss’s Jordan Ta’amu. Former rivals competing for the starting job! We’ve already got drama and the season hasn’t even started! BATTLEHAWKS!!!

And finally, the…

TAMPA BAY VIPERS: Playing their games in the pirate-ship-festooned home of the NFL’s Buccaneers and helmed by Marc Trestman (a highly successful Canadian Football League coach), the Vipers boast one of the most intriguing players in the XFL: South Florida’s Quinton Flowers, listed as both QB and RB on the roster. I cannot wait to see how they use him.

I’m still not convinced. Won’t this just be normal football with less skilled players?

Nope! Ideally, the XFL will eventually organically morph into something like a minor league for the football talent the NFL misses, allowing them to make a name for themselves and earn a roster spot. And in the meantime, these players aren’t scrubs. They were (in large part) recent high achievers in college ball who had to prove themselves in workouts in order to earn slots in the XFL itself.

But perhaps the most important, innovative thing about the XFL are its myriad rule changes, designed to make the game more fun and speedy, adding additional strategy to the game we all love. The league’s put thought into how to revitalize things like the extra point, the kickoff, and overtime. It’ll be exciting to watch these new concepts in practice, and perhaps migrate into other versions of football one day soon.

There’s a lot to love about the XFL in addition to this simple fact: it’s more football. And that’s an unqualified good thing.

Hmm. Your views are interesting, and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

Well, I don’t have one, but feel free to follow me on Twitter! I’ll be watching the XFL as it happens, and reporting all the offseason news in the NFL and college football. Hope you join me. And as always, happy watching!

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