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An Escapee from Hell: The XFL Returns

January 25th, 2018 · No Comments · Los Angeles Rams, NFL, Rams

We thought we had buried the XFL after one limp and forgettable season, in 2001.

But now it is back, a ragged zombie out of the grave, with wrestling impresario Vince McMahon planning to take another whack at the 11-on-11 game two years from now.

McMahon promises a “re-imagined” game … and I imagine it will have few obvious links to the 2001 disaster. Or it should not, at least.

What did the original XFL give us?

Far as I can remember, it gave us one significant breakthrough: The “spider” cam — which hovers above the field and gives us those overhead shots. The XFL invented that. I think.

The rest?

A lot of bad football.

Wretched football from eight ragged teams, almost all of whom struggled mightily to score, no matter how many nicknames (He Hate Me) appeared on the back of uniforms.

(The team names were amusing, anyway: The Orlando Rage, Chicago Enforcers, New York/New Jersey Hitmen, Birmingham Thunderbolts, Memphis Maniax, Las Vegas Outlaws, San Francisco Demons and Los Angeles Xtreme.

The XFL was meant to be the no-holds-barred form of pro football, rougher and tougher than the establishment NFL. But the NFL already had done a thorough job of putting its players’ future health (from their heads to their toes) under threat. How much worse could the XFL be? Exactly.

McMahon is not saying how XFL 2.0 will be different from its predecessor, or from the NFL as we now know it. Aside from suggesting the league will be “fan-friendly” and will play games of closer to two hours to the NFL three. (Attention spans have shriveled, true.)

He might be aiming at late-teen players who have not done the “two years in college” thing the NFL requires, or rounding up the best of the guys who could not make The League. But, then, he already tried the second half of that 17 years ago, and the first half … 99 percent of those second-tier players would be better off going to school on scholarship and playing the college game.

Anyway, I have some memories of the league, which had a team in Los Angeles that hoped to fill the void created in 1995 when both the Rams and Raiders abandoned the Los Angeles market.

I covered the first game played by the Xtreme, in San Francisco at what is now known as AT&T Park. The family came along; I wonder if any of them remember anything from the game.

I barely do. The crowd was tiny. I thought the Xtreme won, but it was the Demons (no, really) who won, 15-13, on February 4, 2001.

That game demonstrated the single biggest failure of the league: The lack of quality quarterbacks and competent offenses. Every team in the league struggled to score, and that led to lots of dull games.

The XFL had a great first weekend, picking up as the NFL season ended, but it tailed off quickly once people actually saw what was going on.

Another part of the original XFL game plan, as I recall, was to focus on skimpily dressed cheerleaders … along with a football-playing style that somehow would incorporate elements of professional wrestling. It was never clear how that would happen and it did not.

I also covered the final game in XFL history (to date) — the championship game, won 38-6 by the same teams I had seen in Week 1, with the Xtreme winning behind league MVP Tommy Maddox, the best quarterback in the league.

Maddox also was one of the very few XFL players who used the league to get to the NFL. (Back to the NFL, in his case.) Maddox was the starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers for a couple of years (before Ben Roethlisburger), leading them to a 10-5-1 record in 2002 and to the second round of the playoffs.

The XFL was a financial disaster, with co-owner NBC sharing in McMahon’s tens of millions of dollars in red ink.

It was a bad idea, doomed to fail, and its demise was rued by few. Aside from seeing the opening game in San Francisco, my most vivid memories was an Xtreme fan spitting on me after the game — while I had my back turned. (I figured it out about 30 minutes later; maybe spitting is what Xtreme fans did.)

It was a tacky league, with no fans and bad football. The Spider Cam was not nearly enough to make up for all of that.

McMahon’s Take 2 will have to be a massively improved operation to deserve to survive.





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