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Orange County Register (California)
The XFL is back, 17 years after it got body-slammed into infamy.
Vince McMahon relaunched his rebel football league Thursday, when the pro-wrestling mogul announced that games will start early in 2020. Apparently, much will have changed from his failed venture in 2001.
"We're going to give the game of football back to fans," McMahon said in a news conference that was broadcast on various online outlets.
The new XFL will be a single-entity league, owned entirely by McMahon, the chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment. McMahon said the league will start with eight teams, each of which will play a 10-game regular-season schedule, but McMahon said he is not close to identifying the new XFL cities.
McMahon implicitly promised significant changes from his initial league, which was ridiculed for its testosterone-fueled emphasis on on-field hitting and interactions with cheerleaders.
This time, McMahon is promoting games that will be "shorter, faster-paced, family friendly and easier to understand." There will be no crossover with WWE wrestling, said McMahon, who has not yet identified any potential broadcast partners.
Somewhat reluctantly, and under questions from reporters, McMahon indicated players will be required to stand for the national anthem before games. That issue has been a major controversy in the NFL over the past two seasons, and McMahon said he would have a "booklet" for players that would indicate what opinions they are allowed to express in public.
McMahon said the XFL "will have nothing to do with politics" and referred to the "time-honored tradition to stand and appreciate the national anthem." McMahon noted, in a similar vein, that players with any criminal background (including drunk driving) would not be allowed to play in the XFL.
In terms of player safety, another major talking point in the NFL, McMahon said the XFL would "listen to medical experts" but offered no further specifics about a concussion protocol or any rules.
McMahon also floated in-game innovations as part of his desire to keep game times at no more than two hours. McMahon hinted at the elimination of halftime, which takes 12 minutes in the NFL.
"Now is a perfect opportunity," McMahon said. "I've always wanted to bring it back."
The XFL essentially has been a running joke since 2001 when, in its only season, the Los Angeles Xtreme won the league championship then vanished a month later. The XFL, born of a high-profile partnership between WWE and NBC, sputtered because of poor ratings and substandard play.
It's not yet known whether a team will play in Southern California, but the appetite seemingly is diminished. When the Xtreme played at the Coliseum in 2001, the area had been without professional outdoor football since 1994, and the USC and UCLA programs were mediocre at best.
Now, the Rams and Chargers occupy Los Angeles, and they will share a new stadium in Inglewood set to open in 2020 and host the Super Bowl in 2022.
A national appetite also is in question. During its inception, the XFL sold itself as a "no-holds-barred" league that encouraged hard hitting. Player safety now is a primary concern in pro football. In 2001, the XFL encouraged cheerleaders to have relationships with players and openly promoted the idea.
This model of sensory-overload football led to a meteoric rise and fall over a 15-month span.
McMahon started with plenty of potential and panache, when he held a news conference in February 2000 and announced he would form an equal partnership with NBC and start a pro football league.
At that news conference, McMahon said, "Where's the kind of football that the NFL used to be? Where's my smash-mouth, wide-open football? It's gone. … We will take you places the NFL is afraid to take you, because quite frankly, we're not afraid of anything."
McMahon didn't hesitate. The league held its draft in October 2000 and its first game Feb. 3, 2001, exactly one year after the initial announcement. The game drew a huge rating on NBC but the play was ragged. The next week, technical difficulties knocked the broadcast off the air.
Quality of play seemed secondary. Rod Smart became the most famous of the players, because the XFL allowed personalized jerseys and his read, "He Hate Me." Players earned a maximum of $5,000 per game week and had no health insurance, and the level of play clearly was a step down from the NFL.
Attendance and television ratings dwindled throughout the season. The Xtreme, led by former UCLA quarterback Tommy Maddox, beat the San Francisco Demons in the championship game - dubbed the "Million Dollar Game" because of bonus money given to the winners - but only 24,153 came to the Coliseum that day and the XFL already seemed doomed.
In May 2001, less than one month after the championship game, McMahon closed the XFL shop.
The league, in some ways, left a positive legacy. The way NBC covered the games, with the use of "sky cams" and on-field cams, would be copied at the NFL and college levels. The XFL also experimented with extra-point rules (although its "opening scramble" in place of a coin flip never got traction elsewhere).
Some players enjoyed post-XFL success, most notably Maddox, who eventually became an NFL starting quarterback and won a Super Bowl ring with Pittsburgh in 2006.
The XFL became something of a running joke in pro sports, but McMahon never let the dream totally die. Rumors of a reboot got fueled recently when McMahon, now 72 years old, sold $100 million of WWE stock. McMahon took over control of the successful wrestling organization from his father in 1982.
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