XFL's second coming arrives with toned-down wild side
It was a professional football league that lasted for one season 19 years ago, but memories of the XFL are surprisingly vivid for fans over 30: He Hate Me, Jesse Ventura, no fair catches, the Memphis Maniax.
So when the XFL returns this weekend with a new eight-team league, again owned by Vince McMahon of World Wrestling Entertainment, can fans expect more of the same?
The answer, said Commissioner Oliver Luck, is no. “Aside from the name, there is nothing in common that we will have with the league in 2001,” he said.
Rather than razzle-dazzle or ratings-grabbing stunts, “we are focusing 100% on the quality of play,” he said.
The old XFL celebrated its edginess, even promising glimpses into the cheerleaders’ locker rooms. “We are gimmick-free,” the new league president, Jeffrey Pollack, said. “And we don’t even have cheerleaders.”
The league has landed every one of its games on television, on ABC, ESPN, Fox and FS1 and 2, as well as on Spanish-language stations. And the newfound mellowness extends to its announcers. While broadcasts in 2001 featured the colorful likes of Ventura, Brian Bosworth and Jerry “the King” Lawler, the lead play-by-play man for XFL 2020 will be a reliable pro, Steve Levy.
Even the most memorable aspect of the old league has been scrapped. Players’ jerseys will have plain old last names, rather than nicknames like He Hate Me (Rod Smart) and Death Blow (Jamal Duff).
The team nicknames have similarly been tempered, with extreme names like, well, the Los Angeles Xtreme and the Maniax (which drew the ire of some mental health advocates) giving way to the more conventional Dallas Renegades and Los Angeles Wildcats.
Pollack acknowledged that despite the XFL abandoning many of its former distinctive features, the old league does buy some goodwill for the new. “We’re launching a 100-year brand that also has 20 years of equity built in.”
To the extent that the new league is pushing the football envelope, it comes in several unusual rules innovations.
For one, kickoffs will be dramatically different in the new XFL. The kicker will boot the ball from his own 25-yard line, but he will be a lonely figure. His 10 teammates will be lined up 40 yards away at the opposing team’s 35. The returning team will be at its 30. Only once the ball is caught by the returner will players on either side be allowed to move. “It’s effectively a play from scrimmage,” Luck said.
The league has been testing the new kickoff and expects to see more kickoff run backs, exciting plays that have been dying out in football, but without the injuries that are often caused by large men colliding after a 35- to 40-yard sprint.
(This concern for safety is another departure from the original XFL, which billed itself as manly football: It did not allow fair catches, for example. The new league emphasizes that it sought good football players who were also of good character.)
The league has also added a strategic decision that may prove intriguing. After a touchdown, teams cannot kick an extra point. They can go for a single point with a play from scrimmage at the 2-yard line, or go for 2 points from the 5-yard line. They can even go for 3 with a play from the 10. Effectively, the rule makes a 9-point game a one-score game.