“Gone too soon” is the only way to describe the revival of the XFL, America’s latest attempt at giving spring football a place in our sporting landscape. Years from now, I will have to tell my grandchildren about the legend of the Houston Roughnecks, one of eight teams in the XFL, and the undefeated championship run that never was.
As quickly as the XFL came, it went as the victim of unfortunate circumstances. On March 11, after five weeks of highly entertaining action, the XFL announced that it would be suspending its 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, the league committed to returning in 2021, but a month later, the XFL laid off all of its employees and filed for bankruptcy.
Though some hardcore fans and casual viewers alike feel that the National Football League (NFL) has too large of a presence for there to be room for another football league in our country, the XFL showed tons of potential.
The XFL played its first game on Feb. 8 of this year, with a match between the Seattle Dragons and the D.C. Defenders. Over the next four weeks, America tuned in to see a fun and innovative spin to the game of football.
XFL games were truly a sight to behold. Players and coaches were miked up for the entire game, letting viewers hear crucial plays being called in real-time. Sideline reporters were allowed to interview players right after they stepped off the field, leading to many gems such as when New York Guardians quarterback Matt McGloin trashed his team’s Week 2 offensive performance before heading to the locker room.
In addition to its unique broadcasting style, XFL’s style of football was incredibly entertaining. Thanks to my Apple Watch, I know that my heart rate went up every time I saw a team attempt a one-point, two-point, or three-point conversion as well as take part in a kickoff return system that valued exciting returns and player safety equally. While the league didn’t mirror what you would see on a Sunday in October, the XFL found a way to churn out an enjoyable product.
After four glorious weeks of high-octane football, I had no idea that Week 5 would be the XFL’s last time on the gridiron. Unbeknownst, the Roughnecks’ swan song was nothing short of a banger. Sitting on a Southwest flight heading home for spring break, I streamed a matchup where the 1-3 Seattle Dragons hoped to tarnish the Roughnecks’ perfect 4-0 record.
For the entire game, I was on the edge of my cramped middle seat. The Roughnecks overcame two double-digit deficits. I lost my mind when Roughnecks running back James Butler pirouetted into the endzone off an 8-yard rush, bringing the game within three points. I nearly knocked my complimentary beverage to the floor when Roughnecks wide receiver Cam Phillips made a strong grab in the endzone, giving the Roughnecks their first lead of the game. Moments like these are what made tuning into the XFL every week worth it for me.
When we look back on this time in our history, a football league having to cease operations is not the first thing that will come to mind. At the end of the day, the XFL is a business, and it is never easy to see a business shut its doors for good.
Everybody from stadium workers to players trying to realize their dreams of playing or making it back to the NFL are now without a job.
Despite its tragic ending, there are still some glimmers of hope sprinkled throughout the XFL’s short-lived history. Houston Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker inked a two-year deal with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, and Saint Louis BattleHawks quarterback Jordan Ta’amu signed on with the reigning Super Bowl Champions, the Kansas City Chiefs.
It truly is unfortunate that the XFL fell to circumstances beyond its control, but it wasn’t all for nothing. The league made the most of its time, as it gave players and coaches a second chance at greatness while also giving fans something to root for during the painstakingly long six-month NFL offseason.