It’s hard to believe that 16 years have passed since WWE Chairman Vince McMahon made a feeble attempt at creating a new professional football league to rival all others. It was called the XFL, and the fledgling league lasted all but one season.
What McMahon tried to create was not your normal football league. But rather, a group of teams that would play by some new rules with some added tricks and features which ended up having the league resemble way too much of McMahon’s WWE. The rules were utterly ridiculous. And the surrounding theatrics were sometimes shameful.
Perhaps how each game started was a good indicator of how the league was destined to fail. Instead of a coin toss and a kickoff, the XFL created the “opening scramble.” If you’ve never seen it, you would not believe it. Instead of the coin toss, the football was placed on the field at the 50-yard line while one designated player from each team would stand next to each other at either side of the field at the 30-yard line. Using a whistle, both players would race to the ball for an attempt at gaining possession. The man with the ball makes the call. Receive or defer the ensuing kickoff.
Just as you think might happen on such a play… happened. In the very first game of the XFL’s existence, on the very first “opening scramble,” the Orlando Rage’s Hassan Shamsid-Deen raced to the ball in the game between Orlando and the Chicago Enforcers. In making the effort, Shamsid-Deen suffered a separated shoulder and his season was over. Karma, perhaps, for the XFL?
The XFL played a season of 10 games and in the end, the Los Angeles Xtreme—led by future Steelers starting quarterback Tommy Maddox—defeated the San Francisco Demons for the league’s inaugural and only championship. But given the reputation of the WWE, that carried over to the XFL. Most experts and regular football announcers deemed McMahon’s experiment a joke.
For an example of disrespect of the new league, appearing on the Conan O’Brien show in 2001, famed broadcaster Bob Costas said of the XFL:
“It has to be at least a decade since I first mused out loud, why doesn’t somebody combine mediocre high school football with a tawdry strip club? Finally, somebody takes my idea and runs with it. I have to put the right spin on this because I’m also on NBC—apparently, their ratings went through the toilet.”
With poor ratings and the league coming off as an embarrassment and failure, NBC pulled the plug and the league folded in May 2001. The XFL was not the only league that attempted to rival the NFL, however.
The World Football League (WFL) made the effort and lasted just one more season than the XFL did. The WFL played in 15 cities/states and was able to coax a handful of big-name players away from the NFL—headlined by Miami’s Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick. That 1-2 punch signed with Memphis. A team that also included Paul Warfield and D.D. Lewis.
Then there was the United States Football League (USFL). Though, that had a bit more success than its predecessor or successor. The USFL lasted four seasons from 1983 to its demise in 1986. This league had a litany of stars including Jim Kelly, Steve Young, and Reggie White. But as it was with all three leagues, it’s just not possible to compete with the long-established monster that is the NFL.
Since the XFL debacle, no other league has been established to rival the NFL. Although, there was a proposed North American Football League that was supposed to begin play last spring (2016). Yet, it never materialized. Then we have the Rivals Professional Football League—which has actually been playing games. Games which you can see some highlights of in the video below. When you watch this, you’ll be saying to yourself, “who are they kidding?” This looks like a bunch of guys in a pickup tackle football game playing in front of nobody.
Major League Baseball has its minor league system, right? Well, the NFL tried to do the same with a Fall Experimental Football League. Yet it lasted just two seasons (2014-15). It was supposed to be a developmental league—much like what the NBA has. When that collapsed, a new developmental league rose up called The Spring League. Result? Another failure. If you go all the way north, there is the Canadian Football League (CFL) which has been around a really long time. And, it’s had its share of famous players as well—namely quarterbacks such as Warren Moon and Doug Flutie.
Lastly there is the Arena Football League—which just crowned the Jacksonville Sharks as its league champions. But of all the leagues and all the nonsense, it is the XFL that stands alone as the biggest joke. The worst of the wanna-be professional football leagues. Looking back, it’s a wonder that anyone tolerated such a mess based on some of the stunts Vince McMahon staged.
If you weren’t aware, McMahon once took a page from his WWE circus by having cameramen follow a team’s cheerleaders into the locker room at halftime of a game to let the viewers see exactly how these women handle themselves during the break. It’s hard to believe this was even given a thought, let alone actually allowed.
How about allowing players to wear nicknames on the backs of their jerseys? So, what we got was Rod Smart putting “He Hate Me” on his back. Instead of a typical brown leather football, the XFL had a black football emblazoned with their league logo and highlighted with red stripes.
So, what better way to conclude this story of a now long gone professional football league than to witness the ridiculousness of the opening scramble? Enjoy!
And for more from Harv Aronson, check out his website!