With the fifteenth anniversary of the birth and subsequent death of Vince McMahon’s football league, let’s look at what made the XFL great and what brought it crashing down.
In 2001, the WWE was at the tail end of one of its biggest movements, the Attitude Era. The smashmouth, unforgiving style it created led to some of the most memorable moments in wrestling and the introduction to some of the most memorable wrestlers. WWE CEO Vince McMahon was on top of the world… then something truly terrible happened.
In 1999, Vince McMahon was in talks to buy out the entire Canadian Football League. Then in February of 2000, Tyler Schueck announced what we know today as the XFL. The promises of fun and the spirit of the game were great: no artificial turfs and players earning their salary through wins and statistical achievements, enabling them to talk dirty and play into their own personas. It was ab attempt to merge an actual sport with sports entertainment.
Vince McMahon pleads with the crowd for some form of insanity.
The notorious first championship game happened a only months later, on April 21st — known officially as the “Big Game at the End.” Ratings were abysmally low. The XFL was dead. So let’s look at the flowers that blossomed out of that corpse, as well as the rotting parts that still stink to this day (I think this metaphor works…?). Let’s start with the positives.
Los Angeles had professional football again for a hot minute.
The logo is inspired by Los Angeles’ passion for shurikens, hurricanes, and I think swastikas.
Yes, I know Los Angeles has a football team again, but there was a moment in time when they didn’t. In 1995, the Los Angeles Rams moved all the way east to the gateway city of St. Louis. In the years following the move, L.A. became a city that either became Raiders or Chargers fans, embraced the USC Trojans, or learned to appreciate no football at all. Even though it was short lived, the XFL gave Los Angelenos a sense of hope that one day a professional football team would return to their fair city.
It gave a network professional football again.
You think cancelling Community was the worst thing NBC ever did?
In 2001, there were only three major U.S. networks airing professional football: CBS, Fox, and ABC — NBC lost its airing rights in 1997. But the XFL granted three networks the exclusive rights to air its fantastic sport: TNN and UPN (as both networks aired Raw and Smackdown respectively), but also NBC. This was an opportunity for the peacock network to prove it could broadcast professional football the same way it used to. Sure, it fell apart at the seams, but the XFL was a backdoor pilot for bringing the sport back to NBC. And speaking of broadcasting…
It opened up successful usage of the Skycam.
There’s better rappelling on this camera than in the entirety of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.
If you’ve ever watched a football game and wondered how some some shots are more dynamic like a game of Madden than the standard landscape view, that’s the work of the Skycam. Although it was around for over 15 years prior to the XFL, the sport perfected and popularized its usage, encouraging a closer look at the action. Since then, stadiums around the country have incorporated the technology needed. Only a few networks rely on the Skycam for professional football, but it’s a treat to get a new angle on the sport you’ve watched for years.
Some XFL players went on to succeed in the real thing.
Former Steelers Coach Bill Cowher showing former XFL quarterback Tommy Maddox how many seasons the XFL had.
It’s easy to make fun of the XFL, but you begin to forget that a lot of people who chose to play the sport made sacrifices to showcase their prowess. When the league folded, many of them unfortunately had to turn their backs on their dream of being a football superstar, but some got called up to play in other leagues. Three most memorable XFL athletes include Steve Gleason, who went from the NFL to the XFL and then back to the NFL. (Proud plug, you should support Steve Gleason’s charity for ALS, Team Gleason. Click here for more information.)
There’s also Tommy Maddox, an insurance agent who went from the Arena Football League to the XFL, where he became the one and only MVP, then got signed to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Then there’s Bobby Singh, who went from winning a Super Bowl with the Rams, to winning the XFL Big Game at the End, and then heading to the Canadian Football League, where after being traded around, he won the Grey Cup with the BC Lions. Not bad Singh, not bad at all.