Football season lives on.
Over the weekend, the XFL made its comeback debut after nearly two decades in the grave.
What once was a league riddled with poor play and dirty hits, is now full of electrifying playmakers that everyone should keep their eyes on.
The first game on Saturday, Feb. 8, was the Seattle Dragons against the DC Defenders, and it featured Defenders quarterback Cardale Jones, the former Ohio State Buckeye who led his team to a 2015 College Football Championship. He bounced around from team to team in the NFL before being cut from the Seattle Seahawks’ practice squad in 2019.
He had 291 passing yards with two touchdowns and a 125.64 passer rating.
The biggest star of the weekend, however, was Houston Roughneck’s quarterback P.J. Walker who threw for 272 yards and four touchdowns in his debut against the Los Angeles Wildcats on Saturday.
He threw several beautiful deep balls and escaped pressure like a pro, showing flashes of another Houston quarterback, Deshaun Watson.
Walker was a star in college, as well. He had 10,668 passing yards and 74 touchdowns with Temple University from 2013-2016 — both school records — but wasn’t taken in the NFL Draft, and hopped around the Indianapolis Colts’ practice squad before eventually being waived for the third and final time in 2019.
These players make the league exciting to watch, and that will be the main attraction for the XFL for years to come.
The path to the XFL for many players is similar to Jones and Walker. Star in college, struggle in the NFL and go to the XFL to start for a team. These players are getting another chance to play football, but it’s more amazing that the league is even running.
The XFL took a bumpy road to get here. In 1999, the league was founded by WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon as a way for football fans to have something to watch after the NFL and NCAA seasons finished.
With the back of players’ jerseys having names like “Big Daddy,” “Deathblow” and “He Hate Me,” along with hard-hitting collisions that caused several concussions, the league tried to appeal to NFL fans who thought that football had become too soft and needed an extreme, early-2000s edge to it. But it failed horribly.
After an ugly championship game that ended in a 38-6 rout of the San Francisco Demons by the Los Angeles Xtreme to end a grueling season, ABC News reported that NBC and the WWE had lost a combined $70 million from just the one season, and NBC pulled the plug indefinitely.
So why will this season be any different?
The XFL seems to be taking itself seriously this time around. Gone are the ridiculous jersey names and teams like the New York Hitmen, Memphis Maniax and Orlando Rage. In are teams like the DC Defenders, LA Wildcats and the Dallas Renegades, and the players are actually wearing their own names.
A few nice additions like the microphones of referees being broadcasted on air for people to know their thought process when making a call improve the quality of the game, but the biggest reason why the new XFL will succeed is because the game is actually fun.
The XFL’s official motto for its new rules is “less stall, more ball,” and it did that with several changes to the regular NFL rulebook that have turned the game of football into an energetic 60 minutes.
Teams only have two timeouts instead of three, the play clock has been reduced from 40 seconds to 25 seconds and the game clock doesn’t stop when a pass is incomplete or a player runs out of bounds.
A faster pace of play is what the NFL needs, as games can take upwards of three hours, according to the Elias Sports Bureau and LA Times. The game between the St. Louis Battlehawks and Dallas Renegades lasted only two hours and 45 minutes from kickoff to the final whistle, nearly 30 minutes reduced.
The new kickoffs are amazing. Instead of the kicking team lining up on their own 35-yard line, like it does in the NFL, it lines up on the opponent’s 35-yard line, with the kicker on its own 30. With players not being able to move until the returner catches the ball, kickoffs are a lot more exciting and have a higher chance of being returned for a lot of yards, while also reducing injuries.
The best rule change, however, is the new point-after-touchdown. Instead of the normal one-point kick, teams get to choose whether they want to go for one, two or three points, and the play is placed on the 2, 5 or 10-yard line, respectively. This opens up the game immensely. Now, a nine-point lead is no longer a two-possession lead, and the point after is no longer a near guarantee.
These rules make the XFL unique, and one of the main reasons why the XFL is going to stick around. But there are even more reasons why the league should survive.
Players like Jones and Walker never made it big in the NFL, not because they weren’t good, but because they weren’t good enough.
Only 1.6% of college football players make it to the NFL, according to the NCAA, so that means the other 98.4% of players will likely never play for a team again. That’s why the XFL is so important.
It gives those players a second chance and pays them for the skills they have developed over the four years of college. Nobody would have thought about guys like Jones or Walker ever again, but now they have highlights in the XFL, and look to be the face of the league for years to come.
It’s only been one week, but the future seems bright for the new league. These guys deserve to play, and the XFL deserves to stay — for the love of football.