The XFL Is Back

Should You Care?

“The XFL is back! Today at two!” A stranger yelled this at me at the grocery store Saturday morning. He’d just finished telling me in the check-out line he’d almost forgotten his six-pack of a cheap beer of which I’d never heard. Suffice to say, the buzz for the XFL’s return, 20 years after its  first and only season, is deafening, particularly at that grocery store. But is it deserving of whatever kind of hype it’s getting and worthy of your attention? My opinion changed a few times while watching the better part most of the opening weekend games.

After six to 10 hours of NFL football every week, I was ready to have my weekends back, but curiosity and this lucrative assignment got me to tune in. I asked the three biggest football fans in my life if they’d be tuning into the XFL as well. Their responses ranged from “I’m footballed out” to “I’m good” and “Let me know how it is.” I set a DVR season pass and took in four games in about six hours with some fast-forwarding.

So now I can answer four important questions.

What is the XFL viewing experience like in 2020?

The XFL is a semi-professional football league. There are eight teams from Seattle to Tampa Bay made up of practice-squad and third-string NFL players. The league prides itself on having unparalleled access and interviews, but what’s the benefit of having access to coaches and players you don’t care about? So I skipped most of those.

The game has been altered with some rule changes meant to make it faster and more fun. The most notable ones include:

-The extra points are now worth one, two, or three points. You can’t kick an extra point, you have to run a play form the two, five, and 10-yard line respectively.

-Like in college, you only need one foot in bounds on a catch.

-There’s 25-second play clock with an official whose only job is spotting the ball.

-The XFL allows two forward passes if behind the line of scrimmage

-Complicated 5-overtime rules

-Complicated kickoff rules you just have to see to understand.

Is the XFL worth watching?

In action, the gameplay of the 2020 XFL feels less gimmicky than your dad’s XFL. It still very much feels like football and the quality of play is better than you’d think. I thought the passing games would struggle, but there were a lot of nice long passes and quarterback is still king in this sport. The teams with better QBs won most of the time, but it also came down to good defense and some players and teams emerged.

Oddly, the running games struggled almost across the board. The top rushers for every team were 79 yards, 46 yards, 41, 31, 30 and I’m writing this as St. Louis and Dallas head to the 4th quarter and no one has 50 yards rushing. I’m not exactly sure why this is. The league is way less explosive than college football or arena football, but the quality of play is surprisingly OK.

The league is trying to prevent helmet-to-helmet hits in theory, but they let slide this offensively illegal hit. Not only that, they highlighted it on their Twitter as a BIG hit and seemed excited about it, which bothered me. That looks like a concussion or two.

Does it have star players?

A league is nothing without star players and they may have a couple here, but it’s too early to tell.

I was most impressed with the Houston Roughnecks’ QB PJ Walker, who threw for 4 touchdowns and 272 yards. Here’s a great touchdown throw of his to kick-off his game. I could see him getting a shot as an NFL back-up quarterback if he keeps it up. He’s only 24 years old.

Keith Ford had a brief NFL stint, but looked like a beast running in this touchdown for the St. Louis BattleHawks. The New York Guardians’ defense shut down Tampa Bay and looked tough, generating five turnovers. On offense they rode former Oakland Raiders back-up Matt McGloin, whose career 11 NFL touchdowns and 11 interceptions gave him enough experience to look poised in this league. A couple other guys looked good, but I want to give it more than a week.

Will the league last?

I can give it a resounding “meh.” I was pleasantly surprised watching the first game, but by game three I was regretting signing up for this and had my fill. I might check in for a couple drives on a lazy weekend day while flipping the channel and might be mildly into the playoffs, but I’m not buying Houston Roughnecks tickets. And if my NFL friends aren’t even watching, who is, besides the weirdo in the grocery store?

I’m most curious to see if the league lasts more than one year this time. I think it might. In 2001, you needed to be a hit to stay on the air, but in 2020 networks just need original content to eat up some programming on weekend afternoons. It’ll be a good minor league system for the NFL and it might find an audience. It might not. I’m not really sure.

I think the Twitter user @dadboner summed it up best: “XFL is like a 4am gas station burrito when everything else is closed. Tastes better than nothing, and sometimes better than you’d expect.”

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Zack Teibloom

Zack Teibloom spent his 20s sneaking into music festivals and documenting them on his music blog Festival Crashers. Now in his mid-30s, he moderates the discussion forums for Apple full time.

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