The XFL 2.0 opened over the weekend in four cities nationwide. Unofficially, this version of a new upstart league is classified as a “developmental league.” The rosters are comprised of players who were not signed to any National Football League (NFL) nor Canadian Football League (CFL) club. Both leagues are considered the pinnacle if you are a professional football player and pay the most.
Over the weekend four games were slated. The NY Guardians were one of the opening acts and subsequently defeated the Tampa Bay Vipers 23-3 at MetLife Stadium in former Giants’ OC Kevin Gilbride’s maiden game as head coach.
Overall, it was really good football - surprisingly good to be honest. If you attended the game or watched it on TV you may have some observations of your own.
One thing for certain: if this league is going to grow it will need some notable star players. The biggest names mentioned all weekend were Landry Jones, Aaron Murray and Jerry Glanville. The latter was in retirement while the others were in a different employ until the XFL called.
Officials, stadiums, game field
In 2001, XFL1 had four large city and four medium market teams. This time around, all teams are situated in large cities that have existing NFL clubs. Some of the venues are small while others are quite large. MetLife Stadium is the same facility the Football Giants and Jets use and holds 82,550. Either the league is expecting larger crowds as the season rolls around or they could not secure the 25,000-seat Red Bull Arena which is the home of the MLS franchise. For now the word to use is “cavernous” as the lower sections were the only ones filled. The only plus is if you are a Giants or Jets season ticket holder you can sit in areas that you would never be able to get seats.
Did you notice the official with the red ballcap? He is called the “Ball spotting official” and is an eighth official. This person does not have any officiating power and does not make calls. All he does is collect the ball from the previous play from another official and then spot the ball to which the referee then blows his whistle to begin the 25-second play clock; which by the way really speeds up the game in lieu of the NFL’s 40-second play clock. Not sure what that monster fanny pack was about hugging this official, though.
Another thing. Did you notice that on every play there are two footballs on the field at the same time? When the ball spotting official collected the previous play’s football, he was already holding another ball while standing behind the quarterback deep in the offense’s backfield so that he can set the ball and then collect the previous play’s football pretty quickly.
One thing that became annoying were the constant in-game interviews. Several coaches were annoyed with an attempt to interview them because they needed to concentrate on the game. The players interviewed were a mixed bag and some were a head-scratcher. A guy missed a field goal and they asked him what was he feeling when he missed it? What type of enlightenment was he going to give? The quarterback just threw an interception and you want to talk to him. Really? What are these guys going to say – um, sorry?
Some players were completely out of breath, some cussed and the 7-second delay didn’t catch it, while others just acted ignorant. “This is my best friend” one player blurted out as he slid into the camera shot while his teammate was being questioned. “Just doing my f*****g job” another quipped. We as TV viewers are used to the short coaches’ interview on the way to the locker room at the half – just leave it at that. At one point FOX sideline reporter Jenny Taft grabbed a guy’s arm and he said, “I gotta go in.” All of this is unnecessary and does not add to the game experience. Leave the players and coaches alone while the game is going on and allow them to focus. What’s next? On-field interviews between plays?
The TV coverage was great with knowledgeable commentators. During one game nine camera angles were shown on one replay of an interception. ABC aired the initial contest followed by two games on FOX and the Sunday late game on ESPN which was simulcast on ESPN Deportes. During the Dallas game there was a camera guy on the field the entire contest who stood behind the offense back where the field judge stands during play.
Team names, uniforms and logos
One thing is certain – seven of the eight cities chosen are spot-on mainly because there are more people living in larger cities and they also have an NFL team so the passion for professional football is alive. Pro football has returned to St. Louis and “the Battlehawks” are an awesome team name. But Los Angeles? After 20 years of not a single professional football team and now that area has three? San Antonio would have been a much better choice. They led the AAF in attendance including the league’s largest single game gate with 30,345 and would still remain in the western division.
A quick glance at the Houston Roughnecks helmet displays an upper case slanted “H” that cleverly becomes an oil derrick. It just looks like a knockoff of the old Houston Oilers logo. And is it mandatory that every Houston franchise must be red, white and blue because the Roughnecks, Lady Oilers (Women’s Arena Football League), Texans and Oilers are. And speaking of logos, the LA Wildcats helmet logo is just plain stupid.
Best unies? NY Guardians - the blackout was nicely done. Worst uniforms? Tampa Bay. Not a fan of that tint of green with the yellow orange. It just oozes minor league.
More than 90 percent of the players have either been on an NFL or CFL roster, practice squad or was signed to participate in a training camp at some point. That is the good news. The bad is a lot of these players have not seen the field since the AAF closed shop or even farther down the road.
Turnovers, wrong routes run, muffed punts, fumbles, turnovers, dropped passes, overthrown passes, under thrown passes, blocked punts, turnovers, two receivers in the same area, turnovers and lots of missed field goals.
Quite a few large bellies on both sides of the line, quarterback play was spotty at best, and the defensive lines basically dominated their offensive counterparts. Sammie Coates, the former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver, has an NFL body and speed, but will drop four passes in the first half alone. This is typical of the talent level. There is “in shape” and there is “in football shape.”
Here’s something you won’t see at an NFL game: every skill position player on the field and sideline with their hands over their ear holes in an attempt to hear the next play. But the fact that these players all have helmet communication has diluted the huddle to just the signal caller and his offensive line. With all these players with a receiver in their hat, it does make the game move along.
As far as coaches, the broadcast of the New York vs. Tampa Bay game FOX went on-and-on about Tampa DC Jerry Glanville and rarely mentioned their head coach Marc Trestman who has won three Grey Cups and was twice the CFL Coach-of-the-Year. Glanville has never sniffed a championship.
Dallas’ offensive coordinator, Hal Mumme, didn’t even have a laminated play sheet. He just depressed the communication button, said the play he wanted called and off they went. Never seen that before.
The league also has their practice squad players set up differently. Whereas in the NFL every club has 10 players that practice but don’t play and yet are available to every team at any time, if any XFL player does not make the 45-man roster, they are placed onto a unit called “Team 9.” These players practice among each other in Dallas and have their own coaches. If a player is cut from an active roster, he then heads to Team 9. If a player becomes hurt and that team needs a replacement, there is one at his position readily available on Team 9 (but not a requirement to pull from this resource).
Rules and game play
This league should revoke the one-foot inbounds college play. This is professional football and players should do the same as the other leagues. In fact, most were still trying to drag that second foot because all of these guys want to move up and don’t want to learn bad habits.
The kickoff was certainly different and while the NFL keeps hinting at this play’s abandonment, the XFL has found a viable solution. However, with the coverage team being so close to the kick returner, there are just too many bodies too soon to find any type of seam. It is difficult to envision any touchdowns or large gains with this setup, but if safety is the focus they may have nailed it. If this league wants larger returns they should position the coverage team 10 or even 15 yards back instead of five. The problem is the coverage team can see the kick returner collect the ball and know when to start moving and then it is one-on-one blocking basically. If a single blocker cannot contain his man (which seemed to always be the case) then the returner doesn’t have a chance.
Not a fan of the extra point rules. The kicker for a single point should be installed plus the 2-point conversation. If this league is dead-set on being different, then simply add the 3-point attempt from the 10-yard line. There are some things this league is doing just to say “we are different” but there is no problem being just like the NFL.
Example: in the fourth quarter St. Louis was up on Dallas 12-9. If you just tuned it and it was an NFL game, you could assuredly assume how the points were scored. But not in the XFL. Two touchdowns with two failed PATs? Four field goals? A touchdown with a three-point conversion and then a field goal? A touchdown, failed PAT and two field goals? A touchdown with a successful two-point conversion plus a safety? A touchdown, a field goal and a defensive scored return of the opponent’s failed three-point attempt? And then there’s the nine points to try to decipher.
There were three rule changes that were touted as “gameplay innovations”: the double-forward pass, the 3-point PAT and the shootout overtime format. However, neither of these were used in any game. Maybe traditional football is favored?
Opportunities for women
Seven women have played men’s college football, six of whom were kickers. Two women have played professional men’s football and both were involved in the kicking game. The XFL appears to go way beyond this.
There is only one woman who is an official during NFL contests, but three XFL games featured a woman as a line judge while in the Dallas game the ball spotter was female and Amanda Sauer-Cook was the center judge.
Janet Duch, previously was an executive at Madison Square Garden. is the president of the NY Guardians. The LA Wildcats’ president is Heather Brooks Karatz. She spent years as legal counsel and Senior Vice President at Relativity Sports, a sports agent company.
Did your weekend involve an XFL game?
This poll is closed
Yes - attended the Guardians game
Yes - saw at least one game on TV
Sorry - no