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The XFL May Be Poised to Make Its Return to the Gridiron

On Friday, WWE head honcho Vince McMahon created the new company Alpha Entertainment. McMahon himself confirmed the move in a statement and said (via the new venture will explore “investment opportunities across the sports and entertainment landscape, including professional football.” It’s being reported that this venture is intended to lay the groundwork for …


The news broke on Friday by WWE enthusiast and conservative political blogger Brad Shephard who made the news public.

This probably shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. NFL popularity is the lowest it’s been in … quite frankly, as long as I can remember. Maybe the time could be right for another try at a viable alternative?

At the end of the recent ESPN “30 for 30” documentary on the XFL, WWE owner Vince McMahon even alluded to the possibility of a return. NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol asks McMahon, (per Pro Football Talk’s transcription) about possibly giving the league another shot.

“Do you ever have any thoughts about trying again?” Ebersol 

“Yes, I do,” McMahon replies. “I don’t know what it would be. I don’t know if it’s going to be another XFL or what it may be or how different I would make it. It seems like in some way it would tie in either with the NFL itself or the owners.”

The XFL lasted just one season in 2001 and found McMahon’s WWE teaming up with NBC to make it happen. It was an outdoor league that played in the National Football League’s off-season. The XFL had eight teams in two divisions, all owned by the league, with games televised by NBC, UPN (Paramount’s TV network) and TNN (The Nashville Network). The gimmick behind it was that it would have fewer rules than the more-traditional NFL in order to make the games more entertaining.

Here were some of the rules that the XFL enforced versus the NFL:

  • Instead of a coin toss, players were placed on the 50-yard line to recover the ball. Whoever recovers had the choice whether they wanted to kick or receive.
  • The receiving team had to run kickoffs out of the endzone, unless the ball was kicked through the endzone.
  • Defensive players can use bump-and-run tactics down the entire field.
  • There was no kicker for the point after touchdown (PAT). It had to be either via pass or run.
  • There was no fair catch rule.

The league is credited with several innovations, including sky cams and on-player microphones both of which were quickly adopted by the NFL. WWE personalities like Jesse Ventura were part of the on-air commentary for games, and players like former Panthers (and Eagles) running back Rod “He Hate Me” Smart were encouraged to have their nicknames on their jerseys.

The initial hype of the XFL generated a strong audience and the league opened to terrific numbers both in stadium and during it’s broadcast. Diehard NFL fans began to heavily criticize the quality of the play, however, and numbers started to turn sharply downward. As a result, the XFL lasted only one season.

NBC and the WWF both reportedly lost $35 million on a $100 million investment in the first season as ratings nose-dived, causing NBC to pull their stake out of the project. McMahon wanted to go on, but said demands by UPN led the league to fold in May 2001.

Is the NFL ripe for another up and comer? Can the new XFL hold off existing leagues like the Arena Football League? Has Vince McMahon learned from the mistakes he made during his first run at football? Come late January, we might find out.


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