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Created as a joint venture between NBC and the World Wrestling Federation under the company name "XFL, LLC", the XFL was created as a "single-entity league", meaning that the teams were not individually owned and operated franchises, but that the league was operated as a single unit.
The concept of the league was first announced on February 3, 2000. The XFL was originally conceived to build on the success of the National Football League and professional wrestling. It was hyped as "real" football without penalties for roughness and with fewer rules in general. The loud games featured players and coaches with microphones and cameras in the huddle and in the locker rooms. Stadiums featured trash-talking public address announcers and very scantily-clad cheerleaders. Instead of a pre-game coin toss, XFL officials put the ball on the ground and let a player from each team scramble for it to determine who received the kickoff option – which, ironically, led to the first XFL injury.
It should be noted that the "X" in XFL did not stand for "extreme", as in "Extreme Football League." When the league was first organized, promoters wanted to make sure that everyone knew that the "X" did not actually stand for anything.
The XFL's opening game took place on February 3, 2001 between the Las Vegas Outlaws and the New York/New Jersey Hitmen. The game, a 19–0 victory for the Outlaws, was watched on NBC by an estimated 54 million viewers. It should be interesting to note that NBC switched over to the game between the Orlando Rage and the Chicago Enforcers, being that it was closer and not a blowout as the game in Las Vegas was.
Although the XFL began with reasonable television ratings and fair publicity, the television audience declined sharply after the first week of the season and the media attacked the league for what was perceived as a poor quality of play. This perception was paired with a perception that the XFL was formed from the dregs that were left over after the NFL, AFL and CFL had their drafts.
It was also observed that the XFL seemed to be attempting to attract two distinct types of audience to games – wrestling fans and pro football fans. Ultimately it failed to appeal to members of either group: wrestling fans wanted drama and hype, while football fans simply wanted a better caliber of play on the field. As for attracting fans from other areas of entertainment (e.g., movies), the XFL was again a complete failure.
Also, many football fans distrusted the league because of its relationship to pro wrestling. They had a hard time accepting that a close, come-from-behind win or a controversial ending had not been scripted in advance, although there was absolutely no evidence to support this. The sport was panned by critics as boring football with a tawdry broadcast style.
Both WWF head Vince McMahon and NBC also seemed to have put far too much stock in a football cliche which is frequently mouthed by fans, particularly older ones, about a desire to return to the era of "old-time smashmouth football." While this is often voiced, in fact football is far more popular as a spectator sport now than it ever was in the earlier era supposedly longed for, and the move away from "smashmouth" to a more wide-open offense featuring more passing is largely responsible for this. The league was forced to change rules during the season to afford receivers more protection.
Notable players included league MVP and Los Angeles quarterback Tommy Maddox, who signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers after the XFL folded. Maddox later became the starting quarterback for the Steelers, and led them to the playoffs. Another of the better-known players was Las Vegas running back Rod Smart whose name on the back of his jersey read "He Hate Me." Smart stated that he had wanted to put "They Hate Me" (a jab a his critics) but there wasn't enough room. Smart later went on to play for the Carolina Panthers, and thus became the first XFL player to play in a Super Bowl, participating in the game's 38th edition.
The league allowed, and even encouraged, players to wear nicknames rather than their actual last names on the backs of their jerseys. Apparently all of the teams but Birmingham had at least some players who engaged in this.
One of the announcers for the XFL was Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, himself a former professional wrestler, whose involvement was controversial in that some felt that his being an announcer took time away from his job of running his state. Ventura had previously done commentary for WWF wrestling telecasts, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers radio broadcasts.
On April 21, 2001, the season concluded as the Los Angeles Xtreme defeated the San Francisco Demons in the XFL Championship Game (which was originally given the Zen-line moniker "The Big Game At The End Of The Season", but was later dubbed the Million Dollar Game, (after the amount of money awarded to the winning squad), 38–6.
Though paid attendance at games remained at respectable, if unimpressive, levels in all its markets, the XFL ceased operations after just one season due to astonishingly low television ratings. One NBC broadcast received the lowest-ever rating for a major network prime-time television program.
NBC itself attempted to win back the audience that it had lost when it lost the rights to air NFL games two years previously, which seems to have been the reason behind its both investing in and broadcasting a new professional football league. But despite initially agreeing to broadcast XFL games for two years and owning half of the league, NBC announced it would not broadcast a second XFL season; thus their attempt at airing replacement pro football had flopped. WWF President Vince McMahon initially announced that the XFL would continue, as it still had UPN and TNN as broadcast outlets. However in order to continue broadcasting XFL games, UPN demanded that WWF Smackdown broadcasts be cut from two hours to one and a half hours. McMahon found these terms unacceptable and he announced the XFL's closure on May 10, 2001.
Legacy of the XFL
- Despite the failure of the league, it did give a number of players a chance to resume their careers in the NFL. Ironically, it gave increased exposure to the Arena Football League after initially being viewed as threatening to take the league's best players away.
- The moving overhead camera that travelled on wires that was used in XFL telecasts has since become popular on NFL telecasts as well, particularly on kick offs.
- As the season drew to a close, most of the tawdry elements and gimmicky camera angles of the XFL's broadcasts had been toned down immensely, and the league's fans were optimistic for a second season.
- In the eyes of some critics, a notorious 2004 Monday Night Football/Desperate Housewives promo featuring actress Nicolette Sheridan and Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens actually made the XFL's sexism seem tame in comparison. A week later, in a ironic twist, McMahon's WWE RAW spoofed that very incident with himself, Shelton Benjamin and Trish Stratus.
- Fans in non-NFL cities that hosted XFL franchises (Birmingham, Memphis, Las Vegas, Orlando, and Los Angeles) hold out hope that their cities can host a new or re-located NFL franchise just as Jacksonville did when the city enthuastically accepted the Bulls of the USFL. That city, like several XFL cities, had previously been considered too small of a market to host professional football.
- On ESPN25, the XFL was #2 in biggest flops in the last 25 years of ESPN's existence. #1 was Ryan Leaf, QB, of the San Diego Chargers.
Teams of the XFL
The teams were the following:
- Birmingham Thunderbolts
- Chicago Enforcers
- Las Vegas Outlaws
- Los Angeles Xtreme
- Memphis Maniax
- New York/New Jersey Hitmen
- Orlando Rage
- San Francisco Demons
|New York/New Jersey Hitmen||4||6|
|Los Angeles Xtreme||7||3|
|San Francisco Demons||5||5|
|Las Vegas Outlaws||4||6|
- Most Valuable Player: Tommy Maddox, QB, Los Angeles Xtreme
- Million Dollar Game MVP: Jose Cortez, K, Los Angeles Xtreme
- Coach of the Year: Galen Hall, Orlando Rage
- Rushing Attempts: 153 James Bostic (Birmingham Thunderbolts)
- Rushing Yards: 800 John Avery (football player) (Chicago Enforcers)
- Rushing Touchdowns: 7 Derrick Clark (Orlando Renegades)
- Receiving Catches: 67 Jermaine Copeland (Los Angeles Xtreme)
- Receiving Yards: 828 Stepfret Williams (Birmingham Thunderbolts)
- Receiving Touchdowns: 8 Darnell McDonald (Los Angeles Xtreme)
- Passing Attempts: 342 Tommy Maddox (Los Angeles Xtreme)
- Passing Completions: 196 Tommy Maddox (Los Angeles Xtreme)
- Passing Yards: 2186 Tommy Maddox (Los Angeles Xtreme)
- Passing Touchdowns: 18 Tommy Maddox (Los Angeles Xtreme)
- Passing Interceptions: 10 Brian Kuklick (Orlando Rage)
- Interceptions: 5 Corey Ivy (Chicago Enforcers)
- Quarterback Sacks: 7 Antonio Edwards and Kelvin Kinney (both Las Vegas Outlaws)