Haven’t we been here before? Actually, I believe we have.
It was one year ago, on this very weekend, when I woke up to a phone call from my mom telling me that some English guy from Behind the Steel Curtain was on the KDKA morning show talking about the AAF (Alliance of American Football).
After I got over the amazement of that, the hurt set in with the realization that KDKA wanted the BTSC writer from England (it was former BSTC deputy editor, Simon Chester, BTW) and not me, the one from Crafton.
Anyway, after the hurt went away, I allowed myself to listen to Simon describe this new minor football league, one that was set to debut that weekend. I can’t really say I was all that excited, but some people—including folks from the BTSC family—seemed to be looking forward to it.
Unfortunately for that league, despite shining a spotlight on some potential NFL prospects—including safety Kam Kelly, who eventually won a spot as a Steelers backup safety later that summer—the AAF didn’t really build on the initial curiosity that led to some decent ratings on opening weekend. In fact, it didn’t really build on anything and folded months later amid much controversy. What sort of controversy? Finances (of course), as well as a reported desire to be a real developmental league to the NFL.....among many other reasons, I’m sure.
Here we are a year later, just one week after the Super Bowl, and a new minor league is seeking to satisfy your football itch (your football is itching so soon after the 2019 NFL season? You should get that looked at). The scratching league this time around is the XFL, a reboot of a football league WWE chairman Vince McMahon first debuted two decades ago.
Unlike the previous incarnation of the XFL, this one is expected to include no kayfabe. In other words, Landry Jones won’t be encouraged to say things like “Don’t kick it! He’s going to miss!” or whatever it was that former XFL champion Tommy Maddox said on national television months before joining the Steelers as a backup to Kordell Stewart in 2001.
Oh, by the way, Landry Jones, the Steelers former backup quarterback, is not only in the XFL, he’s kind of one of the faces of the league. Don’t believe me? Go to this Yahoo article which discusses the league’s debut this weekend, and you’ll find Jones listed as the first player the piece cites as one of the quarterbacks “fans will remember.”
The amazing thing about the XFL is that it somehow landed a television deal with Fox, ABC and ESPN, which obviously gives it a chance to reach a wide audience each and every week.
Will it? It’s hard to believe if someone like Landry Jones (no offense to him) is one of the more recognizable names.
And that’s the rub with these alternative football leagues.
The thing that made leagues like the AFL (1960’s), WFL (1970’s) and USFL (1980’s) so intriguing was that, while they were viewed as minor leagues, they branded themselves as competitors to the NFL, and they also had the resources to compete directly with the football juggernaut for the top talent in the country. Obviously, things didn’t work out for the WFL and USFL, but the AFL went from being viewed as inferior to the NFL, to an innovative league that ultimately forced a full merger in 1970.
With 32 teams in the NFL, there’s no way the XFL, a league that is adamant it's not merely in the developmental game, will ever force a merger. But will it ultimately be able to build itself up to the point where it can compete directly with the NFL for top talent? After all, that’s Mr. McMahon’s game—squashing the competition.
That seems like a long-shot.
How about the rules, which, of course, will offer an alternative to traditional football?
Like most new leagues, the XFL is attempting to be hip—a good example is having the coverage team line up on the return team’s 35-yard line on kickoffs, with the return team lining up just five yards away. Seems weird, but I suppose it could lead to less violent collisions and more touchdowns.
As per the league’s official rules page, there will be no extra point kicks following touchdowns, just the option of going for one, two or three points from the two, five or 10-yard line.
There can also be two forward passes on the same play, provided the first one occurs behind the line of scrimmage.
I don’t know, these seem like your typical “sexy” innovations from a startup football league that is promising to be “fan-friendly” (you know, as opposed to the overwhelmingly popular NFL)?
Will I watch? After last year, I have a hard time believing I will. But maybe the XFL will be like one of those original streaming shows that everyone insists is “required viewing.”
That may be the only thing that gets me to eventually commit to spring football this time around. Fool me once, minor league football, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.