The XFL was a professional American football league that played for one season in 2001. The league was founded by Vince McMahon, better known as the owner of the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment). The XFL was intended to be a major professional sports league complement to the offseason of the NFL, but failed to find an audience and folded after its first season.
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 (as in the NFL), but that the league was operated as a single business unit. Vince McMahon's original plan was to purchase the CFL, while NBC was moving ahead at the time with Time Warner to create a football league of their own.
The concept of the league was first announced on February 3, 2000. The XFL was originally conceived to build on the success of the NFL 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 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 led to the first XFL injury. This type of "coin toss" has since been referred to as the "injury zone."
Contrary to popular belief, the "X" in XFL did not stand for "extreme," as in "Extreme Football League." When the league was first organized in 1999, it was originally supposed to stand for "Xtreme Football League;" however, there was already a league in formation at the same time with that name, and so promoters wanted to make sure that everyone knew that the "X" did not actually stand for anything. The other Xtreme Football League, which was also organized in 1999, merged with Arena Football before ever fielding its first game.
The first and only main draft for the league took place over a 3 day time period from October 28 2000 to October 30, 2000. A total of 475 players were selected initially, with 65 additional players selected in a supplemental draft on December 29, 2000.
Although the XFL began with better-than-expected TV ratings (the opening-week games actually delivered ratings double those of what NBC had promised advertisers and the Saturday broadcast had more viewers than the NFL Pro Bowl) and fair publicity, the audience declined sharply after the first week of the season, going from a 9.5 rating to a 4.6 in just one week, and the media attacked the league for what was perceived as a poor quality of play. This was paired with a perception that the XFL was formed from the dregs left over after the NFL, AFL and CFL had their drafts. A further problem was that the XFL itself was the brainchild of Vince McMahon, a man who was ridiculed by mainstream sports journalists due to the stigma attached to professional wrestling as being "fake" (i.e., pre-determined) – many journalists even jokingly speculated whether any of the league's games were rigged, although nothing of this sort was ever proven.
Replacing the coin toss at the beginning of each game was an event in which one player from each team sought to recover a football 20 yards away in order to determine possession. Both players lined up side-by-side on one of the 30-yard lines, with the ball being placed at the 50-yard line. At the whistle, the two players would run toward the ball and attempt to gain possession; whichever player gained possession first was allowed to choose possession (as if he had won a coin toss in other leagues). The scramble infamously led to the first XFL injury: Orlando Rage free safety Hassan Shamsid-Deen separated his shoulder in the scramble during the XFL's opening weekend. This injury would keep Shamsid-Deen out for the rest of the season.
This rule was similar to the WFL's "Action Point."
Another difference was that after touching ground 25 yards or more beyond the line of scrimmage, punts could be recovered and advanced by all players of the kicking team. This led to more quick kicks being taken on third-down-and-long situations in the one season of the small league than had been seen in the NFL over several preceding decades of longer seasons. XFL's "innovation" was similar to a rule that had been in effect in American football in the 1910s and part of the 1920s.
XFL penalized 10 yards from the succeeding spot punts going out of bounds, even if they first touched the ground (but not a player of the receiving team).
For the initial weeks of the season, the XFL forbade all players on the kicking team from going downfield before a kick was made from scrimmage on that down, similarly to a rule the NFL considered in 1974. For the rest of the season the XFL modified it to allow one player closest to each sideline downfield ahead of the kick, the same modification the NFL adopted to their change just before their 1974 exhibition games started.
The purpose of these provisions was to keep play going after the ball was punted, encouraging the kicking team to make the ball playable and the receiving team to run it back.
The XFL paid standardized player salaries. Quarterbacks earned U.S. $5,000 per week, kickers earned $3,500, and all other uniformed players earned $4,500 per week, though a few players got around these restrictions (Los Angeles Xtreme players Noel Prefontaine, the league's lone punting specialist, and Matt Malloy, a wide receiver) by having themselves listed as backup quarterbacks. Players on a winning team received a bonus of $2,500 for the week, $7,500 for winning a playoff game. The team that won the championship game split $1,000,000 (roughly $25,000 per player).
In the third week of the season, the games were sped up through changes in the playing rules, and broadcasts were subjected to increased time constraints. The reason was the reaction of Lorne Michaels, creator and executive producer of Saturday Night Live, to the double-overtime win by the Los Angeles Xtreme against the Chicago Enforcers. The game ended at 11:45 p.m. Eastern, with the start of SNL pushed back to 12:20 a.m. Sunday morning. This angered Michaels, who expected high ratings with Jennifer Lopez as the night's host. Lopez had just become the first actress-singer in history to record the top-selling album in the United States (J. Lo) and to star in the most popular movie (The Wedding Planner) at the same time. In a rare SNL move, the Lopez show actually started on time for its live audience and was broadcast via tape delay.
The XFL aimed to attract two distinct audiences to games: wrestling fans and football fans. The XFL also tried to attract fans from other areas of entertainment (e.g., movies).
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 no evidence to support this. The league was panned by critics as boring football with a tawdry broadcast style, although the broadcasts on TNN and to a lesser extent UPN and the Matt Vasgersian-helmed NBC coverage were comparatively professional and workmanlike. Longtime WWE play-by-play man Jim Ross, who has otherwise gotten praise for his calling of wrestling matches over the years, got the bulk of the criticism for his play-by-play calls of XFL games despite his 30+ years of experience in calling wrestling matches as well as calling play-by-play for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons in the early 1990's.
Scoring was so scarce that bookmakers could not set the over-under total low enough. Wise gamblers who took the under, often in the mid 30s, would win consistently — they could even parlay the under for all four games in a weekend and win on a regular basis. Towards the end of the season, bookies needed to make the totals in the upper 20s, highly unusual in pro football gambling circles. The league was forced to change rules during the season to afford receivers more protection, but the mid-season rules changes did little to bolster league credibility.
In 2000, prior to the XFL's launch, the league aired a series of cheerleader commercials on NBC, featuring adult models such as Pennelope Jimenez, Karen McDougal, and Rachel Sterling. The most famous one featured them as some of the cheerleaders taking a shower in the locker room. Using clever camera angles and strategically placed objects, the commercial gave viewers the titillating illusion that the cheerleaders were nude in the shower with little left to the imagination. The edgy XFL commercials backfired and caused a controversy. Deemed too risqué by the media, the commercials were quickly withdrawn prior to the debut of the league.
Though paid attendance at games remained respectable, if unimpressive (overall attendance were only 10% below what the league's goal had been at the start of the season), the XFL ceased operations after just one season due to astonishingly low TV ratings. The NBC telecast of the Chicago/NY-NJ game on March 31 received a 1.5 rating, at that time the lowest ever for any major network primetime television broadcast in the United States. (On July 19, 2006, an episode of the reality game show The One: Making a Music Star broke that record with only a 1.3 on ABC.)
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 both its investment in and broadcasting of 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 admitting failure in their attempt at airing replacement pro football. WWF Chairman Vince McMahon initially announced that the XFL would continue, as it still had UPN and TNN as broadcast outlets. In fact, expansion teams were being explored for cities such as Washington, D.C. and Detroit, Michigan. 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.
One reason for the failure of the league to catch on, despite its financial solvency and massive visibility (perhaps infamy), was the lack of respect for the league in the sports media. XFL games were rarely treated as sports contests, but rather more like WWF-like sensationalized events. With few NFL-quality players, save Tommy Maddox, the league's MVP, and with little thoughtful analysis or even consideration by sports columnists, the XFL never gained the necessary recognition to be regarded as a viable league. The fact that the league was co-owned by NBC made ESPN (which was part of the same corporation as ABC) and Fox Sports Net (owned by Fox TV) disinclined to report on the XFL. Many local TV newscasts and newspapers (even in XFL cities) did not report league scores or show highlights. This led to many football fans treating the XFL as a joke, rather than competition to the NFL.
Former ECW announcer Joey Styles mentioned on the McMahon DVD (which has a short section on the XFL) that if the league had not been as publicly associated with wrestling and the negative stigma that comes with it, the league might have been successful. In an ironic twist, Styles would be replaced by former XFL announcer Mike Adamle (who was working for NBC at the time of the XFL's only season) on ECW on SciFi when Styles moved into the role of Director of Digital Media Content on WWE.com. Adamle has since been moved to the Raw brand as the General Manager after harsh criticism about his play-by-play style by wrestling fans.
On the same DVD, Vince McMahon defends the XFL, saying it didn't cost a lot of money for him to try and still thinks it was a good idea, although WWE television nowadays occasionally pokes fun at the failures of the XFL.
WWE announcer Jerry Lawler, who made amends with WWE months after the league folded and remains employed with the company today, believes that the league could have been a success if given more time. He stated in his biography that Vince's novel approach of adding entertainment to the sport would have made it a more appealing alternative to the NFL. However, because the league was immediately compared to the NFL as a direct competitor, he feels that the pressures placed by NBC ruined McMahon's model entirely. He states "I knew after the very first week that it wasn't going to fly. They said don't mention the cheerleaders, don't shoot the cheerleaders. I realized then they were going to try to take on the NFL and that was never going to work. The football wasn't good enough.
The XFL helped popularize the Sky Cam, an innovative bird's-eye technique in which the camera hovered directly over the action on the field. The Sky Cam was eventually adopted by both the NFL and CFL after the XFL folded.
The defunct league also popularized "in-game" interviews. The XFL would interview head coaches between plays. Now, in the NHL, players are interviewed between commercial breaks and Major League Baseball has managers and coaches being interviewed. During FOX's Saturday Game of the Week, players often wear microphones for a "sounds of the game" segment.
NBC would continue airing professional league football beyond the demise of the XFL. While no football aired during the 2002 season due to the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, NBC struck a deal with the Arena Football League and would air games from that league from 2003 to 2006 (see AFL on NBC). The AFL's "swoosh" ball pattern appears to be inspired by the XFL model.
In 2006, NBC went full circle, returning to coverage of NFL games with NBC Sunday Night Football. The occasional use of the "sky-cam" and sideline interviews are the only features common to both the NFL and XFL coverage.
XFL team names and logos also appear in movies and television where professional football needs to be dramatized, but licensing for NFL logos may be cost prohibitive.
In an episode of The Simpsons, Homer is wearing an XFL cap and waving a flag with the XFL logo at the beginning, looking forward to the new season, only to have the news broken to him, by Marge, that the XFL has folded. Marge then tells him that the league MVP told her, and that he was now sweeping up nails at the hair salon. In reality, the league's only MVP, Tommy Maddox, would resurrect his once-disastrous NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers and win the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award in 2002 before giving way to Ben Roethlisberger two years later.
In the Arnold Schwarzenegger film The 6th Day, which takes place in the "near future", Arnold's character Adam Gibson is shown moving through an arena where an XFL game is currently in play. Of course, as the league folded in 2001, it is possible that it found some measure of success in this alternate future as depicted in The 6th Day.
The three-point conversion rule, which was introduced (and only used once) by the XFL, also will see new life. The proposed New United States Football League, set to begin play in 2010, plans on adopting a three-point conversion rule similar to that used in the XFL playoffs. In that league, while extra point kicks will still count for one point and a scrimmage play will count for two points, a 10-yard scrimmage play will count for three points.
New York/New Jersey Hitmen
Las Vegas Outlaws
Los Angeles Xtreme
San Francisco Demons
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|Los Angeles Xtreme||7||3|
|San Francisco Demons||5||5|
|Las Vegas Outlaws||4||6|