In an era when everything from “Star Wars” to “Lethal Weapon” to “Ghostbusters” is getting the full reboot-refresh, it comes as absolutely zero surprise that there’s suddenly talk of a new XFL.
The XFL was a short-lived professional football league, running for only the 2001 season — yes, it’s been that long — and underwritten by Vince McMahon’s WWE. Built on the premise that true football fans wanted hardcore football without all the mewling insistence on safety, the XFL was brutal, hard-hitting, EXXXTREME … and gone after just one season, a victim of cratering fan interest, free-falling ratings and disappointed broadcast partners.
Now, though, there’s a new spark. Out of nowhere, writer Brad Shepard tweeted some news Friday night:
EXCLUSIVE: Vince McMahon is looking to bring back the XFL and may announce it on January 25th, 2018.
— Brad Shepard (@TheBradShepard) December 16, 2017
Well. That’s interesting. A follow-up inquiry from Deadspin seeking confirmation or denial of the rumor produced neither:
A WWE spokesperson issued the attached statement to me & @Deadspin in response to my inquiry about tonight's rumors of a soon to be announced XFL revival. They declined further comment. Whatever Vince McMahon's "Alpha Entertainment" is, it's self-funded & separate from WWE. pic.twitter.com/oT0Oxyi2fV
— David Bixenspan (@davidbix) December 16, 2017
Deadspin’s David Bixenspan further noted that McMahon filed for two new XFL trademarks earlier this year. Curious indeed.
This could all be coincidence, or it could be McMahon seeing a market opportunity — football fans sick of the NFL — and exploiting it. Why couldn’t an anti-NFL football league work? After all, a former McMahon ring opponent rode disgust with The System all the way into the White House.
There’s plenty of free-floating rage at the NFL, not only for the ongoing political protest battles, but for the league’s drift from the Good Ol’ Days – too many penalties, too many commercials, too much emphasis on safety. (There are other undercurrents of discontent among a very loud segment of football fandom, but we’ll leave it at that for now.)
So with no evidence other than this, let’s get hypothetical. A football league predicated on being what the NFL is not is definitely going to draw attention. You can see the billing now, can’t you? NO CHEAP FLAGS. NO WEAK HITS. NO KNEELING. MAKE FOOTBALL GREAT AGAIN!
There would be jobs aplenty in a new XFL; everyone from Robert Griffin III to Johnny Manziel might find work. Players could use a new league as either a chance to hear a few more cheers after college, or an opportunity to showcase their talents for an eventual NFL berth. Fans disgusted with the way NFL players, from their perspective, have disrespected the flag with protests could find a new outlet to cheer the great game of football without it being a political statement.
And it could work … at least for a game or two. Football fans of all stripes would tune in just to see what insanity McMahon could bring to bear this time around. Remember the XFL Scramble? It was an all-out possession battle for the ball in lieu of the coin toss:
Hell yeah! That’s some fun right there, I don’t care who ya voted for!
Getting fans to tune in for an inaugural game is one thing. Getting them to tune in for Game 2, 3 or 4— or Season 2, 3 or 4 — is quite another. That’s the challenge any new league faces, delivering an experience that makes you want to come back.
A new XFL would be facing an uphill battle for talent — in theory, the third string of any NFL team would be more talented than a first-string XFL team. And much as fans might love smash-mouth, helmet-cracking football, there’s a reason why the NFL has moved — or been dragged, depending on your perspective — toward a greater awareness of the risks of playing football, and it’s not because of some politically correct killjoys who never played the game.
Sure, this is all speculative, but it’s fun speculation. If the XFL returns, we’d be all for it, and we’d line up to cover it right here at Yahoo Sports. But if a new XFL, or any league, is going to live for long, it’ll have to do more than be an anti-NFL. It’ll have to do what the NFL already does, but do it better, week after week, year after year. That’s not an impossible task — heck, it’s why the NFL has the Bills, Patriots, Jets and most of the AFC in the first place — but as the XFL showed the last time around, it’s one that requires more than just attitude.
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