Whether you are drying your tears with a gaudy yellow Terrible Towel or binge-eating your way through a block of Green Bay’s finest cheddar, the conclusion of the NFL season has taken an emotional toll on fans everywhere. After a committed five-month relationship, it is only natural to feel a bit of separation anxiety.
With Super Bowl Sunday come and gone, the masses turn their attention to February’s second-most important holiday — Valentine’s Day. The tight spirals hurled by Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson have been replaced by the somewhat pointier projectiles of a cherubian, winged archer. Should you find yourself the target of Cupid’s arrow, I insist you do not let it guide your gaze to that ragtag assembly of NFL dropouts, the XFL.
It was February 2001, and the American football audience was nursing a broken heart. Following 21 weeks of devotion to their beloved NFL, viewers had been spurned by one of history’s more forgettable Super Bowls, a grisly 34-7 drubbing of the New York Giants by the Baltimore Ravens.
Then along came the XFL. A passion project of Vince McMahon, CEO of the then-World Wrestling Federation, this league brazenly promised to treat its loyalists better than the NFL ever could.
Sure, you’d been with it as long as you could remember, but when was the last time the NFL truly enthralled you? It may have been the sort of companion you could introduce to your parents with ease, yet here was the XFL, pleadingly lobbing rocks against your window and compelling you to sneak out for moonlit thrills.
Gone were the tired traditions of professional football. Under McMahon’s bold vision, frantic scrums for possession of the ball replaced the coin toss, and never again would watchers be subjected to an extra-point kick. The only things that had been trimmed down more than the rulebook were the cheerleaders’ uniforms.
The first date all those years ago was pure fireworks, as television ratings doubled NBC's projected numbers. Alas, after that initial spark of passion, the heat fizzled out rather quickly.
Occasionally subpar competition and a messy public image went from harmless quirks to serious turn-offs. Ratings plummeted, dragging the XFL into a debt of $70 million. What started out as a harmless spring fling begat the type of breakup one hears about in a scornful Taylor Swift ballad.
Nearly 20 years later, McMahon and company have sent America a late-night direct message, seeking to rekindle that old flame. This time, it will be different. There are no reluctant outside investors who could pull funds at a moment’s notice, and rosters are headlined by supposed big names.
After all, how could the XFL possibly fail when its frontman is Landry Jones, arguably the fourth-best quarterback from the University of Oklahoma in the last decade?
Herein lies the reason the XFL just isn’t the one. Above all, you have to love someone for who they are on the inside, and the soul of any sports organization is its players. No matter where he goes during free agency, you won’t see Tom Brady lacing up for the Seattle Dragons or the Houston Roughnecks.
It does not matter that Cardale Jones won a championship in college or that Connor Cook came in as third-string relief for the Oakland Raiders during a playoff game in 2017. Men who spent their NFL careers warming benches cannot be expected to do the same to your heart.
The hopeless romantic in me yearns to be wrong about the XFL. Admittedly, its outing this weekend showed potential. But the sweet nothings currently being whispered into our ears by McMahon are eerily familiar, and I have been burned before. It was only last year that the short-lived Alliance of American Football vowed a novel age of competitive sport until its imminent collapse.
Just because we did not get stood up Saturday does not mean we won’t be left at the altar come April.
For now, perhaps the first letter in the XFL should simply stand for “ex”, as in the kind whose number you block and never let back in your life. I assure you, no matter how improved McMahon’s new league, you are way out of it.
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