It is rare that life affords us the privilege of knowing when we’re doing something for the last time. I couldn’t tell you anything about the last ball I threw for my dead dog, Texas Ranger (RIP buddy), or sweated my ass off for the final time on the ratty seats of my first car. And if you’d come up to me as I held my big beer in the nosebleeds of my very first XFL game and said, “Enjoy this, sucker, because you’ll never do it again,” I would’ve burped in your face to the tune of, “Yeah, right!!!!”
But that was nearly three weeks ago—basically a different lifetime, as things have been going—and this is now. The XFL, like almost every other sport, suspended the rest of its season amid the coronavirus pandemic. It was absolutely the right call, perhaps no group of people were less equipped to social distance than my fellow XFL fans, but is also an unparalleled bummer.
I’ve seen all the regular versions of football—high school, college, NFL—and so can say with at least some authority that the XFL is by far the best one. While almost all pro sports now have been statistics-ed and metrics-ed and analytics-ed to death, the XFL bears none of that weight because it’s too new, so chaos can, nay, must reign.
I was raised to believe that sports are meant to be fun and cool, which the XFL seems to have kept in mind. At my game, I watched players throw t-shirts into the crowd and dance openly and with abandon on the field. Fans playfully beefed about loyalty to Walmart vs. Target, and the XFL commissioner allegedly contributed his own beer cup to a 50+ foot snake of cups being constructed in the endzone opposite me. Each time I look back on this game, further removed from it and any sport, the memory sweetens; it was perfect, because the XFL is perfect. If the pandemic brings us to a The Giver situation where we have to pick only one kind of football to keep, it should absolutely be the XFL. For your viewing pleasure, please, look at these videos demonstrating gameplay:
If you need further convincing, I’ve put together a thoughtful review of all the reasons why the XFL is the best, broken down into categories I’ve deemed important.
Game play: 6-9/10
I’ve thought a lot about it, and would describe watching an XFL game live like this: College football-ish level skill, with the technology and sideline staff of a high school program. Unlike NFL and college football games, which are riddled with so many breaks between plays that you can kinda zone out while watching, the XFL employs a running clock. This means there’s essentially no downtime, guys are just running around all the time, scrambling to the line of scrimmage, and then scrambling during the action play. Non-stop action. The XFL also allows double-forward passing, so picture this: Not one forward pass per play, but two. This rules, because (successfully) passing the ball is the most exciting thing that can happen on offense. Doing it twice in a row? By my math, this is excitement squared, at least.
One of the biggest appeals of the XFL is its spicy new rules. Kickoffs look a lot different, and there’s no kicking for an extra point after a touchdown (instead, teams can try for one, two, or three extra points by running plays from various yard lines). XFL overtime is the zaniest departure from “classic football rules,” though unfortunately I never got to see it. It basically works like an NHL shootout, where both teams alternate making one offensive play each from the five-yard line. Fans at my game wanted to see this happen so badly, they were cheering for the visiting team to tie the game just to be able to witness the football shootout. If all the rules are hard to follow? No problem, because the XFL, thoughtful as ever, has XFL Rules Experts on the sidelines at each game, to explain what’s happening.
The sideline staff adds to the entertainment by being seemingly brand new to their jobs. NFL sidelines are so polished and streamlined that you hardly notice the staff, except to get annoyed over calls you disagree with. In the XFL, refs brought out the chains to measure first downs so many times, the beloved men in front of me, aka my best friends on earth, started cheering for the chains to be brought out after every play.
I don’t know anything about the players in the XFL, and neither did anyone sitting near me in the stands of the game on Sunday. Many of them played Division I college programs, but many others did not. What I do know, though, is that the players were having a freaking blast.
The XFL doesn’t fuss around with the stupidest rule in all of football: No end zone celebrations. In the XFL, one can celebrate after simply any play. I watched players dance in the middle of the field; I saw a guy do the dougie in the DC end zone. All of it was silly and great, just as games should be.
After the 10-minute halftime (perfect amount of time to go pee and get another big beer), one of the DC Defenders players stopped to throw T-shirts into the crowd. Another (and this is maybe why the XFL was wise to suspend its season) stopped to high-five with people in the bleachers. Have you ever seen that behavior at an NFL or D1 college game? Absolutely not, because the NFL, as a fan at my game pointed out, stands for No Fun League, while the XFL is the Xtreme Fun League.
Listen up: The fans are the best part of the XFL. The league slogan, as all devotees know, is “FOR THE LOVE OF FOOTBALL.” The fans are so good because it’s really hard to be an asshole about a brand new team that has no winning legacy to uphold, no underdog reputation to get overly mad about, and no tarnished reputation for being beloved by rich freaks. During the first quarter of Sunday’s game, a bunch of boys wearing their Walmart employee vests walked up the stairs to their seats yelling “FUCK TARGET!!!” You can judge a sport’s fans by what they are willing to cheer for, and XFL fans are willing to cheer for literally anything. That’s great, because yelling is 70 percent of the fun of sports.
I would give the merch more points if there were simply more of it. The existing stuff is cool, mostly because the team colors are slightly unhinged (the Vipers’ uniforms are neon green). As my friend Kelsey pointed out at the game we went to, every single DC sports team was represented at our XFL game, via the shirts and jerseys people were wearing. It’s fair that not many people have XFL gear yet, since these are new teams, but I would personally love to see more of it. When I checked the XFL online store on Sunday, the only sold out item in the Houston Roughnecks shop (since removed) was a shot glass (?!!??!). If you’re into wearing rare t-shirts and making groundbreaking fashion choices—but are also really into sports—the XFL is your chance to wear merch for teams no one has ever heard of.
Team names: 10/10
Simply compare the NFL and XFL team names and you’ll understand what I mean:
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFL) vs. Tampa Bay Vipers (XFL). Pirates are okay, but they follow a code. Snakes? No rules. They do what they want.
- St. Louis n/a (NFL, the Rams bailed to LA) vs. St. Louis Battlehawks. A ram is a sheep (I refuse to look this up). A battlehawk is a bird of prey that, I can only assume, does war.
- New York Giants (NFL) vs. New York Guardians (XFL). Giants can be either evil or good, while guardians? Inherently good and provide protection.
- Los Angeles Rams (NFL) vs. Los Angeles Wildcats. Once again… What is a ram? Wildcats are easily understood to be cool and vicious; also, Wildcats is the team name from High School Musical, so this team comes with its own pre-recorded anthem.
- D.C. [racist name Dan Snyder refuses to change] (NFL); D.C. Defenders (XFL). While “Defenders" is lame, it has the advantage of not being offensive and irresponsible.
- Houston Texans (NFL) vs. Houston Roughnecks (XFL). The NFL really did name a team for a “person who is from a state.”
- Dallas Cowboys (NFL) vs. Dallas Renegades (XFL). The cowboys of lore are wholesome and virtuous. Renegades are literally rogue; they’re rebels. I’m sorry but that’s cooler.
- Seattle Seahawks (NFL) vs. Seattle Dragons (XFL). Dragons are, in my opinion, a WILDLY underused mascot. The on-field costume and insignia potential is simply off the charts. Somehow the Orlando Magic messed this up, but no one needs to repeat its mistakes.
The XFL plays in smaller stadiums (mostly for soccer and college football) than the mega-domes of NFL teams, which is nice, because they’re easier to walk around, and you are closer to the action at all times.
How long the game lasts: 10/10
By keeping a running clock, the XFL delivers on its promise that games will last no more than three hours, which is the perfect amount of time to be at a game.
Overall vibe: 100,000,000/10
There’s much to miss in our current sports void, but I’ll miss the XFL most of all. Here’s to a full 2021 schedule, God and Vince McMahon willing.
Unlike canceling the NHL playoffs and March Madness, the XFL suspending its season has basically no implications (aside from the ones on my personal joy). Because the XFL hasn’t existed in nearly 20 years (it enjoyed a debut and final season in 2001), there aren’t any real rankings or rivalries. The champions by default are the undefeated Houston Roughnecks, which makes me happy because I am from Houston, and Roughnecks is a really cool name for a football team (second only to the Seattle Dragons). Players will be paid for the rest of the season, and are allowed to sign with NFL teams as they please. Though, aside from a desire to make exponentially more money, I don’t see why anyone would ever willingly leave the XFL, because the XFL fucking rules.
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