The XFL is underway and fans got their first taste of “take two” with Vince McMahon’s heavily anticipated spring football league. I’ve been looking forward to kickoff ever since the announcement was made that Vince would be taking one more shot with his infamous league. However, with viewers, I felt that there may be a little “football fatigue” going into opening weekend. This was due to its immediate start after the conclusion of the NFL season. However, it appears that I was completely wrong with this hypothesis. Fans’ insatiable appetite for football overpowered any hint of possible football fatigue. So, after Week 1, I’ve generated a list of winners and losers based on what I observed.
TV Networks: In the league’s opening game between the Seattle Dragons and DC Defenders on ABC, an average of 3.3 million viewers tuned in throughout the game. More impressively, there was no dip. Simply put, fans did not lose interest. Throughout the entire kickoff weekend, the newly revamped league peaked at 4.0 million at the end of broadcast on the family of network partners; ABC, FOX, and ESPN. One might argue that the same occurred for the inaugural weekend of the now defunct AAF. However, based on social media interaction throughout the weekend, the appeal was 100 times stronger with the XFL. Thinking back, I didn’t see any negative vibes associated with the XFL. Keep in mind also that AAF games were not shown on the network heavyweights such as ESPN, ABC, and FOX. Having those names associated with the league gives it more legitimacy in the eyes of fans.
Attendance: The fans showed up to support their respective XFL teams this past weekend. I have to give big props to the supporters of each city’s squad. Their response suggested that perhaps the league may have staying power. The Houston Roughnecks lead the charged with 17,815. Next in line was New York (17,634), Dallas (17,206), and Washington D.C. (17,163). Not only were they in attendance, but they were very passionate and heavily involved. It resonated through each broadcast. The color commentators spoke often of it throughout each contest. I spoke to a fan on Sunday that attended the Roughnecks game. Excitement was still in his voice as be boasted on how great of a time he had and the overall atmosphere he experienced. What equally excited him were the lines going into the stadium. It meant a lot to see his city embrace their new team. I realize we still have a ways to go, but this serves as a good sign for the XFL.
Trio of Quarterbacks Shine: Leading up to the first game, the sports world was fixated on the two biggest names playing quarterback for the new league: Landry Jones and Cardale Jones. Unfortunately, Landry Jones’ debut was put on hold due sitting out the first game. This was a precaution take by the Renegades staff due to Landry suffering a knee injury. He is slated to appear in Week 2.
Cardale did play and was quite impressive in his first outing as a Defender. Jones was 16/26 for 227 yards and 2 TDs. He had a passer rating of 116.7. It wasn’t just stats that jumped out to me, but rather his intangibles. Jones showed tremendous toughness in the pocket, was elusiveness at the right times, and always kept his eyes downfield while evading pressure. The icing on the cake was his involvement in a trick play resulting in a touchdown throw to his tight end Khari Lee. It was a constant on several highlight reels throughout the weekend.
Along with Jones, former SEC and Ole Miss QB Jordan Ta’amu had a solid day leading his Battlehawks to an upset of the favored Dallas Renegades. He was 20/27 for 183 yards and 1 TD with an additional 77 yards rushing. Ta’amu had a passer rating of 108.4. At times he looked very raw, but when it counted, he was very poised. It was a reminder to the league of what made him so frustrating to opposing defenses within the SEC. What stood out to me the most was how comfortable he was. Ta’amu was one of few in his position that seemed the most settled.
The star who shone the brightest was none other than Houston Roughnecks quarterback PJ Walker. He was downright electrifying. From a statistical standpoint, Walker was 23/39 for 272 yards and 4 TDs along with a 2-point conversion. He showed great ability to improvise on a dime and was critical in extending plays. It didn’t matter if his passes were short or deep. He made defenders pay. What was very surprising is that he did it against the league’s most highly touted defense going into the season. Walker may not have been on everyone’s radar initially, but he’s grabbed the attention of everyone now.
Former AAF Birmingham Iron DBs See the Endzone: In the travesty formerly known as the AAF, the Birmingham Iron boasted one of the top defenses in the league. Two of those players from that defense, Bradley Sylve and Jamar Summers, invaded their opposing team’s endzone in their respective games.
In the 4th quarter against the Vipers, tight end Nick Truesdell caught a pass from Aaron Murray only to cough it up. Summers wasted no time and capitalized on the Truesdell’s error. He scooped the ball into his arms and raced 13 yards down the sidelines for a Guardians’ touchdown.
With 12:43 remaining in the 4th quarter, Seattle Dragons quarterback Brandon Silvers made a huge mistake. He threw it in the direction of a former Alabama defensive back. Bradley Sylve intercepted the pass and ran untouched 69 yards for a pick-six. The touchdown sealed the victory for his Defenders squad.
A League of Second Chances: St. Louis Battlehawks safety Kenny Robinson played collegiately at West Virginia University. However, due to being involved in academic fraud, he was dismissed from the team after two seasons. Only a sophomore academically, he was not eligible for the NFL supplemental draft. So, he entered the infamous transfer portal. Instead of transferring to another school, he decided to enter the XFL until he could pursue his dream of playing in the NFL.“It was either go to school or help take care of my family and do what I love. The XFL is also paying for me to take classes still, so I can take classes and get my degree and take care of my family at the same time,” Robinson said. Not only is he getting his education paid for, but he’s playing professionally while bypassing the NFL Combine and a pro day. He’s also drawn rave reviews from his coach, Jonathan Hayes, “He’s athletic. He’s got great range. He’s got great ball skills. He’s a smart kid, understands the game, very instinctive. Those are the things that you dream for with a safety. He’ll come up and put you on the ground.” Kenny definitely has a story that many of us will be interested in following.
For the Love of Football: Perhaps the most intriguing takeaway from opening weekend was the story of Houston Roughnecks wide receiver Nick Holley. So, why is the former Kent State star so compelling? Before the XFL, Holley went through hellacious storm of adversity. To be more specific, he suffered a broken back and 3 torn ACLs. In short, Holley shouldn’t be anywhere near football at this point career-wise. Yet, by the grace of God, he is back playing professionally. During the contest against the Wildcats, sideline reporter Brock Huard asked, “Three torn ACLs and a broken back. Why are you here?” Nick Holley’s answer was moving. “I love football. For love of the game. Opportunity. Vince McMahon has blessed me with a chance to further my career, and I couldn’t be happier to be here,” the RB/WR Holley said. Replays of this interview went viral on Twitter. Holley became an instant star, prompting the team to create an account for him. The funny thing about that is Holley admitted to not being a social media savant, “I don’t know how exactly to work Twitter. They hooked it up for me right after the game. They were like, ‘Hey, you’re trending.’” Players like Nick Holley are what his league is about and should make it an “easy sell” for prospective fans.
This is what makes the @xfl2020 awesome. @XFLRoughnecks Receiver @Nickholley07 fighting thru 3 torn ACL's to keep his football career alive. After making some big plays in the Win Saturday. The team started him a Twitter account because he was blowing up. @abc13houston pic.twitter.com/hfN0a2gB0T— Bob Slovak (@BobSlovak13) February 11, 2020
3-Point Extra Point Attempts: One of the more appealing points of the XFL is the ability after a touchdown is scored to go for 1, 2, or 3 points. Teams attempted 1 or 2 point conversions, but stayed away from 3-point attempts. One may argue this past weekend’s games may have not exactly called for it. However, having that opportunity available is very intriguing and we all would have loved to seen it.
Vipers’ Hiss Worse than Their Bite: The Tampa Bay Vipers could not and would not get out of their own way this past Sunday while visiting New York. They won the battle of total yardage 394-226. In addition, they converted 7/15 on 3rd downs to New York’s 1/10. Somehow they managed to only put 3 points on the board. They also squandered more than one trip to the Guardians’ redzone, coming away empty-handed on 4th downs. Those hoping to see brilliant play from Aaron Murray were quickly disappointed. He only completed 16/34 passes with 0 TDs and 2 turnovers. However, the Vipers did seem to respond more positively when backup Quinton Flowers was under center. This should lead to an interesting few days in practice leading up to Game 2. To sum up, out of all the XFL teams, Tampa Bay looked the least prepared and the most like a Spring League squad. Thank goodness it’s not a one game season.
No 100-yard rushers: No rusher posted 100-yards this past weekend. Former Florida Gator Matt Jones of the Dallas Renegades sniffed the century mark with 85 yards. The next closest was St. Louis Battlehawks quarterback Jordan Ta’amu with 77 yards. Yes, it is still early. In the beginning stages of a new league, one of the hardest facets of an offense to get going is the running game. A lot of that has to do with inexperienced offensive line play. Everyone is new to one another. It’s hard to develop chemistry and timing after only a few weeks of practice. So, I fully expect things to improve in this department; especially with runners like Cameron Artis-Payne, Kenneth Farrow, Ja’Qaun Gardener, and Donnel Pomphrey.
LA Wildcats: In their debut, the LA Wildcats lost on the road to the Houston Roughnecks 37-17. In the preseason, the Wildcats franchise boasted what many felt would be the best defense in the league. However, they surrendered 37 points in a humbling loss to the Roughnecks. This is not why LA makes the list in this category. One day after suffering just one loss, team decision makers decided to fire their defensive coordinator, Pepper Johnson. With no justifiable evidence for this firing being presented up to this point, this decision smells of instability. A trait like this is not something the league wants associated with it in the infant stages of its inception. The only statement issued by head coach Winston Moss was this, “We recognize that there are issues we need to address for the 2020 season. While these decisions are difficult, we have given this significant thought. We are here to put the best possible product on the field for our fans. We thank Pepper for his contributions to the Wildcats and we are looking forward to our home opener this weekend.” In other words, he’s not saying anything. If the “X” in the XFL still means Xtreme, this action definitely qualifies for it. Like I mentioned earlier, hopefully, in the coming days a more substantial explanation for this will be offered.
So, these points were my main takeaways from the XFL opening weekend. Maybe those of you who are current fans saw my points and possibly agree with them. For those who are still sitting on the fence as to whether or not they should invest in the league, maybe I’ve persuaded you to become a fan. Personally, I’ve enjoyed Week 1 and look forward to the following weeks. It should continue to be a more exciting product as things begin to click on all cylinders. Football is alive and well. Let’s enjoy it!
I am a 2003 graduate from the University of Alabama with a degree in Exercise Science. While at the Capstone, I served as a student assistant with the head strength and conditioning coach of the Crimson Tide football team. I have competed in both powerlifting and bodybuilding for several years. In addition, I have served athletes and people through the arena of personal training. Jesus is my Lord and Savior. I am a passionate fan of Alabama, but do not make other fan bases miserable because of it. College football has my heart first, but I cover all areas of sports. Follow me on Twitter: @justinriley7!