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XFL opening weekend observations: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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First games for new league had a bit of everything

XFL: St. Louis BattleHawks at Dallas Renegades Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The XFL 2.0 opened over the weekend in four cities nationwide. Unofficially, this version of a new upstart league is classified as a “developmental league.” The rosters are comprised of players who were not signed to any National Football League (NFL) nor Canadian Football League (CFL) club. Both leagues are considered the pinnacle if you are a professional football player and pay the most.

I watched all four games over the weekend since the grass isn’t growing so it doesn’t need to be cut, I had already changed the oil in my Explorer recently, all my pepper plants except one was killed by frost and none of my four daughters was close to a birthday or any other such event. So, the weekend was free.

XFL: St. Louis BattleHawks at Dallas Renegades Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Overall, I thought is was really good football - surprisingly good to be honest.

If you attended a game or watched one on TV you may have some observations of your own. But here is my take of what the opening weekend brought about, and then you are on your own the rest of the XFL season.

One thing for certain: if this league is going to grow it will need some notable star players. The biggest names mentioned all weekend were Landry Jones, Aaron Murray and Jerry Glanville. The latter was in retirement while the others were in a different employ until the XFL called.

Officials, stadiums, game field

In 2001, XFL1 had four large city and four medium market teams. This time around, all teams are situated in large cities that have existing NFL clubs. Some of the venues were small while others were quite large. New York is using MetLife Stadium, the same facility as the Football Giants and Jets and holds 82,550. Either they are expecting larger crowds as the season rolls around or they could not secure the 25,000-seat Red Bull Arena which is the home of the MLS franchise. For now the word I would use is “cavernous.” The only plus I can see is if you are a Giants or Jets season ticket holder you can sit in areas that you would never be able to get seats. The Dallas home game was staged at a baseball stadium, the former home of the Texas Rangers.

As far as officiating, all crews were college football officials with many from Power 5 conferences. They seemed to let the players play and rarely called pass interference or illegal contact on receivers. And they allowed players to actually hit each other. No, really.

Tampa Bay Vipers v New York Guardians
The ball spotter held a football while the game was in progress and carried a large mystery fanny pack
Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

Did you notice the official with the red ballcap? He is called the “Ball spotting official” and is an eighth official. This person does not have any officiating power and does not make calls. All he does is collect the ball from the previous play from another official and then spot the ball to which the referee then blows his whistle to begin the 25-second play clock; which by the way really speeds up the game in lieu of the NFL’s 40-second play clock. Not sure what that monster fanny pack was about hugging this official, though. If you know, please explain in a comment.

Another thing. Did you notice that on every play there are two footballs on the field at the same time? A new rule? No. When the ball spotting official collects the previous play’s football, he is already holding another ball and stands behind the quarterback deep in the offense’s backfield. That way when he can set the ball and then collect the previous play’s football pretty quickly.

And each team’s offense used a ball with their logo on it. Why?

The wall ribbon dressings at each stadium were really nice as were the field markings. The entire situation appeared “professional.”I also noticed each stadium had a giveaway to folks who bought a ticket. At the Washington game, patrons were given these cool foam “wrist shields” while the Houston game handed out free T-shirts. In New York they gave out Guardians mini-placards and in Dallas screen-printed neck bandannas because their team is called the Renegades I suppose.

XFL: Seattle Dragons at DC Defenders
ESPN sidelines reporter Dianna Russini runs alongside DC Defenders safety Rahim Moore (45) for an on field interview against the Seattle Dragons
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

One thing I hated was all of the constant in-game interviews. Several coaches were annoyed with an attempt to interview them because they needed to concentrate on the game. The players interviewed were a mixed bag and some were a head-scratcher. A guy missed a field goal and they asked him what was he feeling when he missed it? What type of enlightenment was he going to give? The quarterback just threw an interception and you want to talk to him. Really? What are these guys going to say – um, sorry?

Some players were completely out of breath, some cussed and the 7-second delay didn’t catch it, while others just acted ignorant. “This is my best friend” one player blurted out as he slid into the camera shot while his teammate was being questioned. “Just doing my f*****g job” another quipped. We as TV viewers are used to the short coaches’ interview on the way to the locker room at the half – just leave it at that. At one point FOX sideline reporter Jenny Taft grabbed a guy’s arm and he said, “I gotta go in.” To me, all of this is unnecessary and does not add to the game experience. Leave the players and coaches alone while the game is going on and allow them to focus. What’s next? On-field interviews between plays? Oops - I said that out loud.

The TV coverage was great with knowledgeable commentators. One game I counted nine camera angles on one replay of an interception. ABC aired the initial contest followed by two games on FOX and the Sunday late game on ESPN which was simulcast on ESPN Deportes. I didn’t notice with the first three games, but in the Dallas game there was a camera guy on the field the entire contest who stood behind the offense back where the field judge stands. I wondered what would have happened if the quarterback in the shotgun received an errant snap that went over his head where this guy would seek refuge. If you have ever stood on the sideline during an actual football game the unspoken rule of thumb is that if the action begins to come your way, start to backpedal quickly.

Team names, uniforms and logos

One thing is certain – seven of the eight cities chosen are spot-on mainly because there are more people living in larger cities and they also have an NFL team so the passion for professional football is alive. Pro football has returned to St. Louis and “the BattleHawks” are an awesome team name. But Los Angeles? After 20 years of not a single professional football team and now that area has three? San Antonio would have been a much better choice. They led the AAF in attendance including the league’s largest single game gate with 30,345 and would still remain in the western division.

XFL: Los Angeles Wildcats at Houston Roughnecks
Isn’t the Houston Roughnecks’ helmet just a Houston Oilers’ helmet painted silver?
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

A quick glance at the Houston Roughnecks helmet displays an upper case slanted “H” that cleverly becomes an oil derrick. To me, it just looks like a knockoff of the old Houston Oilers logo. And I am wondering if it is mandatory that every Houston franchise must be red, white and blue because the Roughnecks, Lady Oilers (Women’s Arena Football League), Texans and Oilers are. And speaking of logos, the LA Wildcats helmet logo is just plain stupid.

And what is with three teams that refuse to be called by their city name? LA, NY and DC all use initials instead of where they are from. I would get it if they were soccer teams.

With XFL1, sometimes the atmosphere was part sideshow and part football. Absence this time around are the soft porn cheerleaders, halftime interviews that more resembled an episode of Wrestlemania where someone is begin challenged with an aluminum ladder, and correct nameplates. Gone are “He Hate Me”, “Flyboi”, or “Pho Real.” If you are going to be a professional sports league, you can’t gum it up and have Sideshow Bob as your chief administrator.

Tampa Bay Vipers v New York Guardians
The Tampa Bay color scheme is just bad
Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

Best unies? NY Guardians - the blackout was nicely done. Worst uniforms? Tampa Bay. Not a fan of that tint of green with the yellow orange. To me, it just oozes minor league.

Players/coaches

Over 90% of the players have either been on an NFL or CFL roster, practice squad or was signed to participate in a training camp at some point. That is the good news. The bad is a lot of these players have not seen the field since the AAF closed shop or even farther down the road.

XFL: St. Louis BattleHawks at Dallas Renegades Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Turnovers, wrong routes run, muffed punts, fumbles, turnovers, dropped passes, overthrown passes, under thrown passes, blocked punts, turnovers, two receivers in the same area, turnovers and lots of missed field goals. I do wish I had a dollar for every time I saw a quarterback forced to leave the pocket and scramble. There is a Popeye’s near my place and I would parlay that money into dinner for a small village.

Quite a few large bellies on both sides of the line, quarterback play was spotty at best, and the defensive lines basically dominated their offensive counterparts. Sammie Coates, the former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver, has an NFL body and speed, but will drop four passes in the first half alone. This is typical of the talent level. There is “in shape” and there is “in football shape.”

Several odd things that involved offensive linemen. The center for LA, Patrick Vahe, caught a batted ricochet pass and trounced his way to a 5-yard gain. All his line mates celebrated like he had news he had won the lottery. Saw a tackle perform the Lambeau Leap after the running back had scored. And one guard had gone downfield and took out a defender to help the receiver who was fighting off tacklers – and no flag was thrown. Would definitely been a 15-yarder in the NFL.

Here’s something you won’t see at an NFL game: every skill position player on the field and sideline with their hands over their ear holes in an attempt to hear the next play. But the fact that these players all have helmet communication has diluted the huddle to just the signalcaller and his offensive line. With all these players with a receiver in their hat, it does make the game move along.

Tampa Bay Vipers v New York Guardians
Defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville of the Tampa Bay Vipers
Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

As far as coaches, the broadcast of the New York vs. Tampa Bay game FOX went on-and-on about Tampa Bay DC Jerry Glanville and rarely mentioned their head coach Marc Trestman who has won three Grey Cups and was twice the CFL Coach-of-the-Year. Glanville has never sniffed a championship.

Dallas’ offensive coordinator, Hal Mumme, didn’t even have a laminated play sheet. He just depressed the communication button, said the play he wanted called and off they went. Have you ever seen that before?

One thing I did notice: the player’s posture does display that they are all in this “brotherhood” instead of a me-first attitude.

The league also has their practice squad players set up differently. Whereas in the NFL every club has 10 players that practice but don’t play and yet are available to every team at any time, if any XFL player does not make the 45-man roster, they are placed onto a unit called “Team 9.” These players practice among each other in Dallas and have their own coaches. If a player is cut from an active roster, he then heads to Team 9. If a player becomes hurt and that team needs a replacement, there is one at his position readily available on Team 9 (but not a requirement to pull from this resource).

No runner crossed the 100-yard game threshold. Matt Jones of St. Louis got the closest with 85 yards on 21 carries. I only saw one run of 20-yards or longer and it was called back. My thoughts are that the defensive lines are just too much to handle to get any type of traction going on the ground.

With the third quarter winding down and down 17-0, Tampa Bay QB Aaron Murray yelled out “Good gorilla” and then turned to running back De’Veon Smith and said out loud, “Good gorilla. You’re getting it.” Smith was then met at the line by three tacklers.

Then there is the helmet visor of Dallas Renegades wide receiver Jeff Badet. Apparently, he has been able to use different visors which display pictures of cartoons and other people such as Michael Jackson. Why would a professional league want to carnival-ize its operations? What’s next? A player who wears an expensive watch during the game?

Rules and game of play

I don’t like the one-foot inbounds college play. This is professional football and players should do the same as the other leagues. In fact, most were still trying to drag that second foot because all of these guys want to move up and don’t want to learn bad habits. Maybe because the talent level is nominal is why they changed it?

XFL: Tampa Bay Vipers at New York Guardians
XFL kickoffs begin with players only five yards apart
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The kickoff was certainly different and while the NFL keeps hinting at this play’s abandonment, the XFL has found a viable solution. However, with the coverage team being so close to the kick returner, there are just too many bodies too soon to find any type of seam. I don’t envision any touchdowns or large gains with this setup, but if safety is the focus they may have nailed it. If this league wants larger returns they should position the coverage team 10 or even 15 yards back instead of five. The problem is the coverage team can see the kick returner collect the ball and know when to start moving and then it is one-on-one blocking basically. If a single blocker cannot contain his man (which seemed to always be the case) then the returner doesn’t have a chance.

Not a fan of the extra point rules. I like the kicker for a single point, then the 2-point conversation. If this league was dead-set on being different, then simply add the 3-point attempt from the 10-yard line. There are some things I believe this league is doing just to say “we are different” but there is no problem being just like the NFL.

Example: in the fourth quarter St. Louis was up on Dallas 12-9. If you just tuned it and it was an NFL game, you could assuredly assume how the points were scored. But not in the XFL. Two touchdowns with two failed PATs? Four field goals? A touchdown with a three-point conversion and then a field goal? A touchdown, failed PAT and two field goals? A touchdown with a successful two-point conversion plus a safety? A touchdown, a field goal and a defensive scored return of the opponent’s failed three-point attempt? And then there’s the nine points to try to decipher.

There were three rule changes that were touted as “gameplay innovations”: the double-forward pass, the 3-point PAT and the shootout overtime format. However, neither of these were used in any game. Maybe traditional football is favored?

Opportunities for women

Seven women have played men’s college football, six of which were kickers. Two women have played professional men’s football and both were involved in the kicking game. The XFL appears to go way beyond this.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 12 Rutgers at Indiana
Amanda Sauer-Cook
Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There is only one woman who is an official during NFL contests, but three XFL games featured a woman as a line judge while in the Dallas game the ball spotter was female and Amanda Sauer-Cook was the center judge; who so far she has been the only woman official who has not bunned her hair underneath her cap and instead sported a prevalent pony tail.

Janet Duch is the president of the NY Guardians who previously was an executive at Madison Square Garden. The LA Wildcats’ president is Heather Brooks Karatz. She spent years as legal counsel and Senior Vice President at Relativity Sports, a sports agent company.

Poll

Did your weekend involve an XFL game?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Yes - attended a game
    (16 votes)
  • 80%
    Yes - watched at least one game on TV
    (615 votes)
  • 17%
    No - needed to change the oil, cut the grass, plant new pepper plants and then attend a birthday party
    (135 votes)
766 votes total Vote Now

Why is the XFL doing this?

One of the reasons the first edition of the XFL failed was the assumption that perhaps actual game results could be altered in order to keep each contest competitive and then folks would remain interested in division races.

The league is owned by a single person: Vince McMahon. He is also the king of the WWE universe which specialize in scripted results.

What would happen during an NFL game if the TV audience could hear every offensive play about to be run? Obviously, there would be an employee of the defense on a continuous cell phone connection who would then relay the play to the defense. Duh.

Well, in XFL games, that is what’s happening. The TV masses were privy to hear what was going to happen next on offense while the commentators, all knowledgeable about play calling, told the national television audience what to expect.

The question is, why? Do these games simply not matter? Are the results already set? Name a professional sport in which the opponent will divulge what they are about to do. Why doesn’t the pitcher just yell out his next pitch? Does a tennis pro scream out where he/she is about to place their shot? Does a hockey forward do the same? Does a boxer or MMA fighter tell his/her opponent which hand/foot he/she is about to lead with?

Actions like this will make someone question whether this game is a factual, competitive entity. As a viewer, you actually don’t need to know, are not expecting to know and really enjoy the game better not knowing. But from a competitive standpoint, why are they doing this?

There was a play in the opening game between DC and Seattle that was very odd. With 6:16 left in the fourth quarter and behind 25-19, Seattle was faced with a fourth-and-one on DC’s five yard line. Seattle running back Kenneth Farrow ran into the middle of the line and was marked down short of the first down marker by the line judge. They brought the sticks out and confirmed he was stopped short. Seattle’s offense left the field as did DC’s defense, and the other units came onto the field now first down DC.

Then, the referee stated that the play was under review. What? The time to review the play was before they measure, right? The referee announced over the PA, “The ballcarrier was down short. The play is under further review.” Next, the TV audience is gifted with the conversation between the replay official and the referee. The replay guy, with a camera just over his shoulder showing all of us at home how this is actually done, told the referee, “The runner got to the 3-and-one-half and was driven back” to which the referee returned with “You good with that?” The replay official’s answer was “3-and-one-half is fine.”

The game was close. It was exciting as the visiting team was inside the Red Zone. They went for it on fourth down and were denied. They measured and confirmed the call on the field. Why was there then a booth review? Perhaps to give the other team a chance to score instead of losing possession? Two plays later, to the happiness of the home crowd, Seattle fumbled.

Another competitive feature happened at halftime. The camera crews were allowed into the locker room. Halftime is the opportunity to make adjustments, and yet here were the coaches discussing details and strategy of what needed to be changed.

Isn’t that just handing their opponent’s their game plans?