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

Reboot of spring league kicked off 

Seattle Sea Dragons v DC Defenders
Former Browns WR Josh Gordon #0 of the Seattle Sea Dragons catches a pass for a touchdown against Michael Joseph #15 of the DC Defenders during the first half of the XFL game at Audi Field on February 19, 2023 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The new XFL was pleasantly plugging along with five games under their belt in 2020 with growing attendance and full rosters. Then, the pandemic hit. Eventually, like every other sports event, the XFL was forced to close its doors.

Now, after some time off and a chance to become financially feasible as well as competitive, the league made it’s Debut Part 2 this past weekend.

Vegas Vipers v Arlington Renegades Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images

Eight teams are the norm when starting a new league. The schedule works out every week, half the clubs will make the playoffs, and one team cannot dominate which keeps interest flowing in all cities as well as the casual pro football fan.


Arlington Renegades 22, Vegas Vipers 20

Houston Roughnecks 33, Orlando Guardians 12


St. Louis BattleHawks 18, San Antonio Brahmas 15

D.C. Defenders 22, Seattle Sea Dragons 18

Here is a capsule of the weekend events in Week 1.

The Good

1 Uniforms. Each team’s uni’s was tight. A lot of attention to detail went into each one down to the gradient striping on the Houston Roughnecks pants. The helmet striping for every team was creative. Was interesting to see several teams went with the same color pants as their jersey like St. Louis’ light Royal blue and San Antonio’s gray.

2 Women. No, not skimpy costumes like the original XFL had back in 2001. This league has plenty of opportunities for women. I saw two female linesmen, two back judges, and during the Saturday night game between Orlando and Houston, the broadcaster on ESPN Deportes was a female. One of the league’s owner is Dany Garcia, a female businesswoman who owns a ton of companies and projects including the producer of films such as Jumanji The Next Level and Black Atom. And several female front office executives such as Anastasia Ali, Stacie Johnson, Danielle Lee, and Temeko Richardson, the Director of Team Operations (DTO) with St. Louis, DC, Houston, and Vegas, respectively. The Athletic Trainer for Orlando is Rachel Sharpe. Jen Welter is the linebackers coach for Vegas. There have been women owners of pro football teams beginning with Violet Bidwell of the Chicago Cardinals in 1947, female referees, the first woman to play men’s professional football was Pat Palinkas of the Orlando Panthers in the 1960s, first female to score points in a men’s professional football game was Abby Vestal with the indoor Kansas Koyotes, and now a position coach plus an athletic trainer. The only plateaus that remain is GM and head coach. The DTO is basically every club’s boss.

3 San Antonio. This Texas city is no stranger to professional football. The Gunslingers are also a current arena team. San Antonio was once the training camp site of the Dallas Cowboys, the temporary home of the New Orleans Saints after Hurricane Katrina, and have had numerous NFL preseason games played there. And with every new pro football league, they placed a team there. Most recently was the San Antonio Commanders of the AAF which led the league in attendance. Believe it or not, San An is the sixth largest TV market which is better than most NFL clubs. The city already has an NFL-caliber stadium with the Alamodome which seats 64,000. Week 1 of the XFL drew 24,245. This is an NFL city waiting for the call.

St Louis Battlehawks v San Antonio Brahmas
San Antonio Brahmas versus St. Louis Battlehawks
Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

4 Escalation of Points. The XFL allows teams to go for one, two or three points on the PAT. This came into play at the end of the St. Louis game with them down 15-3 with just 1:30 left on the clock. A touchdown pass plus the three-point successful conversion try trimmed that lead to 15-12. Then St. Louis went down the field and scored the game winning touchdown to win 18-15. Now, before you go calling pro football a traditionalist game, the American Football League of 1960-1969 did not invent the two-point try, but they did install it. And when the merger occurred in 1970, eventually the established league adopted it. I like the XFL’s PAT tiered-points system. This makes any team still in the game even late. The only negative is trying to figure out how many scores are needed to pull out a victory. Right now, it’s pretty basic to state your team is two scores down. In the XFL, that will require a bit more calculation. By the way, in the history of professional football dating back to the 1890s, the Battlehawks’ nine-point conversion is the most points scored on a single scoring drive.

5 Fourth-and-15. This is a crazy situation in this league. A team has the option after every single score to: a), kickoff, b) kick an onside kick, or 3) attempt a fourth-and-15 from their own 25 in order to regain possession. After St. Louis netted nine points on that drive, they went for the fourth-and-15 to which QB A.J. McCarron hit receiver Austin Proehl for 17-yards to keep possession. After a 15-yard roughing penalty plus a 17-yard pass completion, the Battlehawks threw a touchdown pass to go up 18-15 with :16 ticks left on the clock and seal the win. For most of the game it was a defensive battle, but during those last less than two minutes, it was exciting all due to the added points scenario and this new kickoff option.

6 35 ticks. The XFL has a 35-second clock instead of the NFL’s version of 40. All games moved right along.

St Louis Battlehawks v San Antonio Brahmas
Hines Ward
Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

7 First Asian-descent head coach? Former Pittsburgh Steelers great/San Antonio head coach Hines Ward is half Korean/black. Does this make him the first Asian descent head coach in professional football history? Was yet another ethnic barrier broken? Not hardly. Former Los Angeles Rams outstanding QB Roman Gabriel was head coach of the Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks of the World League in 1991. His father was a Filipino immigrant.

8 Player bonding. There seems to be a sense of no animosity among players of all teams. They seem to have the same goals and strife not just within a single club, but league-wide that everyone is in this venture together. That is, except for Seattle DE Daniel Joseph who threw the second punch and was ejected. The edge to compete is still there, but the need to help each other as a whole is also apparent.

9 Instant replay. This was exciting and informative. When the play on the field went into the replay booth, so did the television audience. Plus, viewers heard the complete conversation between the referee and Dean Blandino in the replay booth and what transpires next. A big plus was the call was made quickly. Of course, the XFL command center only has to deal with a single at a time whereas the NFL version has a lot of games going on simultaneously.

10 Houston. The Roughnecks have a really good team and looks like the favorite to win this league. Head coach Wade Phillips is a defensive guru and his “D” looks the part already. Phillips had his first win as a head coach since 2010 while with the Dallas Cowboys.

11 Announcers. All the broadcast crews were very knowledgeable about not only the game, but when XFL rule variations would surface they were quick to explain to the viewing audience. Haven’t seen a double forward pass yet, so that will be interesting for the booth.

12 NFL cities rule. When Vince McMahon ran the league, one rule he had was all clubs had to be placed in NFL cities. These new owners want a good commodity in cities that will come out and support their product. It takes a lot of time, effort and money to create a league such as this and the last thing they want is to see is tens of thousands of empty seats each week. Picking Orlando, St. Louis and San Antonio is brilliant. Now, these three cities have had multiple pro football teams in their history with St. Louis the only city to have had an NFL team, but these communities have a history of supporting pro football.

13 Winner’s pot. Each player on the winning team gets a bonus of $1,000. What if the NFL took away a portion of each player’s bi-weekly paycheck for each loss? Would every play be maximum effort? The premise of monetary incentives to win is a great idea.

14 Texas. Eight XFL teams with three being in the State of Texas. Everyone knows this state is a hotbed, and this proves it.

The Bad

1 Lack of offense overall. Most games had low scores because offensive units just could not sustain drives. In the St. Louis – San Antonio game, the first touchdown of the game was scored with 10:42 left in the contest. Certainly when rosters have limited time together like this league has done, it is difficult to toss together a deep offensive playbook, so the defense has the advantage. The score in the Seattle/DC game was 9-8 at the half. But if the XFL wants full stadiums, they have got to figure out how to get those scores into the 30-40 points per team for each game or else fans just won’t bother. Houston was the only offense to put up large numbers (33) while every other score was around three touchdowns or much less.

2 Missed field goals. The limited times a team finally got into scoring range, field goals were a premium with several missed efforts in almost every game. And not the 58-yard variety, but close, make-able kicks.

3 Dropped passes. I get it: an offense was thrown together and began play in record time. But often a receiver would have two gloves on the ball and then drop the ball. It became a game trend in each contest. And it wasn’t just the receivers as multiple dropped interceptions dotted games throughout the weekend.

4 Overthrown passes. As the season rolls along, this stat will taper off. What each QB did not want to do was to see a pick six in their first game. So to compensate for that, the ball just took on air.

5 Interviews to the left of me, interviews to the right. Every where we looked, there was an interview. The head coach after a three-and-out, the guy who scored the touchdown, trolling on the sideline with a camera. And it wasn’t like it was in-depth important stuff. One question and out with one player saying hi to all of his children.

6 Houston’s logo. Isn’t the Roughnecks logo extremely similar to the Houston Oilers logo? Just maybe the derrick is cut off at the top?

7 Arlington. Back in 2020 this club was the Dallas Renegades. They play in Arlington at Choctaw Stadium, former home of the Texas Rangers baseball team. Why not just keep calling them the Dallas Renegades? The NFL has a slew of clubs who don’t play home games in their city any longer such as the San Francisco (Santa Clara), LA Rams and LA Chargers (Inglewood), Miami (Miami Gardens), Las Vegas (Paradise), Dallas (Arlington), and Buffalo (Orchard Park). In addition, three clubs don’t even play in their own state any longer: New York Giants and New York Jets play in East Rutherford, New Jersey while the Washington DC Commanders have their home park in Landover, Maryland. Of course the Arlington XFL club is the only local football team to play in February.

8 Electric football kickoffs. This new system of kicking off works for what it’s intent is for: cut down on injuries. Nobody is now going full steam for 40-yard collisions. But at the same time, most kick returners were tackled between the 28 and the 34 every time. Why not just give the team the ball at a certain yard line and eliminate the kickoff completely? The AAF did. They gave the next possession at the 25. And the next XFL game you watch, do this: Turn off the sound, then as the kick returner gathers the ball, say this out loud, “Zzzzzzzz.” It looks just like you set up electric football (remember electric football?) and flipped the switch to “on.”

9 Cornerback play. This is probably a given. Receivers are plentiful, but exceptional cover guys are already in the NFL or CFL. It is difficult to find good corners to cover these speedy receivers. Just a fact.

10 Running attack. Just not much of any sort of run game in every contest. Which is fine. Spectators like large passing numbers and points scored. But to pass and score only 15 points? And not be able to run? As an example, in the first half Seattle had 26 rushing yards to 19 for DC.

SOCCER: FEB 19 Womens SheBelieves Cup - USA vs Japan
United States forward Alex Morgan (13) looks to make a pass during the SheBelieves Cup match between USA and Japan
Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

11 Huge sports weekend. The league had to compete with their first weekend with so many other things going on for TV viewers to gain interest. The Daytona 500 was Sunday. The NBA All-Star weekend took ratings both days. The Genesis Invitational saw Tiger Woods back in action since his car wreck. The NHL Stadium Series outdoor game was played in front of 56,961 in Charlotte. USA Women’s soccer team avenged an earlier loss to Japan to win 1-0. The Michigan-Michigan State men’s college basketball game was overshadowed by the MSU campus shootings.

The Ugly

1 Split screen. I did not like that they showed the OC of one team and the DC of another team while hearing their calls to their respective players on the field. It just got jumbled and were both talking at the same time. And then, instead of watching the play, the game was reduced to make room for these coordinators with a tri-split screen who weren’t even involved anymore until the next play yet the viewing area of the game was now smaller.

2 Plays. So, as they showed each coordinator, you heard the next play on both sides of the ball being communicated to the field. If this was the NFL, don’t you know that each team would have someone who relayed this information to the field for instant adjustments? Does this league have a gentleman’s agreement not to steal signals? I get it that this is for the viewers who can understand the game process a bit better with “an inside look” at what goes on. But if this league wants to be viewed as a competitive entity, protecting what is going to happen next would need to be front-and-center. Maybe that’s just me. That’s why we wrap presents for Christmas.

3 Lots of defensive touchdowns. Pick sixes and fumble returns for a defensive score was the norm. So were regular turnovers.

4 Cameras on the field. This was irritating. A guy runs in a pick six and instantly while celebrating a microphone is slammed into his face in the end zone. And what did he say? We don’t know because he had his helmet on which also has a face shield. In another game, the sideline reporter was out on the field with the kicker as he was teeing up the ball. “What is your strategy?”, “Um, kick it as far as I can?” This was trying to be different just to be different. This has nothing to do with the game. A guy with a camera comes from the end zone and now is almost in the huddle. That is what the SkyCam was invented for. No player on the field wants to be disturbed. They don’t. Their attention is what the QB is calling and trying to focus.

Seattle Sea Dragons v DC Defenders
Michael Joseph #15 of the DC Defenders celebrates with teammates after returning an interception for a touchdown against the Seattle Sea Dragons during the second half
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

5 Defense rules. I am not sure if it is the newness of offensive players who were tossed together in a short time, or perhaps the overall offensive line play is poor, but the defenses dominated for the most part. Sacks, hurries, knockdowns, incompletions, throw away passes were all high numbers.

6 Tackling. Consistent with being the first game, but a lot of missed tackles. This will improve as assignments are not missed and players get acclimated to their defensive teammates.

7 Nameplates. Missed the “He Hate Me” Rod Smart nameplate. I think each team should have one player wear a #30 jersey with this on the jersey back every game.