Fresh off the high from the Seattle Seawolves’ victory and back-to-back Major League Rugby championships, I decided to take on a small venture into another new(ish) sport – the XFL.
I know what you are thinking, “didn’t the XFL tank after its only season in 2001?” You would be correct in your thoughts. This is the new and improved XFL. XFL 2.0, or, rather, XFL2020.
Walking into Memorial Stadium in Seattle, I thought I would be cool and go against the grain, wearing a shirt supporting the afore-mentioned Seawolves, with the word ‘rugby’ across the front. I don’t pull any punches.
Immediately, I was met by a Seawolves season-ticket holder who was checking my credentials at the gate, so my trip started off well.
As I wandered down the bleachers to the field, I looked across the open green and saw the array of drills set up. Linemen doing linemen things, Quarterbacks doing the forward passing thing, there were runners and catchers and a few zebras with whistles running around. There were All-American college players delivering what they can do as well as retired Seattle Sounders players showing that the ball doesn’t have to be round to kick.
Although I am like most Americans, who have a decent knowledge of American Football, I still felt a little out of my element.
It wasn’t until I started listening to Commissioner Oliver Luck speak on innovations and rule changes and what can be expected that I realized I was in a parallel universe, and that I really didn’t roll too far out of my wheelhouse.
“What we have is traditional football with rules that are understandable, that people can grasp.” Luck explained, “it’s also important to say what they don’t want, they told us loud and clear that they don’t want gimmicks. Fans want authenticity, they wanted real football.” “Fans also didn’t want to be complicit in watching players get hurt. So, we wanted to make sure that as we looked into the game and made our innovations that we were not making the game any more dangerous. We took a product development approach. We analyzed a whole lot of data, and we did on-field testing.”
You see, the XFL is an alternative to the National Football League (NFL). I have spent my life playing a sport that has been on the fringes as an alternative to the NFL as well. Similar attributes, similar brutality, similar strategy, obvious differences.
Speaking to Luck individually, I found that he lived in England for a time and was a big fan of rugby. In fact, he told me that several of the tested innovations have rugby roots. For example, the conversion points after a touchdown. In rugby, when a try is scored, the conversion kick is brought straight back from where the ball was grounded, potentially making the conversion more difficult, the further to the side the try is scored. Luck had extensive on-field testing regarding corner touchdowns and an angled conversion, or point-after-touchdown (PAT) attempts. He liked the idea and may still implement in the future.
Wandering around the field, I found some solid conversation with Keith Price, former quarterback from the University of Washington (UW). Price was elated with the fact that he had the opportunity to show that he can compete with the best the region has to offer.
“The XFL is where it’s at, there is a lot of competition,” Price noted after exclaiming he was about to start the next AAF game before it dissolved. “It’s giving players like me an opportunity to prove themselves. What an amazing opportunity to be here. Training doesn’t stop. Luckily I was coming off a season and I was in playing shape or I would have had to pass it up. My mom was joking that ‘you have played in every FL there is. So it is keeping the dream alive. If the phone keeps ringing, I’ll keep playing. I am truly honored to be here”
With UW having seven representatives, and Washington State having five, Washington area schools had a total of 14 potential players among the nearly 120 men in attendance to this invite-only showcase.
“This is an invitation-only combine. We have had about 100 players per city, and this is city number six.” Luck added, “We’ve had some great talented guys here, former NFL players, former CFL players. All former college players, in many cases All-American players. All guys that want to get back in to play professional football. I’m just happy we can provide opportunities for players, and of course coaches, like Jim Zorn. We have some great football to play and we can really make this attractive to fans.”]
Coach Jim Zorn said that one of the things that attracted him to the XFL was the fact that this is going to be real football, as compared to the early rendition of the XFL.
On lessons to be learned from the Alliance of American Football AAF:
“The AAF had a great focus of people, coaches and players. We have been learning from things they have done well, and the things that haven’t gone so well. Each showcase is building a group of players where we are going to be able to field some really good athletes.” Zorn said, “We are getting tremendous support from Vince McMahon and his group. What I like about what they are doing, is everything that they are doing for us is times 8. What they do for one club, is being done for all 8 clubs.”
Zorn commented on the “interesting and intricate rules that will be implemented in 2020. He noted that there will be different elements in the game to allow the fans to really enjoy the play and the strategy of the game. He really sold me on the idea of offering another opportunity for the great Seattle-area sports fans. Zorn compared the XFL-Seattle to the Seawolves, as they both will continue to grow. He loves the name, and as he knows more regarding rugby, he knows that Seattle will thrive with platers. Zorn agreed that there exists similar brawn between rugby and football players, and that there is more potential pool to draw talent from.
There will not be any pre-season. Every game will mean something. Adjustments will be made on the field and the preparation will be just as exciting and unpredictable as the games themselves.
First kick-off is the weekend following the Super Bowl in February 2020. So, don’t return that 100” TV or put away the grill, because there is another exciting addition to Seattle Sports in the form of the XFL2020.