XFL (2001)

The XFL was a professional American football league that played its only season in 2001. The XFL was operated as a joint venture between the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE) and NBC. The XFL was conceived as an outdoor football league that would begin play immediately after the National Football League season ended, to take advantage of the perceived lingering public desire to watch football after the NFL and college football seasons conclude. It was promoted as having fewer rules to encourage rougher play than other major leagues, while its telecasts featured sports entertainment elements inspired by professional wrestling (and in particular, the WWF's then-current "Attitude Era"), including heat and kayfabe, and suggestively-dressed cheerleaders. Commentary crews also featured WWF commentators (such as Jesse Ventura, Jim Ross, and Jerry Lawler) joined by sportscasters and veteran football players. Despite the wrestling influence, the games and their outcomes were legitimate and not based on scripted storylines.

SportAmerican football
Inaugural season2001
Owner(s)WWE (50%)[1]
NBC (50%)
No. of teams8
CountryUnited States
Los Angeles Xtreme

The XFL operated as a single entity with all teams owned by the league, in contrast to most major professional leagues, which use a franchise model with individual owners. The league had eight teams in two divisions, and each franchise was based in a market that either currently had an NFL team (New York/New Jersey, Chicago, San Francisco); had previously supported other pro leagues like the United States Football League, the original World League, or the Canadian Football League (Memphis, Orlando, Birmingham, Las Vegas); or was the largest market without a professional franchise (Los Angeles). Co-owner NBC served as the main carrier of XFL games, with UPN and TNN also carrying selected games

The first night of play brought higher television viewership than NBC had projected, but ratings exponentially plummeted for subsequent games, with criticism directed toward its overall quality of play, on-air presentation, and connection to the WWE. NBC and the WWE both lost $35 million on their $100 million investment in the inaugural season, prompting NBC to pull out of the venture after one season. While plans were made to continue without NBC (with plans for expansion teams as well), UPN allegedly made inordinate demands of the league, which hastened its demise. The league ceased operations entirely in May 2001. Its closure was announced just a few weeks after the league's season championship game, in which the Los Angeles Xtreme defeated the San Francisco Demons, on April 21, 2001, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Despite its short-lived existence, the XFL did pioneer several on-air technologies that would later become commonplace in football telecasts, such as aerial skycams, and on-player microphones. WWE owner Vince McMahon maintained control of the XFL brand after the league ceased operations, despite many, including McMahon himself, considering the original league to be a "colossal failure."[2][3] However, McMahon did not give up on the idea of a professional spring football league, and launched a new iteration of the league in 2020. The new XFL was run by a new McMahon-controlled company independent from the present-day WWE, and did not utilize the sports entertainment elements featured in the previous incarnation. The second iteration of the XFL's inaugural season was aborted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the league suspended operations and filed for bankruptcy in April 2020, with McMahon relinquishing the XFL brand in a sale to his former WWE wrestler Dwayne Johnson and Dany Garcia that August.[4][5]


Created as a 50–50 joint venture between NBC and WWE-owned subsidiary WWE Properties International, Inc.[6] under the company name "XFL, LLC", the XFL was created as a "single-entity league;" instead of the franchise model used by the NFL and other major leagues, or the hybrid model where investors in the league are given operations over teams (as used in Major League Soccer), the XFL uniformly owned and operated all of its teams as one corporation, with no individual owners. Vince McMahon's original plan was to purchase the Canadian Football League (after the CFL initially approached him about purchasing the Toronto Argonauts) and "have it migrate south,"[7] while NBC, who had lost their long-held broadcast rights to the NFL's American Football Conference (AFC) to CBS in 1998, was moving ahead with Time Warner to create a football league of their own.[8][9]

The concept of the league was first announced on February 3, 2000. The XFL was originally conceived to build on the success of the NFL and professional wrestling. It combined the traditional game of American football with the kayfabe and stunts of professional wrestling. As WWF was, at the time, in the midst of its "Attitude Era" (which marked a shift in a mature and provocative direction for its content), the XFL's presentation likewise would reflect that approach toward football.[10] It was hyped as "real" football without penalties for roughness and with fewer rules in general. The games would feature players and coaches with microphones and cameras in the huddle and in the locker rooms. Stadiums featured trash-talking public address announcers and scantily-clad cheerleaders who were encouraged to date the players. Instead of a pre-game coin toss, XFL officials put the ball on the ground and let a player from each team scramble for it to determine who received the kickoff option. The practice was dubbed "The Human Coin Toss" by commentators, and one player famously separated his shoulder on the first scramble, missing the rest of the season.[11]

The XFL featured extensive television coverage, with three games televised each week on NBC, UPN, and TNN. To accommodate this, it placed four of its teams in the four largest U.S. media markets: New York City/North Jersey, Chicago, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Greater Los Angeles (this was during the NFL's 21-year absence from the Los Angeles metro area). The remaining four teams were placed in markets that had previously hosted teams in second-tier and/or rival major leagues: Birmingham, Memphis, Las Vegas, and Orlando. All of the XFL's markets except Las Vegas had hosted teams in the United States Football League in the 1980s; Las Vegas, along with Birmingham and Memphis, had hosted short-lived CFL teams in the 1990s.

The XFL chose unusual names for its teams, most of which either referenced images of uncontrolled insanity (Maniax, Rage, Xtreme, Demons) or criminal activity (Enforcers, Hitmen, Outlaws, and the Birmingham Blast). After outrage from Birmingham residents who noted that Birmingham had a history of notorious "blasts", including the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963 and Eric Rudolph's 1998 bombing of a local abortion clinic, the XFL changed the name of the Birmingham team to the more benign "Birmingham Thunderbolts" (later shortened to "Bolts").[12]

Contrary to popular belief, the "X" in XFL did not stand for "extreme", as in "eXtreme Football League".[13] When the league was first organized in 1999, it was originally supposed to stand for "Xtreme Football League"; however, there was already a league in formation at the same time with that name, and so promoters wanted to make sure that everyone knew that the "X" did not actually stand for anything (though McMahon would comment that "if the NFL stood for the 'No Fun League', the XFL will stand for the 'extra fun league'"[14]). The other Xtreme Football League, which was also organized in 1999, merged with the Arena Football League's minor league AF2 before ever playing a single game. In a much later article describing the origins of the league's name, Sports Illustrated stated: " The F and the L act to indicate, if only indirectly, a football league. But the X is a variable. It could mean anything."[15]


The only main draft for the league took place over a three-day period from October 28 to October 30, 2000. A total of 475 players were selected initially, with 65 additional players then selected in a supplemental draft on December 29, 2000.


  Eastern Division
  Western Division

Eastern Division

Western Division

2001 season

On the field

The XFL's opening game took place on February 3, 2001, one year after the league was announced, less than one week following the NFL's Super Bowl XXXV. The first game was between the New York/New Jersey Hitmen and the Las Vegas Outlaws at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The league's regular season structure was set up so that each team played teams in its own division twice in the season, home and away (the same as the National Football League) and played against teams in the other division once. The season ran ten weeks, with no bye weeks.

The league's western division was far more competitive than the east, with the four teams' records ranging from 7–3 (for eventual champion Los Angeles) to 4–6 (Las Vegas, who finished last after losing its last three games to end up one game out of a playoff spot). In the East, New York and Chicago both were hampered by slow starts and ineffective starters before making personnel changes that improved their play, while Orlando, under quarterback Jeff Brohm, who owned the league's highest QB rating at 99.9 during the 2001 XFL season, soared to first place, winning its first six games before Brohm suffered a career-ending injury and the team regressed (the team went 2–2 in his absence). Birmingham started the season 2–1 before a rash of injuries (and tougher competition, as its two wins were against New York and Chicago) led to the team losing the last seven games. Injuries were a major problem across the league: only three of the league's eight Opening Day starting quarterbacks —Los Angeles's Tommy Maddox, San Francisco's Mike Pawlawski and Memphis's Jim Druckenmiller—were still starters by the end of the season. Birmingham and Las Vegas were both on their third-string quarterbacks by the end of the ten-week season.

The top two teams in each division qualified for the playoffs. To avoid teams having to play each other three times in a season, the league set up the semifinal round of the playoffs so that the games would feature teams from opposite divisions: the east division champion (Orlando) hosted the west division runner-up (San Francisco), and likewise for the west champion and east runner-up (Los Angeles and Chicago, respectively). Los Angeles and San Francisco each won their playoff games to advance to the XFL championship.

Off the field

The opening game ended with a 19–0 victory for the Outlaws, and was watched on NBC by an estimated 14 million viewers. During the telecast, NBC switched over to the game between the Orlando Rage and the Chicago Enforcers, which was a closer contest than the blowout taking place in Las Vegas. The opening night drew a 9.5 Nielsen rating.[16]

The opening-week games actually delivered ratings double those of what NBC had promised advertisers (and more viewers than the 2001 Pro Bowl). The audience declined to a 4.6 in week 2,[17] still an acceptable rating for NBC, but further ratings declines eventually led to the network abandoning the league after the season.

A further problem was that the XFL itself was the brainchild of Vince McMahon, a man who was ridiculed by mainstream sports journalists due to the stigma attached to professional wrestling as being "fake"; many journalists even jokingly speculated whether any of the league's games were rigged, although nothing of this sort was ever seriously investigated.

Ebersol was disappointed with the opening game's poor quality of play.[18] Even longtime NBC sportscaster Bob Costas joined in the mocking of the league. Ebersol purposely allowed Costas and other NBC Sports veterans to opt out of the network's coverage of the league (hence with the exception of former NFL on NBC analyst Mike Adamle, its coverage was helmed mostly by younger unknowns and professional wrestling figures), and Costas in particular did not like McMahon's approach to the sport. In an appearance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien in February 2001, after the league's second week of play, Costas joked: "It has to be at least a decade since I first mused out loud, 'Why doesn't somebody combine mediocre high school football with a tawdry strip club?' Finally, somebody takes my idea and runs with it."[19] Costas interviewed a defiant McMahon for an episode of his HBO show On the Record as the league was in decline, an interview that the 2017 documentary This Was the XFL portrayed as being an omen of the league's collapse.

2001 schedule

2001 XFL schedule
Home Away Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6 Week 7 Week 8 Week 9 Week 10
Win Loss
Eastern Division
Birmingham Thunderbolts
20–22 19–12 14–3 6–30 10–39 26–35 12–34 0–13 24–29 0–22
Chicago Enforcers
29–33 30–32
3–14 0–13 15–13 23–29 25–19 13–0 23–18 23–6
New York/New Jersey Hitmen
0–19 12–19 12–18 13–0 7–22 20–12 16–15 12–17 18–23 22–0
Orlando Rage
33–29 26–14 18–12 30–6 21–19 27–15 6–31 17–12 29–24 6–23
Western Division
Las Vegas Outlaws
19–0 25–3 9–12 16–9 13–15 15–27 34–12 26–35 9–14 3–16
Los Angeles Xtreme
13–15 32–30
12–9 12–18 22–7 35–26 31–6 35–26 12–27 24–0
Memphis Maniax
22–20 3–25 6–13 18–12 19–21 29–23 15–16 12–21 27–12 16–3
San Francisco Demons
15–13 14–26 13–6 9–16 39–10 12–20 19–25 21–12 14–9 0–24

2001 standings


Statistical leaders


TeamStadiumCapacityAvg. Att.Avg.% Filled
San Francisco DemonsPacific Bell Park41,05935,00585%
New York/New Jersey HitmenGiants Stadium80,24228,30935%
Orlando RageCitrus Bowl36,000A25,56371%
Los Angeles XtremeLos Angeles Memorial Coliseum92,00022,67925%
Las Vegas OutlawsSam Boyd Stadium36,80022,61861%
Memphis ManiaxLiberty Bowl Memorial Stadium62,92120,39632%
Birmingham ThunderboltsLegion Field83,09117,00220%
Chicago EnforcersSoldier Field55,70115,71028%

A The Citrus Bowl, which had a total capacity of 65,438 at the time, had its upper decks closed off for XFL games.[20]

Passing leaders (over 100 pass attempts)
NameTeamAttComp%YardsYDs/AttTDTD %INTINT %LongSackedYds lostRating
Tommy MaddoxLA34219657.321866.39185.392.663149181.2
Mike PawlawskiSF29718662.616595.5912462351614182.6
Jim DruckenmillerMEM19910954.814997.53136.573.549158986.2
Casey WeldonBIRM16410262.212287.4974.35380 (TD)74486.6
Kevin McDougalCHI1348160.411688.7253.732.25686991.9
Brian KuklickORL1226855.79948.1564.9108.281 (TD)74264.7
Jeff BrohmORL1196958.09938.3497.632.551 (TD)117899.9
Wally RichardsonNY/NJ1428358.58125.7264.264.233 (TD)1710771.1
Ryan ClementLV1387856.58055.8396.542.946105983.2
Passing leaders (under 100 pass attempts)
NameTeamAttComp%YardsYDs/AttTDTD %INTINT %LongSackedYds lostRating
Tim LesterCHI774051.95817.5545.256.568 (TD)136867.1
Graham LeighBIRM974445.44995.141166.23686239.0
Marcus CrandellMEM693347.84736.8611.422.95396263.3
Jay BarkerBIRM653756.94256.5411.557.792 (TD)106449.8
Charles PuleriNY/NJ642945.34116.4223.123.177 (TD)43964.0
Mark GriebLV783747.44085.2333.845.141 (TD)54454.9
Pat BarnesSF803645.03794.7433.822.53453861.4
Corte McGuffeyNY/NJ482552.13296.850024.25453856.7
Mike CawleyLV381744.71804.7412.625.326108345.9
Scott MilanovichLA9222.245500111.139008.3
Craig WhelihanCHI/MEM5480.03060000120091.7
Paul FaillaCHI5120.0510000521239.6
Rushing leaders
John AveryCHI1508005.373 (TD)5
Rod SmartLV1465553.8313
James BosticBIRM1535363.5562
Rashaan SalaamMEM1145284.639 (TD)5
Derrick ClarkORL943954.2197
Saladin McCulloughLA883844.4225
Joe AskaNY/NJ823294.0423
Micheal BlackORL833203.9200
LeShon JohnsonCHI722874.0416
Rashaan SheheeLA612424.0280
Kelvin AndersonSF532314.4391
Jim DruckenmillerMEM312086.7360
Juan JohnsonSF331725.2190
Wally RichardsonNY/NJ261485.7240
Receiving yardage leaders (over 175 yards)
Stepfret WilliamsBIRM5182816.292 (TD)2
Charles JordanMEM4582318.3494
Jeremaine CopelandLA6775511.3345
Dialleo BurksORL3465919.481 (TD)7
Aaron BaileyCHI3254617.1503
Quincy JacksonBIRM4553111.836 (TD)6
Darnell McDonaldLA3445613.4398
Daryl HobbsMEM304191449 (TD)5
Jimmy CunninghamSF504088.2263
Kirby Dar DarNY/NJ2240518.477 (TD)2
Kevin SwayneORL2740014.851 (TD)2
Brian RobersonSF3639511352
Kevin PrentissMEM2538315.3530
Mario BaileyORL273791449 (TD)3
Zola DavisNY/NJ2937813264
James HundonSF2835712.8340
Zechariah LordCHI2030115.1460
John AveryCHI1729717.568 (TD)2
Yo MurphyLV2727310.1353
Anthony DiCosmoNY/NJ2626810.3300
Latario RachalLA2425410.6240
Rod SmartLV272459.1460
Mike FurreyLV1824213.441 (TD)1
Ed SmithBIRM251957.8161

XFL rule changes

Despite boasts of a "rules-light" game and universally negative reviews from the mainstream sports media early on, the XFL played the standard brand of 11-man American outdoor football that was recognizable, aside from the opening game sprint to determine possession and some other changes, some of which were modified during the season as it progressed. The league's coaches vetoed a proposal to eliminate ineligible receivers (allowing any player to receive a forward pass) midway through the season, on account that the change would be too radical.

Game balls

The league's game balls were made by Spalding, and were unique in that instead of being the standard brown, the ball was black with a red "X" going across the sides of the ball.[21] The balls were later found to be slippery and difficult to handle, and the balls had to be rubbed with sandpaper to make them usable.[22]

Grass stadiums

The league deliberately avoided placing teams in stadiums with artificial turf, which at the time had a bad reputation both for being unsightly as well as being more hazardous to play on compared to natural turf.[23] The league's requirement for grass fields automatically ruled out the use of domed stadiums since no such stadium capable of accommodating a grass football field existed in the U.S. in 2001 (the only retractable roof stadiums complete at the time were used exclusively for Major League Baseball; the first retractable roof stadium for NFL use was not completed until Reliant Stadium opened for the expansion Houston Texans in 2002). Furthermore, every XFL field was designed identically, with no individual team branding on the field. Each end zone and 50 yard line was decorated with the XFL logo, with the endzones also being painted black.

Most of the league's stadiums were football-specific facilities, the only exception being San Francisco's Pacific Bell Park (home of the San Francisco Giants) which was built primarily for baseball, but (unlike many newer baseball-specific stadiums) can accommodate football. Two XFL stadiums (Giants Stadium and Soldier Field) were also then-current NFL stadiums, while two others (Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium) had previously hosted NFL games; the NFL would return to the Coliseum when the Rams returned to Los Angeles in 2016. The remaining fields were in regular use as college football venues at the time.

The home team in every stadium was required to occupy the sideline opposite the press box in order to be visible to the television cameras. Due to the odd field dimensions in San Francisco, teams playing there were permitted to occupy the same sideline (a similar arrangement existed in the NFL when the Green Bay Packers played home games at Milwaukee County Stadium and in stadiums previously used by the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings).

The all-grass field stipulation caused the league to skip over several of the country's largest markets, including Houston and Philadelphia, since they lacked a large grass stadium in 2001. In the league's two northernmost markets, Chicago and New York/New Jersey (the latter of which played in Giants Stadium during a brief window in which the stadium's usual artificial turf had been replaced by natural grass), the combination of the all-grass requirement, midwinter playing season and the fact that the XFL followed shortly after the NFL had used both fields for a full season (in Giants Stadium's case, two full seasons, since the Giants and Jets shared the stadium; the Giants also hosted two playoff games following the 2000 season) caused significant damage to the playing fields; at Chicago's Soldier Field, the wear and tear on the field was such that by midseason, the midfield logo of the NFL's Chicago Bears was clearly visible amid a stretch of dirt and dead grass.

Within a year of the XFL's demise, "next generation" artificial surfaces (which much more closely mimicked grass in appearance, feel and player safety) would be introduced in professional football (in 2000, the Seattle Seahawks were the first professional team to play on next-generation artificial turf at the University of Washington's Husky Stadium, where the Seahawks played in 2000 and 2001 following the demolition of the Kingdome and prior to the completion of CenturyLink Field). Giants Stadium would have a next generation artificial surface installed in 2003; Soldier Field was renovated extensively in 2002 but retained its grass field. Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium and Legion Field have also installed next-generation turf fields since the demise of the original XFL.

Opening scramble

Replacing the coin toss at the beginning of each game was an event in which one player from each team fought to recover a football 20 yards away in order to determine possession. Both players lined up side by side on one of the 30-yard lines, with the ball being placed at the 50-yard line. At the whistle, the two players would run toward the ball and attempt to gain possession; whichever player gained possession first was allowed to choose possession (as if he had won a coin toss in other leagues). The XFL's first injury infamously resulted from the opening scramble; Orlando free safety Hassan Shamsid-Deen suffered a separated shoulder prior to the Rage's 33–29 season-opening win over the Chicago Enforcers at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium on February 3.[24] He ended up missing the remainder of the campaign.[25]

No PAT (point after touchdown) kicks

After every touchdown scored, no extra point after kicks were done, due to the XFL's perception that an extra-point kick was a "guaranteed point." To earn a point after a touchdown, teams ran a single offensive down from the two-yard line (functionally identical to the NFL / NCAA / CFL two-point conversion, but for just a single point as it had been before the two-point conversion was adopted). By the playoffs, two-point and three-point conversions had been added to the rules. Teams could opt for the bonus points by playing the conversion farther back from the goal line. However, touchdowns were still worth 6 points.

This rule, as originally implemented, was similar to the WFL's "Action Point", and was identical to a 1968 "Pressure Point" experiment by the NFL and the American Football League, used only in preseason interleague games that year.

In 2015, the NFL, CFL and other professional leagues would address the "guaranteed point" concerns by moving the extra point kick back to the 15-yard and 25-yard lines, respectively, thus making the length of the kick the same distance (taking into account the NFL's position of the goalposts on the end line, and the CFL's goalposts being positioned on the goal line). The Alliance of American Football (AAF) in 2019 adopted this "no extra point kick" rule from the original XFL, albeit making the scrimmage play conversion two points as in other levels of the game. The revived XFL plans on keeping the conversion system used during the playoffs.


Ties were to be resolved in similar fashion to the NCAA and in the CFL today, with at least one possession by each team, starting from the opponent's 20-yard line. There were differences: there were no first downs and thus teams had to score within four downs, and the team that had possession first in overtime could not attempt a field goal until fourth down. If that team managed to score a touchdown in fewer than four downs, the second team would only have that same number of downs to match or beat the result. If the score was still tied after one overtime period, the team that played second on offense in the first OT would start on offense in the second OT (similar to the rules of college football overtime). The process would be repeated until a winner was determined; unlike the CFL and NFL, but like college football, games could not end in ties even in the regular season.

Bump and run

The XFL allowed full bump and run coverage early in the season. Defensive backs were allowed to hit wide receivers any time before the quarterback released the ball, as long as the hit came from the front or the side.

Following the fourth week of the season, bump and run was restricted to the first five yards from the line of scrimmage (similar to NFL and CFL) in an effort to increase offensive production.

Forward motion

Unlike the NFL, but like the World Football League and Arena Football League before it, the XFL allowed one offensive player to move toward the line of scrimmage once he was outside the tackles.

Punting rules

The XFL imposed a number of restrictions on punting that are not present in most other leagues' rules, the net effect of which made punts in the XFL operate under rules more akin to kickoffs. The purpose of these provisions was to keep play going after the ball was punted, encouraging the kicking team to make the ball playable and the receiving team to run it back. To this effect:

  • Punting out of bounds was a ten-yard penalty, effectively outlawing the coffin corner punt commonplace at most other levels of the game.
  • Any punt that traveled at least 25 yards past the line of scrimmage could be recovered by the kicking team, thus legalizing to an extent the up-and-under or garryowen common to rugby football codes. Thus, instead of letting the kicking team down the ball as is common in other leagues, the receiving team was required to try and return the punt or else lose possession.
  • The kicking team was prohibited from coming within five yards of the punt returner before he gained possession of the ball. This rule, known as the halo rule in college football and also common in the CFL, was dubbed the "danger zone" in the XFL. Coming within 5 yards or less of this "danger zone" entailed a 5-yard penalty, much in the same vein as the CFL's "no yards" penalty.
  • Fair catches were not recognized. (The "no fair catch" rule was one of the most heavily hyped rule differences in the XFL and a central part of the league's marketing campaign, and like the above "no yards" penalty, fair catches were not recognized in Canadian football.)

For the initial weeks of the season, the XFL forbade all players on the kicking team from going downfield before a kick was made from scrimmage on that down, similarly to a rule the NFL considered in 1974. For the rest of the season the XFL modified it to allow one player closest to each sideline downfield ahead of the kick, the same modification the NFL adopted to their change just before their 1974 exhibition games started.

Allowing the kicking team to recover a punt did encourage noticeably more quick kicks over the course of the XFL's lone season than was typically seen in the NFL over the preceding decades, including a quick kick during the Million Dollar Game (that particular kick, executed by San Francisco on a third-and-31 play, succeeded in taking Los Angeles off-guard, but the kick also backfired as the Demons could not recover the kick and Los Angeles returned it for a touchdown).[26]

Play clock

The XFL used a play clock of 35 seconds from the end of the previous play, five seconds shorter than the contemporary NFL play clock of 40 seconds (but still longer than the CFL's 20 seconds, timed from the spotting of the football), in an effort to speed up the game.

Roster and salaries

The XFL limited each team to an unusually low 38 players, as opposed to 53 on NFL teams and 80 or more on unlimited college rosters. This was similar to the CFL, which had a comparable 40 man roster limit in 2001. This resulted, most commonly, in each team only carrying two quarterbacks and one kicker who doubled as the punter.

The XFL paid standardized player salaries. Quarterbacks earned US$5,000 per week, kickers earned $3,500, and all other uniformed players earned $4,500 per week, though a few players got around these restrictions (Los Angeles Xtreme players Noel Prefontaine, the league's lone punting specialist, and Matt Malloy, a wide receiver) by having themselves listed as backup quarterbacks. Players on a winning team received a bonus of $2,500 for the week, $7,500 for winning a playoff game. The team that won the championship game split $1,000,000 (roughly $25,000 per player). Players did not receive any fringe benefits, and had to pay for their own health insurance.

Jersey nicknames

The XFL allowed its players to wear a nickname on the back of their jersey, as opposed to the legal last name most professional sports leagues have required since the 1960s. Players could change the nickname any time they wanted, and a few players chose to change the nicknames on a weekly basis depending on their opponent. (Two teams, Orlando[27] and Birmingham, imposed policies that forbade players from using nicknames. Orlando's ban was voted upon by the players, although Jeff Brohm objected; Birmingham's players were banned from doing so by coach Gerry DiNardo, a notoriously strict disciplinarian who previously alienated players at Vanderbilt and LSU and later did so at Indiana with his iron-fisted rule.) The league's intent to use backfield camera angles gave these nicknames even greater exposure.

Rod Smart, a running back who played in the first XFL nationally televised game, was the first player to gain notice from his nickname, "He Hate Me."[28][29]

Broadcast overview

Skycam and Bubba Cam

Although the XFL was not the first football league to feature the "sky cam",[30] which enables TV viewers to see behind the offensive unit, it helped to popularize its unique capabilities. For the first several weeks, the league used the sky cam and on-field cameramen (nicknamed the "Bubba Cam" after WWE's cameraman, Bubba, who couldn't get medical clearance to cover the XFL)[31] extensively, giving the television broadcasts a perspective similar to video games such as the Madden series.

After the XFL's failure, the sky cam was adopted by the NFL's broadcasters; the device has subsequently come into use on all major networks. NBC in particular switched back to the XFL camera angles in 2017, when traditional cameras were too far away to cut through thick fog and smoke on some of the Sunday Night Football games that year; response was so positive that the network opted to use two of its Thursday Night Football games to experiment with intentionally broadcasting most of the game through that angle.[32]

Broadcast schedule

At the beginning of the season, NBC showed a feature game at 8 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday nights, also taping a second game. The second game, in some weeks, would air in the visiting team's home market and be put on the air nationally if the feature game was a blowout (as was the case in week one) or encountered technical difficulties (as was the case in week two). Two games were shown each Sunday: one at 4 p.m. Eastern on TNN and another at 7 p.m. Eastern on UPN. The XFL also had a fairly extensive local radio presence, often using nationally recognized disc jockeys. The morning radio duo of Rick and Bubba, for instance, was the radio broadcast team for the Birmingham Thunderbolts. Super Dave Osborne was a sideline reporter for Los Angeles Xtreme broadcasts on KLSX; WMVP carried Chicago Enforcers games.

Unusually for a professional league, the XFL did not feature a studio wraparound. The network offered XFL Gameday, a pregame show featuring radio shock jocks Opie and Anthony for the first four weeks of the season, but the show was not carried nationwide and most affiliates joined in just before the game. Halftime consisted mostly of live look-ins into the player locker rooms, as coaches discussed their strategy and halftime adjustments with their players, as well as cheerleader performances. The XFL also, at McMahon's request, followed a somewhat different format than traditional professional football telecasts: The announcers more closely followed the model of professional wrestling where the color commentator had a villain-like role, while the sideline reporters (who were predominantly male, a rare example of the XFL being more conservative than the NFL at the time, which was incorporating attractive female sideline reporters) were former players and experienced sportscasters who were relied upon for more expert analysis than usual.

In the third week of the season, the games were sped up through changes in the playing rules, and broadcasts were subjected to increased time constraints. The reason was the reaction of Lorne Michaels, creator and executive producer of Saturday Night Live, to the length of the Los Angeles Xtreme versus Chicago Enforcers game that went into double overtime. The double overtime periods combined with a power outage earlier in the game due to someone not fueling a generator before the game delayed the contest, causing the start of Saturday Night Live to be pushed back from 11:30 p.m. Eastern Time to 12:15 a.m. Sunday morning.[17] This angered Michaels, who expected high ratings with Jennifer Lopez as the show's host.[17] For the rest of the season, the XFL cut off coverage at 11:00 Eastern Time, regardless of whether or not the game was over. NBC Sports has retained this policy for other sports it runs in Saturday night time slots since the XFL's closure; in 2018, a National Hockey League telecast was cut off under similar circumstances.[33]

In the face of declining ratings, NBC and the XFL aggressively promoted that the week 6 game between the Orlando Rage and Las Vegas Outlaws would feature a behind-the-scenes visit into the locker room of the Rage's cheerleaders at halftime. The heavily promoted event was actually a kayfabe sketch with McMahon and a cameraman, who knocks himself unconscious on the locker room door trying to run in. This was followed by a suggestive dream sequence with the cheerleaders, including a surprise cameo by Rodney Dangerfield.[34] The New York Daily News reported that the scene would likely be the "[last] salacious WWF-style stunt for the rest of the season", citing internal sources indicating that NBC wished to pivot the telecasts back towards a football-oriented product, including hiring NFL alumni as analysts, and reinstating Vasgersian as the lead commentator.[35][36][37]

Broadcast teams

Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross came over from WWE to fill similar roles on XFL broadcasts.
  • NBC (national telecasts):
  • NBC (regional telecasts):
    • Week 1: Ross, Jerry Lawler, Jonathan Coachman. For week 1, Ross and Lawler were billed as their WWE personas, "J.R." and "The King."
    • Week 2–5: Vasgersian, Lawler, and Coachman. McMahon personally demoted Vasgersian to the regional telecast after openly criticizing a suggestive shot of the cheerleaders as "uncomfortable" on-air during the week 1 broadcast.
    • Week 6–10: Ross, Dick Butkus or Dan Hampton, and Coachman. Lawler left the XFL (and WWE) in protest after week five in the aftermath of the firing of his then-wife, Stacy Carter, as well as his own dissatisfaction with being pressured into commentary on XFL games; Lawler openly admitted on-air that he had virtually no interest or background in football, an unusual trait for a color analyst. After Lawler's departure, NBC brought Vasgersian back up to the main broadcast team. Hampton and Butkus rotated as the regional color analyst for the rest of the season.
  • TNN: Craig Minervini, Bob Golic, Lee Reherman and Kip Lewis.
  • UPN: Chris Marlowe, Brian Bosworth, Chris Wragge and Michael Barkann.

Critical reception

It was believed that the willingness of Las Vegas bookmakers to take bets on XFL games established their legitimacy, dispelling concerns that the league was using predetermined storylines as in professional wrestling.[38][39] However, the league was panned by critics as boring football with a tawdry broadcast style, although the broadcasts on TNN and to a lesser extent UPN and the Matt Vasgersian–helmed NBC coverage were considered comparatively professional.[40]

End of season and failure

The WWF and NBC each lost a reported $35 million,[41] only recuperating 30% of their combined initial $100 million investment.[30] On April 21, 2001, the season concluded as the Los Angeles Xtreme defeated the San Francisco Demons 38–6 in the XFL Championship Game (which was originally given the moniker "The Big Game at the End of the Season", but was later dubbed the Million Dollar Game, after the amount of money awarded to the winning team).

Though paid attendance at games remained respectable, if unimpressive (overall attendance was only 10% below what the league's goal had been at the start of the season), the XFL ceased operations after just one season due to low TV ratings.[42][43] Facing stiff competition from the NCAA Basketball Tournament, the NBC telecast of the Chicago/NY-NJ game on March 31 received a 1.5 rating, at that time the lowest ever for any major network primetime weekend first-run sports television broadcast in the United States.[44]

Despite initially agreeing to broadcast XFL games for two years and owning half of the league, NBC announced it would not broadcast a second XFL season; the network no longer had a full season of Saturday nights to offer the league because it had acquired the rights to the 2002 Winter Olympics, even if the XFL had been more successful or profitable. WWF Chairman Vince McMahon initially announced that the XFL would continue, as it still had UPN and TNN as broadcast outlets.[45] In fact, expansion teams were being explored for cities such as Washington, D.C. and Detroit. However, in order to continue broadcasting XFL games, UPN demanded that WWF SmackDown! broadcasts be cut from two hours to one and a half hours.[45] McMahon found these terms unacceptable and he announced the XFL's closure on May 10, 2001.[42][43] McMahon's chief adviser, a perplexed Nathan Livian, was quoted as saying "the situation is, indeed, very bad".

One reason for the failure of the league to catch on, despite its financial solvency and massive visibility, was the lack of respect for the league in the sports media. XFL games were rarely treated as sports contests, but rather more like WWE-like sensationalized events. With few NFL-quality players, save Tommy Maddox, the league's MVP, and with little thoughtful analysis or even consideration by sports columnists, the XFL never gained the necessary recognition to be regarded as a viable league. The fact that the league was co-owned by NBC made ESPN (which was part of the same corporation as ABC) and Fox Sports Net (owned by Fox TV) disinclined to report on the XFL, though Time Warner properties such as Sports Illustrated, as well as the Associated Press, devoted coverage to the league (Sports Illustrated even featured the XFL on the cover of its February 12, 2001, edition, albeit with the description of it being "sleazy gimmicks and low-rent football"). Many local TV newscasts and newspapers (even in XFL cities) did not report league scores or show highlights. This led to many football fans treating the XFL as a joke, rather than competition to the NFL. Other problems included the scantily-clad cheerleaders, trash-talking announcers, and the lack of penalties for roughness.

The XFL ranked No. 3 on TV Guide's list of the TV Guide's worst TV shows of all time in July 2002, as well as No. 2 on ESPN's list of biggest flops in sports, behind Ryan Leaf.[46][47] In 2010, TV Guide Network also listed the show at No. 21 on their list of 25 Biggest TV Blunders.[48]

Many stories recapping the history of the XFL show photos of the crash of its promotional blimp in Oakland, California, portraying it retrospectively as an ill-omen for the league. The incident occurred a month before the opening game on Tuesday, January 9, 2001.[49][50] The blimp was in Oakland as the league had flown it over the January 6 playoff game between the Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins and intended to do the same with the following week's AFC Championship, also in Oakland.[51] The pilots lost control of the airship and were forced to evacuate. The ground crew were unable to secure the vehicle and the "unattended blimp then floated five miles north over the Oakland Estuary, at one point reaching 1,600 feet, until its gondola caught on a sailboat mast in the Central Basin marina. It draped over the roof of the Oyster Reef restaurant—next to where the boat was moored—and a nearby power line."[52] While the pilot was hospitalized, no other major injuries were reported. The blimp needed $2.5 million in repairs, the sailboat and restaurant had only minor damages.

Before the season started, a fictional XFL game appeared in the 2000 film The 6th Day, set in 2015.[53]


NBC continued airing professional league football beyond the demise of the XFL, starting with the Arena Football League television coverage from 2003 to 2006. In 2006, NBC returned to coverage of NFL games with NBC Sunday Night Football, eventually adding Thursday Night Football to its coverage in 2016.

The XFL's racier-than-average cheerleaders helped inspire the Lingerie Football League (now Legends Football League) and the "Lingerie Bowl" from 2003 to 2006. The LFL is currently the largest women's American football professional league.[54][55]

XFL team names and logos sometimes appear in movies and television where professional football needs to be dramatized, as licensing for NFL logos may be cost prohibitive (such as in the Arnold Schwarzenegger starring sci-fi film The 6th Day).[53]

The United Football League later placed all four of its inaugural franchises in former XFL markets and stadiums. However, the UFL drew far fewer fans than the XFL average, and much less media attention: for example, the XFL's San Francisco Demons drew an average of 35,000 fans, while the UFL's California Redwoods drew an average of 6,000, despite both playing in the same ballpark. Three of the four charter teams, including the Redwoods, moved to other markets by the time of the UFL's third season.

ESPN produced a documentary surrounding the league, This Was the XFL, as part of its anthology series 30 for 30. The film discusses the longtime friendship between McMahon and Ebersol, as seen through the eyes of Dick's son, Charlie Ebersol, who directs the film. McMahon, Dick Ebersol, Dick Schanzer, Rusty Tillman, Al Luginbill, Rod Smart, Tommy Maddox, Paris Lenon, league President Basil DeVito, costume designer Jay Howarth, Jesse Ventura, Matt Vasgersian, Jonathan Coachman, Bob Costas and Jerry Jones all provided interviews for the film. It debuted at Doc NYC November 11, 2016, and premiered on ESPN on February 2, 2017.[56]

Notable players

Notable players included league MVP and Los Angeles quarterback Tommy Maddox, who signed with the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers after the XFL folded (Maddox later became the starting quarterback for the Steelers in 2002 and led them to that year's playoffs, as well as continuing to start for them into 2004). Los Angeles used the first pick in the XFL draft to select a former NFL quarterback, Scott Milanovich. Milanovich lost the starting quarterback job to Maddox, who was placed on the Xtreme as one of a handful of players put on each team due to geographic distance between the player's college and the team's hometown. Another of the better-known players was Las Vegas running back Rod Smart, who first gained popularity because the name on the back of his jersey read "He Hate Me."[57] Smart, who was only picked 357th in the draft, later went on to play for the Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers, Oakland Raiders and the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL. His Panther teammate Jake Delhomme named his newborn horse "She Hate Me" as a reference to him.[29] Smart played in Super Bowl XXXVIII, becoming one of seven XFL players to play in a Super Bowl. Receiver Yo Murphy also achieved this as a member of the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, along with winning the 95th Grey Cup with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2007.[58] Tommy Maddox played for a Super Bowl team (the Pittsburgh Steelers) in Super Bowl XL in Detroit, (although Maddox, by then a third-string quarterback, did not play in the game, which turned out to be his last appearance in uniform before retiring). Lastly, Las Vegas Outlaws DB Kelly Herndon played in Super Bowl XL with the Seattle Seahawks in 2005, where he is remembered for intercepting a pass and returning it a then-record 76 yards. Although he did not play for an NFL team after the XFL's lone season, former Las Vegas Outlaw offensive guard Isaac Davis also had a notable NFL career, playing in 58 games over a six-year career. Davis started for the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX.[59] John Avery went on to play for both the Edmonton Eskimos and the Toronto Argonauts where he was an All Star selection in 2002 and won a Grey Cup in 2004.

The last active player to have played in the XFL is Canadian placekicker Paul McCallum, who retired as a member of the BC Lions prior to the start of the 2016 CFL season, but returned to the team as their place kicker during the final regular season game of the 2016 season.

Played in the CFL

Won a Grey Cup

Played in the NFL

Played in the Super Bowl

Won a Super Bowl

Won both an XFL Championship and Super Bowl

Won an XFL Championship, Grey Cup, and Super Bowl

Played in the Arena Football League

Wrestled for WWE

Current status and revival

The 2001 XFL games are now part of the WWE Video Library, the rights to which have been held by NBC's streaming service Peacock since March 2021.

In September 2012, WWE attempted to file a new XFL trademark for use in wrestling and football which was previously filed in 2009 under XFL LLC. The application remained pending since WWE never put together a "Statement of Use" for the trademark.[60] In July 2015, the XFL's first trademark extension was granted.[61]

On December 15, 2017, it was reported that McMahon was seriously considering a revival of the XFL. WWE didn't confirm or deny the rumors, but released a statement that McMahon was launching a new company known as Alpha Entertainment, that was looking to expand into sports and entertainment properties "including professional football", and that WWE itself wasn't returning to professional football.[62]

Noted wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer speculated that McMahon was starting a shell corporation with his own money to protect WWE shareholders on a potential XFL revival.[63] A revival of the XFL would air either on traditional TV or the WWE Network, and would be toned down compared to its original incarnation due to CTE concerns in football that surfaced in the early 2010s.[62] On December 22, 2017, McMahon sold $100 million worth of WWE shares, which required notification to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission; the SEC reported that it was done so that McMahon could fund Alpha Entertainment.[64] WWE shares did in fact decline slightly due to the report, with Citigroup downgrading WWE shares from "buy" to "neutral".[65]

On January 25, 2018, Alpha Entertainment announced a new incarnation of the XFL which began play in 2020. The XFL does not utilize the same sports entertainment gimmicks as the original, instead focusing on adjusting rules to increase the speed of play.[66][67] NBC has no involvement with this incarnation, which is instead carried by the outlets of ESPN Inc. and Fox Corporation.[68]

See also


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  5. Seifert, Kevin (April 13, 2020). "XFL files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after suspending operations". ESPN.com. Retrieved April 16, 2020.
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  17. Fritz & Murray 2006, p. 172.
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  • Forrest, Brett (2002). Long Bomb: How the XFL Became TV's Biggest Fiasco. New York: Crown Publishing. ISBN 0-609-60992-0. OCLC 49260464.
  • Fritz, Brian; Murray, Christopher (2006). Between the Ropes: Wrestling's Greatest Triumphs and Failures. ECW Press. ISBN 978-1-55022-726-0.
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