XFL: The Real Player 54

By Ron Johnson

The photo says it all when it comes to certain key elements outside of the league in question. In the eyes of Forbes, the XFL gambled on a $60 million dollar wager and lost, while in the eyes of Sports Illustrated, Dwayne Johnson and his partners wasted $60 million on a league that is doomed to fail and will never measure up to the NFL.

But did either of those entities even bother asking the XFL fans?

Yes, this was the third attempt at the XFL, and a lot had indeed changed. Gone were the over the top shenanigans of sprinting coin tosses, cheerleader cams and cameo soundbites from members of the WWF Attitude Era. Gone were the likes of Mike Adamle, Dick Butkus and the duo of ‘Good Ol’ JR and The King. When the first season ended, the entire concept was thrown in the toilet, along with the likes of Tommy Maddox and Rod Smart aka ‘He Hate Me.’

“The XFL lost an estimated $60 million in 2023, according to industry sources, and cut some jobs. Next season, the league projects $100 million in revenue, said people familiar with its finances.” (Young, 2023) According to Young of Forbes Magazine, the fact that there will be a second season puts the XFL ahead of more than a couple past attempts at spring football leagues.

But what Mr. Young does not realize is that there are those who are tired of being left out in the cold with empty promises, empty stadiums and empty emotions when it comes to the gridiron. If he needs proof that the XFL was a success, all he has to do is look at some of those cities that thrived on the league itself.

Seattle: Yes, this city is still Seahawks Territory, and nothing will ever replace the infamous Legion of Boom. And sure, the city is finally embracing its Kraken hockey team after they shocked the world and eliminated the former champion Colorado Avalanche a few months ago. But during the end of the Seahawks season and second half of the Kraken’s, the XFL welcomed back the Seattle Sea Dragons.

Formerly known as just the Dragons, Seattle had a squad of who’s who in the form of cast aside backup quarterback Ben DiNucci, semi-blacklisted wide out Josh Gordon and later in the season, Phillip “Buff Mode” Lindsay. The team did exceptionally well last season, so much so in fact that they found themselves in the North Division Championship against division powerhouse D.C. Despite the loss, the team made a massive impact with the city, the fanbase and even the NFL.

So how did they make an impact in the NFL? Well, several players from those aforementioned Sea Dragons signed NFL contracts following the end of the season. DiNucci joined the Denver Broncos, Bryce Thompson with the Miami Dolphins, Austin Faoliu with the aforementioned Seahawks, Antwuan Jackson with the Panthers, Niko Lalos with the Saints and Barry Wesley with the Falcons. But according to Forbes and Sports Illustrated, the XFL did not make a dent in the cosmos, right?

Okay, let’s try another location. 

XFL: Arlington, TX

Everyone who watches football knows that Arlington is a Dallas Cowboys town. Everyone there bleeds silver and blue. You cannot go around any corner without hearing someone scream, “WE DEM BOYS! THIS IS OUR YEAR!” And yet, this time around, if you listen real intently, you can hear a faint chant in the distance: Renegades…Renegades…RENEGADES!

Yes, even in a region dominated by the bottomless wallet of ‘Pickle Rick’ Jerry Jones, the Arlington Renegades found their identity in more ways than one this season. On paper as well as on the surface, the Renegades were shit. They finished the regular season 4-6, and if not for being in such a lackluster division (like the NFL South Divisions for example), they would not have even made the playoffs. 

Yet, they did find themselves in the playoffs and took advantage of it as they surprised the heavily favored Houston Roughnecks before shocking ALL of us by defeating the one-loss, heavily favored and picked XFL North Division Champion D.C. Defenders to become only the second XFL Champions in the league’s existence. This brought some serious hype around the team as well as the league. Let us not forget that it is Bob Stoops, former Oklahoma Sooner coach and Longhorn/Aggie Tamer that brought a major football championship to the Dallas/Fort Worth/Arlington area for the first time since the late 1990s.

Did we forget to mention that even Cowboys fans are looking at their team like, “What’s y’all excuse?” Still not enough for Forbes and SI? Alright, how about one more?

St. Louis, MO

Yes. No one should be surprised that I would include my hometown. In 1995, or when I was 15 years old, I lived in St. Louis. I was raised on Cardinals baseball, Blues hockey and Gators and Rams football, due to my dad being a big Rams fan. When it was announced that my city was getting the Rams football team, of course I was pumped. 

And yes, the first few years were not very kind to the Rams, but when they became The Greatest Show on Turf, I even found myself bobbing and weaving in the living room during Rams games. When they won their first Super Bowl in 1999, I was a freshman in college and having beers with my girlfriend’s family watching the game. When it was over, there were genuine tears in my eyes as I watched Georgia clinch that trophy and hold it up high alongside Kurt, Torry, Marshall and Isaac.

XFL

And then Anus Kroenke ruined everything….

When it was announced that the team was moving BACK to Los Angeles, and like many St. Louis natives and Rams faithful, I was pissed. It got to the point where just seeing what was happening left a sour, foul taste in my mouth. There was nothing that could actually return the smile to my face, and every single time I drove, walked or flew pass The Dome, my heart sank a little more.

Then the second wave of the XFL came calling, and with it came the Battlehawks.

I started to feel that fire I once had at 15 years old again, I started getting excited about going to The Dome once again. My beloved city had its football back, and all of us were chomping at the bit to fill The Dome once more. Prior to the start of the Battlehawks’ initial season, we were still feeling the hangover of hoisting up the Stanley Cup for the first time. Baseball season was about to enter its ‘These Really Count’ phase, and we just wanted to enjoy and embrace the noise, the glory, the madness once again.

Then COVID came and ruined everything once again…

Fast forward to 2021. New President. New Beginnings. It was announced that Johnson, along with business partner Dany Garcia, announced that they had purchased the XFL. We were filled with anticipation as our beloved Dome had laid dormant for over a year.

When it came time to announce the cities that would host XFL teams and games, we waited with baited breath as it was announced that an old school rivalry was halfway to fruition with the return of Seattle. Following that, we saw our beloved Arch. We saw our mighty Mississippi. We saw OUR HOUSE. It was official. The XFL was not only returning to St. Louis, but we were keeping our team name as well: The Battlehawks. 

Last season, our team showed their appreciation by not only finishing with a winning record but also being crowned Collision Course’s Inaugural Siegfried-Rock Memorial Championship Recipients (for heart and fortitude both on and off the field). 

So while Forbes believes that the league is a bust in the making, and Sports Illustrated seems to be piggy backing off of Jabari Young’s editoilet paper at Forbes, clearly, neither of them understand how much heart is built in this business.

I am pretty sure that people were not keen on getting sports magazines every single month to read about athletes and events they already knew about. And do not get me started on Forbes. I can genuinely said that the only thing Forbes has been good for is catching the droppings in my daughter’s skink cage.

Regardless of what they think, I have been a fan of Johnson for decades, and if he had listened to the critics one lifetime ago, he would have quit after either his initial debut flopped or after fans started chanting and holding signs that said ‘Die Rocky Die’ or when he defeated everyone’s favorite Texas Rattlesnake at WrestleMania or after the movies that did not become instant blockbuster hits.

Johnson and Garcia are fighters. And while we may not be related, I too am a fighter. Telling anyone what they cannot do or that they will fail is the best motivation one could ask for. 

The XFL saved my life with the arrival and return of the Battlehawks. Now I can pass that love for the team and the league on to my own children. The respect, love, admiration and downright guts of every single person that wore the XFL banner in season three is the reason I feel that season four will be simply glorious.

Either way, I am XFL. Hopefully, my kids will be XFL too. One of my sons who is already playing football has looked at the XFL as a chance to keep his dream alive if he’s not drafted by the NFL. And there are several of my old gridiron brothers who have kids that have not stopped talking about the dream of possibly playing for either the NFL or XFL.

So yes, Forbes and SI, in your eyes, the XFL lost…but in case you did not know, the XFL IS Player 54. 

In your eyes, they and their fans were not supposed to succeed, let alone make it a whole season. See you in 2024. pastedGraphic_2.png

References

Young, J. (2023, June 10). Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson Says the XFL Will Succeed. Who Wants to Tell Him He’s Wrong? Retrieved from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jabariyoung/2023/06/10/dwayne-johnson-says-xfl-succeed-nfl-usfl-dany-garcia/?sh=5bbdf96c57fe

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