The first iteration of spring football was in the 1980’s when the United States Football League was created. It was a successful league for a couple of years and even had several future NFL Hall of Famers but folded after only four seasons. The next attempt was the XFL in 2001 when WWE owner Vince McMahon tried to merge football with the theatrics and showmanship of wrestling. The league only lasted one season before it was canceled. In 2020 the league was revived but was forced to shut down a month into its season because of the pandemic. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson purchased the league; hopefully it differs from its predecessors and sticks around. In the words of former owner Vince McMahon, “This!… Is the XFL!”
Dozens of former NFL players, big-name coaches and college stars are sprinkled around the league’s eight teams. Those teams are the Arlington Renegades, Houston Roughnecks, Orlando Guardians, San Antonio Brahmas, DC Defenders, Seattle Sea Dragons, St. Louis Battlehawks and Vegas Vipers. The first week of games was this past weekend.
The first game saw Arlington come back to beat Vegas 22-20. Arlington’s coach is college football Hall of Famer and University of Oklahoma legend Bob Stoops. The Renegades found themselves down 14-3 at halftime after the Vipers connection of quarterback Luis Perez threw two touchdown passes to wide receiver Jeff Badet. The second half was not as kind to Perez as he threw pick-sixes, one to defensive tackle Tomasi Laulile and one to cornerback De’Vante Bausby. Another turnover down the stretch hurt the Vipers as running back John Lovett fumbled, which set up a short field goal. The Vipers scored a touchdown off of a 20-yard catch-and-run from Cinque Sweeting but missed the game-tying two-point conversion. It was a fun but sloppy opener to the new league.
In the second game, the Houston Roughnecks smoked the Orlando Guardians 33-12. Houston is coached by long-time NFL coach Wade Phillips. In this contest we saw the return of former NFL first-round pick Paxton Lynch for the Guardians. He was benched in this game after a touchdown, an interception and throwing for 136 yards. He can add it to his resume of being benched in the NFL, CFL, USFL and XFL, a truly remarkable feat. The Roughnecks dominated all game by scoring three times in the first half to go up 24-6 before coasting the rest of the way. QB Brandon Silvers shone for Houston by throwing 272 yards and two touchdowns, one to Jontre Kirklin and the other to Deontay Burnett. Max Borghi and Cole McDonald scored on the ground.
The next game featured the St. Louis Battlehawks vs. the San Antonio Brahmas, with St. Louis eking out an 18-15 win. This game was a defensive battle and there were no touchdowns scored in the first three quarters. Early in the fourth, San Antonio’s Fred Brown caught a 6-yard touchdown from Jack Coan. Seven minutes later former Alabama QB AJ McCarron found Hakeem Butler for an 18-yard dart to make it a one-possession game. The XFL made a rule to eliminate the onside kick and replace it with a fourth-and-15 from your own 20. St. Louis converted that play, and five plays and 47 yards later, McCarron hit Austin Proehl for a 14-yard touchdown with seconds left to pull out the win.
In the final game of the weekend we saw the DC Defenders defeat the Seattle Sea Dragons 22-18. The only first-half touchdowns were former Dallas Cowboys QB Ben Dinucci linking up with former NFL All-Pro Josh Gordon for a 6-yard pitch and catch for Seattle. The other was a 1-yard run by DC quarterback Jordan Ta’amu. Late in the third quarter Seattle added a score when Brendan Knox scampered from 13 yards out. Later on Dinucci threw an 86–yard pick-six to Michael Joseph, one of his two takeaways on consecutive drives. The second one set up a 6-yard wildcat run from D’Eriq King. Dinucci fumbled the ball on the last play of the game when they were on the DC 1-yard line. The first week of the XFL seemed to be a solid product, and we should be excited to see how the rest of the season goes.