The story of the XFL garnered renewed interest this year thanks to the ESPN “30 for 30” documentary “This was the XFL” The February 2017 documentary recounted the rise and fall of the XFL, which folded after just one season.
On its surface, the XFL might not have seemed like such an ill-conceived idea to some. The league was the brainchild of WWE Chairman Vince McMahon and NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol, and sought to mix the competitive violence of football with the marketing and entertainment of wrestling.
Unfortunately, the XFL’s shortcomings were exposed almost immediately. From the off-color telecasts to the mediocre competition level, the XFL failed to gain traction with football fans across the country, and ratings suffered.
Both McMahon and Ebersol acknowledged the failure of the XFL, but didn’t disavow every aspect of the venture. XFL broadcasts pioneered practices later adopted by the NFL, such as the use of “sky cam” and sideline interviews with coaches.
Another legacy of the XFL lied in its players. Several XFL players went on to continue their professional football careers after the league folded. They played in the CFL, AFL, and, of course, the NFL. Others went on to careers outside of professional sports.
Here are 15 notable XFL Players and what they moved on to after the league’s demise in 2001.
15 Yo Murphy
Murphy had already played in a variety of football leagues before joining the XFL’s Las Vegas Outlaws in 2001.
He signed with the St. Louis Rams shortly after the XFL folded, and ended up playing in Super Bowl XLIII in 2002. He lost to the New England Patriots, but went on to play with the Kansas City Chiefs the following season. He finished his professional career in the Canadian Football League (CFL), winning the Grey Cup with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2007.
Murphy stayed in the football scene in some capacity after his retirement. From 2009-2015, he served as head coach of the all-female Jacksonville Breeze of the Lingerie Football League, later rebranded the Legends Football League. Murphy is currently the Director of Sports Performance at ASPI Training in Tampa, Florida.
14 Quincy Jackson
Quincy Jackson joined the XFL's Birmingham Thunderbolts after one season in the Arena Football League. He emerged as one of the league's top receivers, with 531 yards on 45 receptions and six touchdowns. He signed with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League in 2001.
Head coach Danny Barrett expressed excitement with the signing, saying of Jackson, "This is a player that will make an immediate impact on this football club." Jackson got off to a good start and recorded eight touchdown receptions over the next two seasons split between the Edmonton Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders.
His production fell off during his final season in 2003, recording 313 yards on 19 catches and 0 touchdowns. He retired at season's end.
13 Corey Ivy
Corey Ivy led the XFL with five interceptions, and the NFL soon took notice of his solid defensive play. Ivy signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2001, and won Super Bowl XXXVII the following year. The cornerback remained with the Buccaneers until 2005, when he signed with the St. Louis Rams. Ivy recorded a career high 57 tackles during the 2005 season, but was not brought back for the 2006 season.
Ivy bounced around between the Browns, Steelers, and Ravens before signing with the Chicago Nighthawks of the United Football League in 2010. He retired with 278 career tackles in the NFL. Not a bad run for an undrafted free agent.
"You don't have to be a top-notch player coming out of college, coming out of high school to fulfill your dreams," Ivy told Class Act Sports in 2011. "Just strive for your dreams and give it all you've got."
12 Jose Cortez
Cortez rose to XFL prominence as the kicker for the Los Angeles Xtreme. He led the league with 20 made field goals en route to winning the XFL Championship in 2001. He was named the MVP of the game, which resulted in a contract offer from the San Francisco 49ers, which he promptly accepted.
After two years in San Francisco, Cortex moved on to the Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings before a brief stint in the Arena Football League. He returned to the NFL in 2005 with the Dallas Cowboys in a back-up/injury replacement capacity. During that same 2005 season, he bounced around from the Eagles, to the Colts, to the 49ers, to the Falcons.
Cortez became an Oregon State Trooper after his playing career ended in 2006. He was fired from his position in 2013.
11 Rashaan Salaam
Salaam had shown flashes of stardom at the running back position by the time he arrived in the XFL in 2001. Salaam won the 1994 Heisman Trophy as a member of the Colorado Buffaloes. His once-promising NFL career was derailed by injuries and off-field issues, which followed him into his time with the Memphis Maniax in the XFL. He rushed for 588 yards during an injury-shortened season.
After the XFL’s demise, Salaam made a failed comeback attempt with the San Francisco 49ers in 2003. His playing career ended after being suspended from his CFL team.
Since then, Salaam became a businessman, founding a martial arts promotion business, Art of War, which failed to get off the ground. He then founded the Rashaan Salaam S.P.I.N. Foundation in Denver, Colorado, supporting local children’s education.
Tragically, Salaam was found dead in a park in Boulder, Colorado of an apparent suicide in December 2016. His last Facebook post, dated November 27, 2016, featured the caption “Keep Smiling.”
10 Jeremaine Copeland
Jermaine Copeland emerged one of the XFL’s most exciting wide receivers. He led the league with 67 catches and helped the Los Angeles Xtreme capture the XFL Championship in 2001. Copeland signed as a free agent with the Dallas Cowboys in 2002, but never made it past training camp.
He returned to the CFL, where he originally began the 2001 season before joining the XFL. He continued his championship ways with the Montreal Alouettes, winning his first of two Grey Cups in 2002. Copeland was then named a CFL All-Star in back-to-back seasons in 2003 and 2004, catching 27 touchdowns passes in that span.
Copeland remained in the CFL for the rest of his playing career, serving as a wide receiver for the Calgary Stampeders and Toronto Argonauts. He retired in 2012 and has since returned to complete his college degree at the University of Tennessee. In 2015, he joined the Saskatchewan Roughriders as a wide receivers coach.
9 James Bostic
Unlike many on this list, Bostic was already towards the end of his playing career by the time he joined the XFL’s Birmingham Thunderbolts in 2001. Bostic was originally drafted in the third round of the 1994 NFL draft, but did not take a professional snap until 1999. He picked up 19 yards on just five carries for the Philadelphia Eagles. He fared better with the Thunderbolts, finishing third in the league with 536 total rushing yards.
After the XFL went under, Bostic returned to his alma mater, Auburn University, and served as a student-coach while completing his degree. In June of 2006, Bostic joined the Coral Springs Police Department in Florida.
“Before I went to college to play football, I thought I wanted to go into the military,” Bostic told The Birmingham News in 2010. “There’s a lot of teamwork involved.”
8 Aaron Bailey
NFL receivers never want their NFL legacy to be remembered for one botched play. Yet, that is exactly what happened to Colts’ wide receiver Aaron Bailey when he dropped a pass from Jim Harbaugh in the 1995 AFC Championship game. Six years later, he joined the Chicago Enforcers, and finished fifth in the XFL in receiving yards (546) and fourth in yards-per-catch (17.1). It's too bad he didn't get a second season to build on those numbers.
At season’s end, Bailey joined the Arena Football League, where he played for four different teams and racked up 113 receiving touchdowns over five seasons.
As of 2013, he serves as a Learning and Behavioral Specialist in the Kentwood Public School District in Michigan. He is married with seven children.
7 John Avery
Avery was among the premier running backs in the XFL. He led the league in rushing yards (800), yards-per-carry (5.3) and rushing yards per game (88.9).
He signed with the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos in 2002, where his standout 1,448 yard, nine-touchdown season caught the eye of the Minnesota Vikings. They signed Avery for the 2003 season, and he was used mostly as a kick returner. He played just six games before a knee injury ended his season in late October.
Avery spent the remainder of his playing career with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts before leaving the team in 2008. He spent some time as a stand-up comic, performing locally in clubs around Toronto. He played briefly in a Canadian touch football league in 2014 before retiring from football.
6 Mike Furrey
Mike Furrey had a productive football career after his XFL days with the Las Vegas Outlaws ended. The undrafted wide receiver joined the New York Dragons of the Arena Football League for the 2002 season. By 2003, Furrey led the AFL in most receiving categories, which resulted in the St. Louis Rams offering him a contract for the remainder of the season.
Furrey proved to be a versatile player for the Rams, take snaps as a wide receiver, free safety, and special teams player during his tenure in St. Louis. He had a breakout season for the Detroit Lions in 2006, leading the NFC with 98 receptions.
Furrey finished his NFL career split between the Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins after the Lions released him in 2009. After his retirement, Furrey remained active in the football scene as a coach. He served as head coach at Kentucky Christian University from 2010-2013, and as a wide receivers coach at Marshall University from 2013-2016. Furrey currently serves as head coach and offensive coordinator at Limestone College in South Carolina.
5 Craig Whelihan
Whelihan spent his XFL tenure with the Memphis Maniax and Chicago Enforcers after being cut from the Oakland Raiders before the 2000 season. Whelihan moved on to the Arena Football League after the XFL folded, playing quarterback for the Orlando Predators, Indiana Firebirds, Las Vegas Gladiators, and San Jose SaberCats.
During AFL offseasons, Whelihan coached youth football at La Costa Canyon High School in San Diego.
“It was a grind,” Whelihan told The San Diego Union Tribune of his itinerant football career. In 2007, Whelihan became a father, and moved on from life as a football player to a life as a salesman.
In 2016, Whelihan began refereeing youth football games, describing it as “a great way to give back to football and be part of a team and get into the action.”
4 Paris Lenon
Of all the former XFL players on this list, Paris Lenon enjoyed one of the most productive post-XFL careers. He joined the Packers practice squad for the 2001 season before eventually making the team in 2002 as a special teams player. Lenon remained in Green Bay until 2005, when he signed with the division rival Detroit Lions. Lenon enjoyed the best yeas of his career while in Motor City, recording over 200 total tackles from 2006-2008. He started all 16 games in all three years with the team.
He spent some time on the Rams and Cardinals before finishing his career with an appearance in Super Bowl XLVIII with the Denver Broncos in 2014. During that playoff run, he reflected on his time in the XFL in an interview with The Oklahoman.
“I enjoyed my time there,” Lenon said of the XFL. “I learned a lot and I’m happy to be where I am right now.”
3 Steve Gleason
Steve Gleason forged a noble, inspiring career after the XFL folded. He joined the New Orleans Saints as a free safety and made one of the most iconic plays in franchise history.
In September 2006, the Saints took the field against the Atlanta Falcons in New Orleans for the first time since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city a year earlier. Gleason blocked a first quarter punt to allow his teammate to run the ball into the Falcons’ endzone for an early score.
Gleason retired in 2007, but received a Super Bowl ring from the Saints in 2011 in commemoration of the team’s 2009 championship. That’s how much he meant to the Saints organization.
Gleason was diagnosed with ALS in 2011, but did retreat from the public eye. He announced the Saints’ draft picks at the 2013 draft, and appeared in two documentaries about his life with ALS, 2013’s A Football Life and 2016’s Gleason.
2 Tommy Maddox
Off all the players to come out of the XFL, quarterback Tommy Maddox had arguably the most successful post-XFL career. Maddox led the Los Angeles Xtreme to the XFL championship en route to being named league MVP. For his achievements, the Steelers signed Maddox as their backup quarterback in 2002.
Maddox found his way into the starting job that season, and helped the team to a 10-5-1 record that season. He won the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award for his unexpected success. However, by the 2004 season, Maddox returned to backup duties as another Steelers quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, took the helm. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.
The 2005 season proved to be Maddox’s last in the NFL, but he went out on top by winning the Super Bowl as the Steelers’ backup QB. Maddox tried out for both the Raiders and Cowboys later that year before hanging up his cleats for good.
Maddox remains active in the sports scene as a coach for the Grapevine High School Baseball Team in Grapevine, Texas. In a February 2017 interview with MMQB.com, Maddox admitted that playing in the XFL was “the most fun” he has had in his career.
1 Rod Smart
Look back on the history of the XFL, and three words come to mind: “He Hate Me.” That iconic nickname became synonymous with running back Rod Smart. He wore the name emblazoned on the back of his jersey when he debuted for the Las Vegas Outlaws on the opening night of the XFL season.
Smart finished second in the XFL in rushing yards and carried his play into the NFL the following season. Smart appeared in six games with Eagles before joining the Carolina Panthers as a special teams player. The Panthers eventually utilized his speed as a kick returner for the 2003 season, a role he played until his release in 2006.
After a failed tryout for the Oakland Raiders, Smart tried his hand at acting, appearing in the small independent film Don’t Blame the Lettuce. Smart currently works as a motivational speaker and guidance counselor in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Smart looks back fondly on his time in the XFL.
“I was able to show my personality and entertain,” he told Complex.com in 2017. “I hit all the buttons that I needed to hit during my XFL stint. The rest was history.”
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