The XFL was a special moment in the history of American sports. Now, it wasn’t special because it was an overwhelming success that managed to captivate the nation, bring everyone together and forever change the history of television; but rather because it was a failure so spectacular that football and wrestling fans were able to appreciate its short-lived rise and significant fall equally. Few thought that the XFL was going to be anything worthwhile when it was announced, but there’s nobody that could have quite guessed just how bad it would end up being. It is widely agreed to be one of the worst business decisions in sports or entertainment history.
Naturally, then, it’s something that Vince McMahon doesn’t like to talk about that often. WWE may have the rights to the XFL library, but even they with the company’s incredible history of shilling out every piece of footage they own for a profit, McMahon’s empire has never dared to drag out the classic XFL games for WWE Network fodder. While Vince would like you to forget that the XFL ever existed, in general, he would be especially appreciative if you would turn a blind eye to these top 15 things WWE would like you to forget about the XFL.
15. Players Had No Health Insurance and Suffered A Lot of Injuries
The primary goal of the XFL (besides making money) was to provide football fans with a product that was radically different from the NFL. While this philosophy led to a few innovations (mostly presentation related) it more often than not resulted in some of the league’s worst aspects. Take, for instance, Vince McMahon’s decision to have the league own every team and not individual owners. While everyone was, thankfully, paid despite the massive financial losses the league would suffer, this decision did impact players in other ways. The most notable of them is the fact that players had to pay for their own health insurance.
What makes this particularly awful is the fact that the XFL was riddled with injuries due to its lack of proper player protection during games. Only three opening day quarterbacks were starting by the end of the season, and some teams were down to third string rosters by that point.
14. The X Didn’t Stand For Anything Due To Legal Reasons
If you asked 100 people what XFL stands for, you’d probably get an even split between two responses: “Extreme Football League” and “What is the XFL?” The former reply probably represents the opinion of the majority of people who are aware of the XFL, but even that’s not actually the correct answer. In reality, XFL doesn’t technically stand for anything at all. How is that even possible? Well, as you might suspect, the organization was indeed originally supposed to be called the Xtreme Football League. The problem was that back in 1999 when the league was first being organized, it turned out that there was another football organization that had registered that name.
Even though that other company never even held a single game, the XFL was forced to insist their initials stood for nothing. Of course, if you asked Vince at that time, he will tell you that the XFL stood for the “extra fun league” as opposed to the NFL’s “no fun league.”
13. The XFL Emphasized Betting Odds To Increase Legitimacy
As you might suspect, when the XFL was first announced, the popular theory was that it was a joke. Actually, worse than a joke, there were a lot of rumors going around at the time that the XFL was a scripted program just like WWE. In fact, one player infamously remarked in one of the XFL’s hype videos that he wasn’t sure If he was “going to get dropkicked” or not. The XFL did everything they could to combat this perception in the media, but one of their most bizarre methods of playing up the legitimacy of the sport was to encourage the announcers to constantly refer to the betting odds for games.
Why would they do something like this? Well, the logic at the time was that Vegas would never place betting odds on a scripted program and, therefore, the XFL must be legitimate. It’s an odd bit of logic considering that Vegas will put odds on just about everything.
12. A Player Was Injured On The Very First “Scrum”
Despite the fact that the concept itself was inherently awful, not every single idea that the XFL had was necessarily bad. One of the league’s most popular concepts, for instance, was the idea that players should have to scramble for the ball in order to determine who kicks off and who receives as opposed to letting that be determined by a coin flip. The decision appealed to the bloodlust of some fans by playing up the notion that leaving such an important element of the game up to the result of a coin flip was a real cop out.
In a darkly hilarious turn of events, this seeming bright spot in the XFL’s planning was derailed right away after a player injured himself on the very first scramble of the season. Yes, this player that didn’t even have health insurance had to deal with an injured shoulder before the first game had even technically started.
11. The Dyed Footballs Were Almost Impossible To Work With
If there’s one thing you can say that’s kind of a positive about the XFL it’s that they pulled no punches when it came to branding and marketing. For a period of a couple of months, the XFL was absolutely everywhere. Obviously, Vince McMahon went to great lengths to incorporate the XFL into WWE programming, but even non-wrestling fans were bombarded by waves of XFL merchandise, commercials and press spots.
The XFL was so crazy about branding that they even had really slick custom black and red footballs that looked much more distinct than their bland NFL counterparts. As great as they looked, there was just one problem with these balls and that was that the black dye used to make them would wear down over the course of a game and begin to make the ball almost impossible to properly handle. For a few weeks, players were barely able to catch and throw these things late in the game. It wasn’t until someone decided to rub the balls with sandpaper before each game that they became usable.
10. Players Were Underprepared and Underpaid
It should come as no surprise to learn that most XFL players were casts off from the NFL, CFL, Arena Football League and, in some cases, the worlds of college and high school football. To be perfectly clear, these were not the most elite football players in the world, despite the fact that there were a few genuinely talented guys spread throughout the roster. Still, it’s pretty shocking to hear just how poorly these players were treated. The problems started before the season even did, as delays in forming teams meant that training camps began roughly 30 days before the first week of the season.
Given that many of these players hadn’t been playing regularly for years in some cases, this was a primary reason for much of the sloppy play that came to define XFL games. Then again, it’s not like these players were getting paid much for their efforts anyway. Reports suggest that XFL quarterbacks only made about $5,000 a week, kickers and punters made about $3,500 and everyone else was around the $4,000 mark.
9. UPN Was Willing To Host A Second Season At The Expense Of SmackDown
If you’re waiting to hear about just how big of a failure the XFL was from a financial perspective, you might be surprised/disappointed to learn that the financial losses the league suffered were actually considered to be rather modest. As WWE and NBC split the profits and cost of the XFL, each reportedly only lost about $35 million on the whole endeavor. It’s a bad number, but not as bad as it could have been considering how low the ratings and advertising revenue numbers sunk at one point.
Actually, UPN (one of the XFL’s partner networks) believed a second season might still work. They were even willing to host another season of the XFL under the condition that Vince McMahon cut SmackDown’s runtime down to 90 minutes in order to lead into XFL games. As WWE’s ratings at this point were still absurdly high, Vince decided to just let the concept die.
8. Cheerleaders Were Exploited Whenever Possible
As noted before, the XFL went to some pretty extreme lengths to promote themselves and simply do whatever was necessary to simply get viewers to tune in. Although most of these attempts were pretty sad in their own right (the futuristic Arnold Schwarzenegger movie The Sixth Day even featured an XFL game to suggest that it was the sport of the future) none of them compare to the starring role that the XFL gave its cheerleaders.
From commercials featuring adult film stars playing cheerleaders to an infamous “boob cam” designed specifically to get cleavage shots on the sidelines, there were no exploitative lengths that the XFL wouldn’t sink to in order to capitalize off of the appeal of their cheerleaders. Then again, given that most of the cheerleaders were exotic dancers, perhaps everyone involved expected this when they took the job. Needless to say, this concept didn’t exactly endear the league to potential sponsors.
7. One Game Featured An Incredibly Strange Halftime Show
Speaking of exploiting cheerleaders, no rundown of the XFL’s lowest moments would be complete without mentioning the Week 6 game between the Las Vegas Outlaws and the Orlando Rage. Given that ratings had reached “abysmal” status by this point in the season, McMahon decided to reach into his company’s classic bag of tricks and promote a lavish angle for the contest centered around a tease that viewers would be taken into the locker room of the Orlando Rage cheerleaders during the halftime show.
While this was already pretty desperate in its own right, it was somehow made even worse by the fact that it never happened. Instead, they ran a bit that saw the cameraman get knocked out and experience a bizarre fever dream that was bookended by appearances from Vince McMahon and included werewolves, giant rabbits, Rodney Dangerfield and, of course, Satan. Shockingly, it did little to draw additional ratings.
6. Most Major Sports Sources Never Even Reported Game Results
If you’re an average person that is aware that the XFL once existed, you probably remember the waves of hype that proceeded the season’s first game and the closure of the league shortly after the end of the season. While a big part of the reason for this is the awful quality of the games themselves, what tends to get lost in the discussion of what went wrong with the XFL is how little attention any sports reporting outlet paid to it.
With the exception of radio networks that were paid, for a time, to promote XFL games, the XFL received almost no coverage during the course of its season. Even ESPN who had to find ways to report on nothing but sports all day couldn’t be bothered to even throw up a graphic at the end of SportsCenter to recap final XFL scores. This lack of exposure made the league seem irrelevant.
5. Vince McMahon Verbally Attacked The NFL Against Everyone’s Wishes
In a way, you had to expect the XFL was going to take the occasional cheap shot at the NFL. Although it’s not really considered ethical in the business world to mock your competition in such public ways, this is still Vince McMahon we’re talking about, and there was no way that Vince McMahon was going to resist going right at the NFL from time to time. Still, nearly everyone was shocked by the lengths Vince went to just to make fun of them on-air. From having The Rock cut his infamous “Turn it sideways…” promo about the NFL in an opening game to encouraging Jesse Ventura to take shots at the NFL whenever possible while he announced, Vince McMahon was shameless in his quest to belittle the National Football League.
The attacks only slowed down when NBC and several advertisers reminded McMahon that they all had working relationships with the NFL and that it would be great if he just shut up.
4. Jerry Lawler Admitted That He Didn’t Care About Football While Announcing A Football Game
Although not all of the XFL’s announcers were current or former WWE employees, the league’s broadcast booths almost always featured at least one voice from the company on a weekly basis. This is especially true of the very first game which featured none other than Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler on commentary. While Ross is a pretty well-known football fanatic that actually had experience calling Atlanta Falcons games, Jerry Lawler had absolutely no experience in the world of professional football.
If you weren’t aware of this fact beforehand, it soon became painfully obvious as you watched Lawler struggle to find anything to contribute during his stint as a commentator for NBC broadcasted XFL games. Well, unless you count the times he actually said on air that he really doesn’t care about football, that is. Lawler left the WWE after Week 5 of the XFL season over both the firing of his wife Stacy Carter and for being forced into calling XFL games.
3. XFL Games Had An East Coast Bed Time Thanks To Saturday Night Live
It wasn’t long into the XFL season before the entire program became a burden for NBC. Not only were they bleeding money as a result of their investment into the XFL, but they were continuously having to put out fires over the matter of the show’s presentation style and sinking ad revenue. By far the strangest situation they had to deal with as a result of the XFL’s operating practices, however, involved Lorne Michaels and Saturday Night Live. See, because XFL games could not end in a tie, they would occasionally run very long. This happened during an early game between the Los Angeles Xtreme and the Chicago Enforcers which went into double overtime. Because of this, NBC had to push that night’s Saturday Night Live episode back about 45 minutes.
This did not sit well with SNL’s creator Lorne Michaels who would later force the XFL to change their rules in order to speed up games and insisted that all East Coast broadcasts of games be taken off the air at 11 PM, regardless of whether there was a winner or not.
2. The Rules Were Changed Nearly Every Week
In case you haven’t figured it out by now, the XFL was not only a poorly conceptualized idea that really had no chance of succeeding, but it was also a poorly run organization spearheaded by people who were just trying to figure things out as they went along. There’s no greater example of this approach than the XFL’s ever-changing rulebook. In most normal professional sports leagues (like, say, the NFL) rule changes are a highly debated topic that typically only occur in the offseason so that everyone is able to properly adapt to them. That was not the case with the XFL. Rule changes in the XFL came on a near weekly basis.
While that’s bad enough, what’s truly sad about the constantly shifting rules is how necessary they were. After all, there was once a time when XFL defenders could essentially tackle receivers before the ball was even thrown. Remarkably, there was also a time when XFL executives actually wondered why nobody was scoring touchdowns and everyone was getting injured.
1. The XFL Blimp Crashed After Trying To Prank An NFL Game
To be honest, the crashing of the XFL blimp is far from the most horrendous event in XFL history. However, it so perfectly summarizes everything that was wrong with the XFL that there is no way you can’t consider it to be one of the top events that Vince McMahon would just prefer nobody ever talks about again. What happened? Well, apparently someone decided that it would be a good idea to have the XFL blimp hover over the Oakland Raiders’ stadium during a playoff game. The consequences of this childish prank soon came to pass as the blimp would crash into a nearby restaurant after the pilots lost control of it and were forced to jump out of the blimp for their own safety. The blimp then began to float aimlessly until it was popped by the mast of a nearby sailboat and came to rest on top of a nearby restaurant.
Although nobody was physically hurt too bad, millions of dollars of damage was done, everyone was embarrassed and the whole thing was agreed to be an awful idea to begin with.
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