The History Of The XFL As It Partners Up With The NFL

The XFL may have struggled to survive, but now it is back in the spotlight

The XFL has struck a partnership deal with the NFL.

There was a surprising turn of events on Monday, February 21st when a partnership was announced between the NFL and XFL, a much maligned subsidiary league that completed just one season 21 years ago.

With the backing of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and his manager Dany Garcia, it is hoped that the XFL can produce American football in the spring after the Super Bowl and that the NFL can use the set up to trial potential rule changes and innovations.

Here is a history of the short-lived existence of the XFL.

How did the XFL start?

The league was formed in 2001 as an equal project between Vince McMahon, the owner of what was then the World Wrestling Federation, and TV company NBC, who were looking to feed the American public’s appetite for gridiron after the completion of the NFL season.

McMahon’s background meant a pronounced showbiz element to proceedings, but one of the teething problems the league suffered was that the matches were perceived by many as being scripted entertainment, however, the fact Las Vegas bookmakers were prepared to take bets on the outcomes meant some of those fears were eased.

All games were played on grass and rougher than the action usually seen in the NFL and the scantily clad cheerleaders ensured the matches were enjoyed by a certain type of viewer.

How did the matches work?

But as for the action on the field, eight franchises were formed and played in two divisions of four teams, east and west.

The east was made up of the Birmingham Thunderbolts, Chicago Enforcers, New York/New Jersey Hitmen and Orlando Rage, while the teams in the west were the Las Vegas Outlaws, Los Angeles Xtreme, Memphis Maniax and San Francisco Demons.

They played their three divisional rivals home and away and the other four teams once for a ten-game regular season before the top two in each progressed to the play-offs.

And there were other developments too.

Rather than a coin toss to decide who received the first possession, the ball was placed on the 50-yard line and players had to run in from 30 and scramble for it.

There were no point-after kicks. Extra points had to be earned in a similar manner to a two-point conversion that had been introduced into the NFL seven years earlier.

Teams had four downs to score in overtime and there were 38-player rosters rather than the 53 used in the NFL.

What problems did the XFL run into?

Los Angeles won the first Championship game when they beat San Francisco 38-6, but both the WWF and NBC lost $35m that season as TV audiences failed to take to the new competition.

It had originally been a two-year deal, but the league ended when NBC were unable to devote schedule time after they secured rights to the 2002 Winter Olympics.

The XFL was reborn by McMahon in 2020 in attempt to provide fans with a grittier product after a succession of safety measures sanitised the NFL, but, after five weeks of regular-season action, it was overtaken by events as the world became gripped by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The parent company Alpha Entertainment went bankrupt shortly afterwards, but now it is back on the agenda, with the first matches scheduled to take place in February 2023.

A vastly experienced journalist, Ian has worked the beat on a number of local newspapers and covers a number of different sports for the Racing Post
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