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Thinking XFL, 10 years later

February 2, 2011 - Zach Baker
There's no other way to say this. I miss the XFL.

No, wait. I don't miss the XFL, which had its first game 10 years ago today. I don't miss Jesse "somehow I got elected Governor" Ventura doing commentary on football games. I don't miss the pregame scamble for the football that was all but assured to produce a career-ending injury. And I certainly don't miss the shots of the cheerleaders, whose only purpose seemed to be to distract the viewer from a game that wasn't that compelling.

No, it's hard to miss the XFL itself. But it's sure easy to miss football. Sure, we have the Super Bowl on Sunday.

But the Steelers are playing in it (again), and if they win, it will be another depressing end to a season that started with such promise. 

It was like that 10 years ago, when the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl, and Art Modell got to hold up the Lombardi Trophy, something we Browns fans never thought would happen. 

And that was before the move.

But a decade ago, my football depression got something of a reprieve. The XFL was on its way. I didn't care about the slick WWF production or the hype, or the coaches feuding with announcers. All I cared about was I would get to watch my favorite sport for a few more months until baseball season started.

In truth, the next two months are a bit hard for sports fans like me. I love basketball, but I don't have much interest in hockey. And as a Cavaliers' fan, this season probably ranks as the most aggravating one in my lifetime, which covers plenty of ground. There should be something to fill the void.

The XFL had plenty of flaws, as any company owned by a professional wrestling promoter is bound to have. Truthfully, I knew the league was doomed before it started, if only because Vince McMahon had never been able to be successful with anything outside of wrestling. Remember the World Bodybuilding Federation? No? 

But plenty of people thought it would be successful. NBC bought into the league and put it on its network in primetime. The league marketed itself as "real" football, with outdoor stadiums and grass fields. The production values, as I remember, were fine, and the league tried to be innovative, having a "sky cam" over the field and even having coaches be interviewed during the game, which no one else was doing at the time.

Of course, none of this masked that the football wasn't very good. The television ratings dropped to embarrassing levels, and Conan O'Brien, who worked for NBC, made fun  of it on a nightly basis. It was soon gone from TV, and gone for good.

But there was still a charm to the league, one that had almost nothing to do with how it was presented. Most of the guys on XFL fields knew they'd never make it to the NFL, and never make great amounts of money playing football.

Yet there they were, playing for a paycheck, and in many cases simply playing the game because they loved it. My father, who hates pro wrestling and everything associated with it, watched the league, because, once you stripped away everything, it was still football.

I don't miss the XFL, but I do miss football, especially this time a year. I still believe an outdoor professional league, starting the week after the Super Bowl and ending just before baseball's opening day could build a following. It could open opportunities for players who can't quite cut it in the NFL (or the new United Football League) and give football fans something to tied them over in the last few months of winter.

Of course, it has been tried, and hasn't worked yet. The United States Football League and the World Football League stand as reminders of that. And yet, there's always hope. The XFL lasted one season, and then was gone. For all of its flaws, I miss it.

No, check that. I miss football.



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