The XFL is back and this time with staying power.
Owner Vince McMahon and Commissioner Oliver Luck’s brainchild kicked off last weekend with two games on Saturday and two games on Sunday. And to the surprise of millions of viewers in a national television audience, the quality of play was at a higher level than most were expecting.
But the now-defunct Alliance of American Football was a novelty in its opening week too, averaging 2.9 million viewers in its debut on CBS compared to the 3.3 million viewers that tuned in to watch the XFL’s inaugural contest.
Forming a successful spring professional football league hasn’t been an issue in the last 20 years, but running it while maintaining interest in it has. However, the XFL is taking steps to make sure it sticks around.
First, the broadcast is different from any professional football game I’ve seen. The XFL launched a free-to-play gambling app and appears to be very in-tune with the sports betting market, evident by the points spread and over/under being displayed with the score during the game.
Then there are the glorious sideline interviews. Any time there’s a big play, turnover or scrum on the field, a sideline reporter is on the sidelines immediately asking questions to those involved. While it did feel a bit intrusive at times, the best moment of the weekend was former Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee asking a Saint Louis BattleHawk special teams player why he touched a punt that appeared to stop perfectly on the opposing 1-yard line.
The XFL also boasts rule changes, with the main change being the kickoff, which one should see in action to properly understand.
On a kickoff, both teams line up 5 yards apart from each other. The receiving team is lined up on its own 30-yard line while the kicking team is lined up on the opposing 35-yard line. The kicker kicks from his own 35-yard line like usual, and he and the return man are the only ones that can move when the ball is kicked. Once the receiving team fields the ball, the play is live.
Other rules like the one, two or three-point conversion after touchdowns, double-forward pass and shootout-style overtime are gimmicky but can keep games close and entertaining.
A complete list of the new XFL rules can be found here.
The XFL lacks some of the notable names the AAF had but has players like former Ohio State quarterback and 2015 National Champion Cardale Jones, who starts for the DC Defenders. Former Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin starts for the New York Guardians.
Former Oakland Raiders punter Marquette King punts for the Saint Louis BattleHawks, while 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers third-round draft pick Sammie Coates plays for the Houston Roughnecks. So, while the names aren’t as strong, there are some marketable stars with the potential for new players to emerge.
One of those new stars could be a former Husker, as five former Nebraska players were on opening day rosters to start the season. Let’s take a look at how they fared in the debut of the new XFL.
Jerald Foster, Tampa Bay Vipers, offensive guard
Foster earned a starting spot at left guard in Tampa Bay’s opening game on the road against the New York Guardians. He anchored an offensive line that fared well against the New York pass rush, as the Guardians failed to sack Viper quarterback Aaron Murray.
However, the former Georgia quarterback was the main culprit for Tampa Bay’s offensive struggles in its opening game. Murray completed 16-34 passes for 231 yards and two interceptions. Backup quarterback Quinton Flowers made an appearance in the fourth quarter and completed one pass for 37 yards and ran five times for 34 yards.
The Vipers were unable to overcome those turnovers and fell 23-3 to New York. Tampa Bay faces the Seattle Dragons on Feb. 15, at 4 p.m. The game will be televised nationally on Fox.
Alonzo Moore, Seattle Dragons, wide receiver
Moore saw three targets in Seattle’s opening game on the road against the DC Defenders but pulled in just one catch for 5 yards. He nearly pulled down a big reception in the second quarter of Saturday’s game but failed to haul it in.
Seattle and DC played a back-and-forth game that was tied at 19 in the third quarter, but a Jones touchdown pass and a 69-yard pick-six by Defender cornerback Bradley Sylve sealed a 31-19 victory for DC.
Mohammed Seisay, Seattle Dragons, cornerback
Seisay did not see any action as the Dragons’ third-string cornerback in their 31-19 loss to the DC Defenders.
De’Mornay Pierson-El, St. Louis BattleHawks wide receiver
Pierson-El had the most productive week of any former Husker by far, leading the BattleHawks in receiving with four receptions for 64 yards. He also returned punts for the BattleHawks but muffed the only punt he had the opportunity to return.
The BattleHawks pulled the 15-9 upset over Dallas in the final game of the weekend, a game in which Dallas was heavily favored. Pierson-El provided a critical play in the fourth quarter of that contest, taking a slant pass from quarterback Jordan Ta’amu for 41 yards to set up the BattleHawk offense deep in Renegade territory.
St. Louis kicker Taylor Russolino drilled a 48-yard field goal with 5:43 left in the fourth quarter to extend the lead to 15-9, and the BattleHawk defense held on late to preserve an impressive opening victory.
Pierson-El should play a big part in the St. Louis offense all season, especially if Ta’amu continues playing like one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Ta’amu completed 20-27 passes for 209 yards and one touchdown on Sunday. He also had nine carries for 77 yards.
Brandon Reilly, St. Louis BattleHawks wide receiver
Reilly pulled down one reception on his only target for 19 yards.
St. Louis hits the road for the second-consecutive weekend as it faces the Houston Roughnecks on Feb. 16. Kickoff is at 5 p.m., and the game will be on FS1. In next week’s other action, the DC Defenders host the New York Guardians on Feb. 15, at 1 p.m. on ABC, and the LA Wildcats host the Dallas Renegades on Feb. 16, at 2 p.m. on ABC.