‘Timing is everything.’ The old saying certainly fits in a hypothetical situation if Vince McMahon had launched the Xtreme Football League now instead of 2001, when the National Football League is not in the same power position it was 17 years ago.
At the time, the NFL was standing on firm ground as “America’s Game” with patriotic fans welcoming back their helmeted warriors following the mourning pause pursuant to the radical Islamic terrorist attacks in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania. The last thing on anyone’s mind at the time was dividing the country the way it is now – between sports and politics alike, mind you, with a fine line separating the two.
Fast forward to the present and there are contingents on both sides of the ‘take a knee’ argument digging their heels in and it is obvious that the ones choosing to boycott (as this media outlet has) are making more than a bold statement. Ratings and attendance are both down and the league appears almost desperate at this point to rectify the situation, but do so as to not make it any better for the side boycotting, mind you. So their strategy is partisan.
Just as Donald Trump struck a cord with his base (the same that is boycotting the NFL), the same could have been accomplished if a rival professional football league with a high threshold for spending came upon the scene now. The XFL had many faults (and it’s ‘one-and-done’ history is all the proof needed), but did have financial backing, a marketing machine behind it and a contract with a major television network in NBC – all things that recent attempts such as the United Football League did not have.
Just imagine the hashtags a league such as the XFL could use today to bring in an audience. Patriotism, pro-police and national pride are three that would seem to be no-brainers, as is a league-wide rule that ALL players must stand properly for the National Anthem (ie: no fist salutes that signify more anti-police rhetoric with the domestic terrorist organization The Black Panthers who made killing cops part of their platform).
The fans who have turned their backs on the NFL would have a viable new option and that would ‘feed the machine,’ if you will, to give this rival league even more capital to sharpen the product on and off the field. Do away with the gimmicks with the nicknames on the jerseys, former pro wrestlers behind the mics and the dog and pony show that was the XFL and bring it back to basics. That would legitimize it in many people’s minds and get them to tune in, as well as attracting bigger names for the front offices and coaching staffs, as well as players. Money talks so if the NFL begins to feel the crunch, shit rolls downhill.
The XFL is the best example since they had the aforementioned advantages, but a perfect scenario would be the United States Football League. The early-to-mid 1980s spring league made a lot of noise (and ironically enough, President Donald Trump was the owner of the New Jersey Generals franchise) and many talented players either spurned the NFL after being drafted by both leagues or came over to the USFL as a free agent. The list is lengthy of these players, such as Jim Kelly, Herschel Walker, Doug Flutie, Steve Young, Reggie White, Gary Zimmerman and many others. They also had major television coverage on both ABC and ESPN.
The USFL went belly up when they wanted to play in the fall and sued the NFL in an anti-trust lawsuit. Although they technically ‘won’ the case, were awarded a nominal $1 (later tripled under anti-trust laws). The owners decided to suspend operations for the upcoming 1986 season and NFL scooped up many of the top players, which was the death knell for the once-promising league.
There is a league called the New USFL and it has been operating on and off behind the scenes since 2008. The plan was for it to be a professional minor league with a spring schedule and the most prominent names involved are former NFL star Paul Warfield, as well as the son (and namesake) of former Oakland Raiders star wideout Fred Biletnikoff. A financial scandal involving then-league owner Jaime Cuadra in 2013 set the league back even further from its proposed start date that same year and current CEO and President Jim Bailey is looking to raise $500 million before contacting cities for perspective teams. Not much has been heard from them since 2015 and their intentions all along was not to go head-to-head against the NFL like the original league did, but rather play in the spring and be somewhat of an equivalent of what the NBA G-League (formerly the D-League) is.
But in a hypothetical situation, someone with McMahon’s bank account purchasing the USFL name and immediately going after the NFL’s fanbase would be an interesting topic to banter. If there was any time that is right for someone to challenge the bully to a fight after school, it would be 2018 when the 32 NFL teams send out their respective season ticket renewal notices.
Special thanks to our sports insider Paul “Keefus” Revere for the idea behind this article.