Between "The Rock" and a Hard Place
In April, the XFL filed for bankruptcy due to the economic impact caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, it was announced that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is part of a team that will purchase the league.
The XFL made great strides in 2020, a stark contrast to their one-year operation in 2001. Back then, as the NFL was starting to focus on player safety, the fan response was negative and the XFL attempted to capitalize on the backlash. The "Xtreme Football League," the brain-child of WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon and NBC executive Dick Ebersol, focused on and promoted, a more extreme style of play; bigger hits, less penalties, faster game play. Fast-forward to 2020 and the league has refocused its efforts and shifted towards player safety and player development, with a few rule adjustments from the NFL meant to encourage a better pace of game. Who wouldn't love a three-point conversion that didn't involve kicking? No one, that's who.
The formula the second time around was undoubtedly more successful. The gimmick of the first attempt that lasted, in all honesty, maybe a few weeks worth in the popularity department was revitalized into the game that more fans were familiar with and cherished. Sadly, the outbreak of COVID-19 brought the updated XFL to a screeching halt, forcing McMahon to let go of his league once again. This time, though, through no fault of his own.
Enter Dwayne Johnson, the professional wrestling marvel that helped revitalize the WWE in the late 1990s and into the early 2000s. "The Rock," as he is known in the wrestling world, has spent a few decades entertaining fans in and out of the ring, crossing over into the football world for most of his life. Johnson, a collegiate linebacker at the University of Miami from 1990-1994 (and a National Champion in 1991 with the Hurricanes) is no stranger to the gridiron. Coupled with his acting career bringing him to the main role in HBO's "Ballers," the comedy-drama series based around an ex-NFL player (Johnson) who switches careers to become a financial manager for younger players, it was another match made in heaven for Johnson to come to McMahon's rescue.
After filing for bankruptcy protection, McMahon sold the XFL to Johnson, Johnson's ex-wife Dany Garcia, and RedBird Capital for $15 million. Sound like a bargain? Well, it is. The league was intended to be put up for auction, but after the group submitted the only qualified bid, a final decision was made to sell it outright. What happens next will be the first decision made from the top of the XFL by someone not named Vince McMahon.
Johnson should be the perfect face for the XFL and could become the "minor league" football to the NFL that it always should have been, a la NFL Europe from 1991-2007. The league was on its way to be a great supplemental league (something the XFL did NOT admit the first time around in 2001, which party led to its demise) and offers another chance for players to get back to the big time. The XFL beginning its season after the Super Bowl is a smart move and will continue to be the way to go to keep fans' attention. While the NFL has always done a magnificent job of staying relevant all 12 months of the year, the XFL brought live football action to the "offseason." Football fans have developed a desire to follow player development and study incoming rookies like never before, especially in the age of fantasy football. The NFL offers its combine and pre-draft workouts with countless hours of on-air analysis to whet our appetites in April, which is all great. But the XFL offers live football where players and coaches can showcase their talents in hopes of getting noticed by the NFL. Essentially, it's a win-win for both leagues to keep those not quite ready for the NFL in the spotlight.
Johnson and his team may have big plans stirring up for the XFL, and it will certainly be worth the watch come February.
If you smeeeeeeeellllll what The Rock...is...cooking. (Sorry...I HAD to do it.)