The Year That Was: XFL Grows Up Before Our Eyes

Well, what a whirlwind this past year has been. From the XFL cities announcement which was actually in December of 2018 to Training Camp in January 2020. It has been one heck of a ride watching the league, teams, personnel, players and even fan sites and pages like this one grow and grow. So, in order to catch up some of our later arriving fans that have been joining in droves this past few weeks, here is a special edition of our The Week That Was column to go over The Year That Was.


December 2018 - XFL cities revealed


I am starting with Dec '18 because that is actually when the cities were announced and my journey with XFL PLus was born. The city announcements, with my home team (Dallas) being a part of it, really kick-started the adventure and I bet a lot of the original fans jumped on the XFL bandwagon on this day as well. It was an absolutely huge day for all of us original 2001 XFL fans. We had all heard the rumors of the league being reborn and this was the first official, tangible sign of it being a reality.


Dallas, Los Angeles, Houston, New York, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Seattle and Washington DC were announced as the horses that would pull the XFL caravan. Less stall, more ball was announced to the world and a collective cheer was let out from all the OG fans. We all saw Oliver Luck at the helm giving a brief description of what the league would be; faster game, tweaks to a few rules to keep stuff like the kickoff in the game, spring football and a league that would stand on its own, not a dedicated developmental league for the NFL.


Mr. Luck was the face of the league, adding immediate credibility in most people's eyes. Vince McMahon was bankrolling the league of course, but was taking a backseat to the actual roll out and development of the league. Instead hiring talented people like Luck, who has tremendous experience in building brands and leagues with working in the World League of American Football, CEO of Houston Sports Authority, NFL Europe and Major League soccer. The league was off and running.


January - COO hired, rumors of TV deal and coaches


Jeffery Pollack is hired as President and COO of the XFL. He was the chief marketing & strategy officer of the San Diego Chargers and also worked in the NBA and NASCAR dealing with marketing and growth. The two-headed team of Pollack and Luck was seen as very significant hires for an upstart spring football league. One focusing on football operations and the other on growing and marketing the league.


We also already had rumors of a big TV deal. The networks mentioned were Fox and ESPN. In one wide ranging interview, Mr Luck stated a big goal of the league was getting on regular, mainstream TV. They didn't want to rely on small cable network channels or even worse, streaming. They wanted it so the regular fan could sit on their couch on the weekend and change the channel right to it, with even just a basic cable package.


There were also rumors of a big name colleague coach being hired.


February March April - Coaching hires


The coach rumors appear true as former Oklahoma University head football coach and Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame inductee, Bob Stoops is named the first Head Coach of XFL who would head the Dallas Renegades.


This was a huge hire. A multitude of college teams and some NFL teams had been trying to get Bob Stoops to take over their program ever since he left OU in 2017. After only about a year and a half off Mr. Stoops started to get the itch again.


The timing of the XFL league played a part in his decision he mentioned. Saying he could still watch his football in the fall and it was still too cold to golf that much in the Jan, Feb, March window.


This hire gave immediate credibility to the league and put it on some of the more skeptical peoples radar.


During the next couple months five other coaches would be hired; Pep Hamilton with DC, Jim Zorn with Seattle, Marc Trestman with Tampa Bay, Kevin Gilbride with New York, Jon Hayes with St Louis.


May - Final coaches and TV deal


Winston Moss with Los Angeles and June Jones with New York are hired as the final pieces of the coaching puzzle.


All eight coaches had previous ties to the cites for which they got hired. One of the neat things about this inaugural building year is that the XFL can place the coaches wherever they wish. And they seemed to do it for the benefit of each city, beyond just a simple coaching hire.


Another major announcement was for the TV deals. Oliver came through on his promise to put the league on big name terrestrial TV. It was announced that ABC, ESPN Fox Sport and FS1 would be broadcasting the games. With only a couple games that would fall to FS2 and ESPN2.


There will be two on Saturday and two on Sunday each weekend. Weeks 9 and 10 also have a Thursday game. Easy to find and no buffering internet required.


June July - The Summer Showcases


It is starting to get real now. In June the XFL scheduled eight Summer Showcases, one for each city. These were one day events that were, in effect combine like tryouts for the league.


This was by invitation only, not some open door for people off the street. The XFL researched and invited very specific players to try out. All of them having significant football experience in colleague and the NFL.


The Showcases consisted of around 100 players or more at each city, all vying for yet another invitation to the XFL draft. This is really when things started rolling. We started seeing lots of involvement from fan sites and a few national articles covering the Showcases. We were finally starting to see some of the players that will make up the league, even if only in jerseys and shorts.

August - Team names and logo, draft invites


Finally, what Twitterverse had been screaming for; team names and logos were revealed. This was a very big and very important announcement, so I applaud the XFL for taking their time and trying to get it right. And by most accounts they were a huge hit. I wont go over all the names as most all of your have them memorized by now, but I didn't see hardly any feedback on the names being bad.


The XFL appeared to really think it through and applied the names and logos to the cities they represent based on factors of that specific city; see NY Guardians or Tampa Bay Vipers. Just a couple examples but they clearly really thought though the names and the cities the represent.


This is where we first got a glimpse of the team colors. Then of course our wonderful fans started dreaming about the next reveal, the uniforms.


During this month we also had the leagues first signing with Landry Jones, a former multi-year NFL QB. Then we also got the first word of draft invites going out. They went out in a few different waves due to NFL cuts, and went to around 1000 players with 560 of them being chosen for the initial 70 draft spots on each team.


October - The Draft


The draft took place in the middle of October and was as unique as the XFL itself. Immediately prior to the draft each team would be assigned one QB by the league in order to help balance the top QBs: Dallas - Landry Jones, Houston - Phillip Walker, Los Angeles - Luis Periz, New York - Matt McGloin, St Louis - Jordan Ta'amu, Seattle - Brandon Silvers, Tampa Bay - Aaron Murray, Washington DC - Cardale Jones.


Oliver Luck knows, and has stated may times the league's success will be closely tied to the QB play. So, they wanted all teams to have a good chance at a top QB this first year. Now of course, there is decent chance that one of the eight will end up not starting, because of injury or other. But this was another brilliant move in my opinion, even if not all eight work out.


Then the actual drafting of players was a snake format and had several rounds that were actually broken up by position. So, all eight teams would draft skill position players, then the draft order was reversed and they would then pick from linemen and so forth for the following rounds. When all was done each team would have 71 players to evaluate before training camp.


Shortly after the draft the full schedule was released. The teams would be divided by East and West divisions. Each team will play the other three in their division twice, home and away. And then will play the four teams in the other division for a total of 10 games. There will then be a four team playoff round with the top two teams in each division followed the next week by the championship game.


November December - Uniforms and minicamps


In November we had three more quarterbacks assigned to teams. And then we also got a list of the TV broadcast teams. These TV teams are experienced football announcers and not picked from a similar type pool as the 2001 version was. I think we are going to have some very good commentators. And the XFL has promised unprecedented access to the field reporters during the game.


December started off with a bang by releasing the uniforms for each team. This was starting to be another point of contention with Twitterverse but I think most all can agree they were worth the wait. This was another huge decision that the league had to get right. If they were cheesy or too gimmicky the naysayers would have a field day. Most all are a simple three color scheme that looks neat and clean, while also being vibrant and down right good to look at.


I read several rankings by various sites and people and there was not a real agreement on one or two being the clear cut best. I saw some that were ranked first, then ranked last on other lists. So, this tells me the league did an excellent job of getting these right.


Shortly after the uniforms were revealed the minicamps got underway. This was several days full practice in the teams respective cities prior to training camp in Houston. Several of the teams also incorporated a fan day during these minicamps. I was able to visit the Dallas one and it was really great how much effort the XFL is putting into fan interaction. There was quite a bit of money spent on games for the kids, DJs and autograph signings. Good times.


XFL 2020


2019 was one heck of a year for the XFL and quite fun to be a part of and see it grow. But of course, 2020 should be even bigger and better. I have noticed the social media followers have really picked up recently and I hope all you newer fans that have joined us as things start to get real will stay on the bandwagon and keep it rolling.


This an affordable, accessibile and awesome league for us all to get behind and have a good ride. And hopefully, in a year from now this article will be as exciting to write as it was the first time.

Birds & Books