By David Mullen
“If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time.” — Apple founder Steve Jobs.
The takeaway from the inaugural XFL football game between the Dallas Renegades and the St. Louis BattleHawks was hardly memorable. The local team, and the league in general, is facing an uphill challenge. In football jargon, it is not 4th and long but, based on initial impressions, it is going to take a lot of big gains to win over pro football fans.
On Feb. 9, head coach Bob Stoops’ Renegades lost to St. Louis 15-9. It was a brutal game to watch. Dallas could muster only three field goals. Granted, their projected starting quarterback Landry Jones was injured and couldn’t play, although he suited up for the game. Their defense surrendered 191 rushing yards, far and away the worst total of any team in week one. Dallas was the only XFL home team to lose.
All of the week one XFL games were under the projected point totals. Six of the teams scored 23 points or less. Without a preseason, there was really no way for Las Vegas to set odds. But that didn’t keep game broadcasters from discussing point spreads throughout the game, which the XFL embraces.
On a misty day at Globe Life Park before 17,026 inquisitive fans, enthusiasm started high. Apparently, in lieu of cheerleaders, the Renegades have employed bikers as mascots. The roar of a motorcycle engine is played over the PA system as a tool to build excitement. But the passion quickly ebbed and the concession lines didn’t flow, keeping people away from the non-action for long periods of time.
“Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” — U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Many football people, like Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, thought the league had a great start and showed potential. “I think this league has a real chance,” Aikman said. He might be a shill for his friend and former teammate, Renegades Director Player Personnel Daryl “Moose” Johnston, because the quality of play was clearly underwhelming. Plus, Aikman works for XFL broadcast partner Fox Sports.
In reality, the XFL must quickly realize that it is seriously lacking talent on the field. In Stoops, Jim Zorn of Seattle, June Jones of Houston, Kevin Gilbride of New York, Winston Moss of Los Angeles and Mark Trestman of Tampa Bay, the most recognizable football names are on the sidelines and not on the gridiron. No one goes to a game to see the coach.
A case can be made that the best-known roster name in the entire league is former NFL player Marquette King. And he is a punter.
When the American Football League (AFL) became a success in the 1960s, the league had swagger. They featured stars like Joe Namath and Don Maynard of the New York Jets, Lance Alworth and Ron Mix of the San Diego Chargers, Len Dawson, Bobby Bell and Johnny Robinson of the Kansas City Chiefs, Bob Griese and Nick Buoniconti of the Miami Dolphins and George Blanda, Willie Brown and Jim Otto of the Oakland Raiders. All of those players are in Pro Football’s Hall of Fame.
The NFL quickly realized that they were losing fans to a more exciting brand of football from the upstart league and had to merge to survive. The AFL won Super Bowls III and IV, an embarrassment to the stuffy senior circuit. They moved three longstanding NFL teams (Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cleveland) to the former AFL for balance. The NFL is, by far, America’s most popular professional sports league.
When the American Basketball Association (ABA) became a success in the 1970s, the league had glitz. They had Julius “Dr. J” Irving, Rick Berry, Billy Cunningham, George “The Iceman” Gervin, Artis Gilmore, David Thompson, Dan Issel, Moses Malone and George McGinnis. All of those players are in Pro Basketball’s Hall of Fame.
The NBA quickly realized that they were losing fans to a more exciting brand of basketball from the upstart league and had to buy them to survive. They adopted ABA standards like three-point shots and colorful uniforms and seamlessly integrated the ABA stars into the NBA.
“Don’t let the fear of losing be greater than the excitement of winning.” — American businessman and best-selling author Robert Kiyosaki.
The XFL is too new to pass judgment. But they can take a page from AFL and ABA history books and build on it. Those leagues achieved success with innovation and excellent players, which fans flocked to see. The XFL must realize that a fan’s attention span is very short and loyalty runs out like sand in an hour glass.
The NBA and NHL playoff races are around the corner, and pitchers and catchers have reported to Major League Baseball spring training facilities. The XFL has a tight window of opportunity. They must step up the quality of play immediately and next year attract some name talent. Otherwise, they are doomed in Dallas and beyond. And you can quote me on that.
“If at first you don’t succeed, you are probably starting a new football league.”