LAS VEGAS — While the NFL plays the second half of its 2022 season and all the usual intrigue that comes with it, another football league has been quietly going about its business preparing for its February 2023 relaunch.
The XFL — remember those guys? — took another step toward reality Tuesday, holding its quarterback selection for its eight teams, one of which will play out of Las Vegas. Wednesday, the fledgling league will draft offensive skill positions, defensive backs, defensive front seven and offensive linemen. Thursday, will be a day to select specialists and open rounds for all positions as the teams look to develop some roster depth.
While many of the players will have you reaching for Google to search who they are, the coaches in the XFL should be familiar to you.
Hall of Famer Rod Woodson is Vegas’ coach. Wade Phillips is in Houston. Bob Stoops is Arlington’s coach. Jim Hazlett is in Seattle. Hines Ward is coaching San Antonio.
Some of you may remember the original XFL from back in 2001. It was a collaborative effort between wrestling impresario Vince McMahon, TV mogul Dick Ebersol and was probably best known for a running back with a cool nickname on the back of his jersey — Rod Smart aka “He Hate Me” — along with some goofy rules like a sprint to see who wins the opening “kickoff” and an overhead camera to provide unique angles for TV viewers.
The original XFL folded after one season. They tried it again in 2020 only to have the plug pulled after five weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This version of the XFL also has a pro wrestling component of sorts in one-time ring star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and will use ESPN as its broadcast partner. The eight teams in this go-round have been in non-NFL leagues before like the USFL, the UFL and the Alliance of American Football.
Why Vegas is involved in the venture, I’m not quite sure. After all, there is an NFL team playing here, even though the Raiders don’t always play like an NFL team. In fact, five of the XFL teams share the market with the NFL (Vegas, Seattle, Houston, D.C. and Arlington, Texas).
But as I go back and forth whether or not this is a smart idea given Las Vegas’ history with failed football teams — the CFL Posse, the two versions of the Outlaws (Outdoor XFL and indoor Arena League), the Gladiators and my personal favorite — the Locomotives of the UFL, why would anyone want to go watch this?
The team still doesn’t have a place to play. But it does have a coach (Woodson) and two quarterbacks. Tuesday, the Vipers selected Jalan McClendon, who had played at North Carolina State and Baylor and played for Los Angeles in the XFL’s short-circuited 2020 season. Luis Perez, the Vipers’ other QB selection, is 28 years old and also played in the XFL’s 2020 season with New York and spent time in several NFL camps.
Not exactly household names. But then again, you shouldn’t have been expecting Heisman Trophy winners to be suiting up in this iteration of the XFL.
Someone tried to start an Internet rumor the other day that the Vipers will play at Sam Boyd Stadium. But Mike Newcomb, the director of the Thomas & Mack Center, quickly shot that down in a text to me that said Sam Boyd Stadium is no longer operational and has no plans to reopen.
Maybe the Vipers will play downtown at Cashman Field, which is the home to Lights FC, the USL Championship soccer club here in Las Vegas. Or perhaps a deal will be struck with Las Vegas Ballpark in Summerlin, where the Triple-A Las Vegas Aviators baseball team calls home.
And no, Allegiant Stadium isn’t in the mix either. The rent would likely be cost-prohibitive and I’m not sure Raiders owner Mark Davis wants to extend a helping hand to another football league, even though the XFL and NFL Alumni Academy agreed to a partnership back in April.
But assuming the XFL can figure out its venue issues here, this may actually work despite Las Vegas now being an NFL market.
For starters, the XFL should be far more affordable for fans, particularly families. The Raiders are the most expensive game day experience in the entire NFL when you include parking and concessions into the mix along with the tickets themselves and the Personal Seat Licenses fans were forced to purchase in order to buy season tickets. There are no PSLs in the XFL. So let’s say it’s $20-25 to get in. That’s probably within financial reach for most people to go to a single game.
Then there’s the fact the XFL team didn’t move from somewhere else though the Vipers played in Tampa Bay during that ill-fated 2020 XFL season. But who remembers that? This time it’s like starting from scratch.
Many NFL fans who live in Las Vegas didn’t suddenly drop their allegiances for their favorite team and become Raiders fans. And many Raiders fans travel from California, Utah and Arizona for home games at Allegiant Stadium so it’s not like the local citizenry is carrying the day for the Silver and Black.
And with the home schedule only five games, starting in mid-February and ending sometime in April, it’s a short window. Some will opt in for a season ticket. Others will go once and if they have a good experience, would likely come back. And if the team is competitive and can be in the hunt for the championship, that enhances the chance for success at the turnstiles.
But despite the city’s transformation to major league status, thanks to the Raiders, the NHL’s Golden Knights and the WNBA’s Aces, Las Vegas and Henderson still have a glut of lower-tier pro leagues competing for your entertainment dollar. And you can throw the XFL and the Vipers into that mix.
There’s the Aviators and Lights FC. There are the Silver Knights of the American Hockey League, the KnightHawks of the Indoor Football League and the NBA’s G-League Ignite, all playing out of the Dollar Loan Center in Henderson. The Desert Dogs of the National Lacrosse League launch their inaugural season in a few weeks at Mandalay Bay.
That’s a lot of teams who are vying for your attention and your wallet. But maybe the love of football triumphs and the Vipers and the XFL manage to make it work here.
“This means everything to me,” McClendon said. “If I didn’t get this chance, I’d probably hang it up and get into coaching.
“But they said it was going to come back after 2020 and I knew they were going to figure it out. With the ownership and the marketing they’re putting into it, I know it’ll work here.”
History says it likely won’t. But maybe enough people will smell what The Rock is cookin’ and the XFL is a success and McClendon and Perez can still get paid to play football.