The Sporting Life

Seattle, Are You Ready for Some Extreme Football?

A resurrected league hopes to excite during the Seahawks’ off-season doldrums.

By Tricia Romano December 23, 2019 Published in the January/February 2020 issue of Seattle Met

The Super Bowl is about to come and go, which means we’ll have to endure seven long, agonizing months without football. Or at least football as we know it. Because here comes the revamped XFL’s first season, beginning February 2020. Seattle’s got a team, the not-so-aptly named Dragons, and they’re coached by a legend, former Seahawks quarterback and assistant coach Jim Zorn.

And there the Seahawks shine pretty much ends.

Vince McMahon, the owner of the World Wrestling Federation (now the WWE), first started the XFL in 1999 on NBC. It only lasted a season, 2001, when the ratings tanked and the experiment lost millions of dollars.

You may remember XFL, if you remember it at all, as an amalgamation. For the players it’s halfway between a college game and the NFL, ostensibly an audition for the big leagues. For you, the viewer, it’s American football meets Thunderdome. Faster, harder hitting, and—with almost no breaks in play time—potentially harsher on players’ bodies.

For the traditional game’s inevitable risks—including degenerative brain disease from head injuries—many NFL players stand to make millions (the median annual salary for NFL players is $860,000). But XFL players aren’t making NFL money. The XFL offers an annual base salary of $27,040, plus per-game bonuses and weekly win bonuses, for a potential average annual salary of $55,000. Not bad for a desk job, but a terrible rate when you consider the risk of serious injury.

Similar to its inception, this new take on the XFL wants to draw out contrasts between itself and the NFL’s reputation as the “No Fun League,” with a smaller number of teams (just eight this go-round) in two divisions, fewer rules, and more exciting plays. The old XFL did away with the coin toss in favor of an “opening scramble” which led to one player dislocating his shoulder.

That’s over, but there are other major differences to the NFL: As with soccer the play clock doesn’t stop (so no more standing around); overtime also mirrors soccer with a shoot-out from the five-yard line and five attempts to score; in kickoff returns, players can’t move until the ball is caught.

When the Seattle Dragons begin their first home game against the Tampa Bay Vipers we’ll see a version of football—a version first created under the auspices of pro wrestling—that’s more aggressive and with new rules.

Maybe that’s your thing. Maybe seven months waiting for the Hawks to return isn’t that long after all.

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