It’s previously been suggested in this space that the current political climate in America could be conducive to an old-school football league that embraces the big hits and disregard for personal safety used to be commonplace in the NFL. As demonstrated by a lengthy Sports Illustrated article from November regarding the current state of football in America, fans seem to want it.
“Those attitudes from fans coupled with the messages that invariably will be sent by the incoming Commander-in-Chief,” we wrote at the time, “suggest that the time may be right for someone to roll the dice with $250 million or so in the hopes of launching a football league that would essentially operate like a modern-day XFL — loud, proud, violent, brutal, bloody, and everything that the NFL was before political, legal, and social sensitivities forced the league to change.”
Coincidentally, a dinnertime conversation between XFL pioneers Dick Ebersol and Vince McMahon attached to the tail end of ESPN’s 30-for-30 treatment of the Extinct-F-L hints that they may be cooking up an idea for something that may smell like football the way it once was played — with a not-so-subtle hint that one of the NFL’s most prominent figures may throw a third ladle into the stew.
“Do you ever have any thoughts about trying again?” Ebersol asks McMahon.
“Yes I do,” McMahon replies. “I don’t know what it would be. I don’t know if it’s gonna be another XFL or what it may be or how different I would make it. It seems like in some way it would tie in either with the NFL itself or the owners.”
“Well certainly the most adventurous owner is Jerry Jones,” Ebersol says.
McMahon nods and smiles. “Yes.”
“We both know him pretty well,” Ebersol continues. “You’ve just had a Wrestlemania with him. Jones is and was a real fan of what we tried to do and speaks of it even fondly still today as something that really was trying to fill a need.”
That need may not include a need to have sold-out stadiums right out of the gates.
“Why wouldn’t they want to continue with the product, and if the stadium is 25-percent full, it’s better than zip?” McMahon says. “So you need to come out of retirement, put the headset back on . . .”
“We’ll have to use our own money, because I don’t work at NBC anymore.”
“I’ll do it with you,” McMahon says.
“Yeah, absolutely,” responds Ebersol.
“I don’t know what else we could do that the NFL isn’t doing now,” McMahon explains, “but I’m sure we could find a way.”
With that, the 90-monute look at the XFL ends. And it surely was no accident that Ebersol’s son, Charlie, opted to cut the hours of interviews together in a way that culminated in McMahon and Ebersol rekindling under music that slowly became louder and louder the sparkle that they brought 17 years ago when the idea for the XFL was hatched.
Whether the goal was to put a compelling bow on the documentary or to plant a seed remains to be seen. Regardless, an argument could be made that, in several respects, the XFL was ahead of its time. With plenty of people wanting football to be played like it used to be, maybe the time has come for a comeback.