Are you looking forward to watching the XFL?

by Gary Shelton on February 8, 2020

in general

Saturday, 4 a.m.

Do you have the jersey of your favorite player yet?

Better question: Do you have any idea who your favorite player might be yet?

Do you have your caps and your pennant and your bobblehead? Are you a fan of the Vipers and whoever is playing the Houston Roughnecks? Are you counting down the minutes until Sunday’s existence-opening kickoff?

Or do you care?

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That’s the big question, isn’t it? Does Tampa Bay really care about another pro football team? Is it all a-twitter, to the point of going into Twitter, to talk about the team’s quarterback?

Oh, there was a time when Tampa was on fire because of alternative football. The Bandits won, and they were entertaining, and it gave fans a place to gather to talk about how disappointing the Bucs were.

But this is a different day. The NFL is a 12-month-of-the-year proposition now. We still don’t know if the team will pay Shaq Barrett, or if it wants to pay Jameis Winston. We don’t know about the draft. We can only hope the defense starts faster.

Also, there is the Lightning’s stretch run, and the Rays’ promising season. The Bandits didn’t have to compete with either of those.

Here’s another question for you: Just what do the Vipers have to do to be considered a success?

Winning? That would certainly be a welcome sight. It’s been 17 years since the Bucs have won a playoff game. Put it this way: We’ve got all the disappointing football we can stand. If the Vipers are going to be lousy, spare us.

Fans? Sure, sellouts would be fun. But the Rays have lasted a long time without sellouts. But this team needs to be fun enough to muster some interest. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Continuity? Absolutely. The quick death of the AAF (remember that) and all the other fly-by-night leagues hangs over this league. It has to be in it for the long haul to give fans time to fall in love with it. 

Expectations? In a way, the old USFL had some successes. Then it thought it was the big time, and it strangled itself.  The XFL has to realize its place on the American sports menu. It will never be the NFL, or major league baseball, or hockey or the NBA. It probably won’t be the MSL.  Still, there is a profit to be made, and a niche to be earned.

Where will the XFL rank? Behind golf. Behind tennis. Behind the Olympics. It’ll probably be somewhere between the Rowdies and the Pelicans. If that’s good enough for the Vipers, they’ll fit in.

Here’s a story. In the old days of the Arena League, i once wrote that the Tampa Bay Storm was “a minor league.” Owner Bob Gries was so offended he called me to debate the point the next morning. “Just what do you consider a minor league?” he snarled. I responded: “Any league where every single player wants nothing more than to play in a different league.” He fell silent.

My suggestion is to treat the XFL as if it’s a new gadget you got  for Christmas. Give it a try. Play with it. And if you find out it’s not to your liking, put it on the shelf.

Hey, it’ll be nice to see how many fewer interceptions Aaron Murray can throw than Winston (guess: a lot). It’ll be interesting to see if defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville and New York Gladiators head coach Kevin Gilbride duke it out again the way they once did on the Oilers’ sideline.

I kid. In the old days, I liked Jerry a lot. I was in Atlanta when he used to swap cowboy hats with Bum Phillips. I was there when he ran the ill-fated Stagger Lee play in a playoff game. I was there when he and Sam Wyche sparred hard enough to make us all grin.

No one is suggesting that you dive into the XFL with both feet. But sports is a buffet. One more item on the menu isn’t going to hurt. 

As long as they score a lot of touchdowns.

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