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Brendan’s Bits: XFL is a big hit Week 1 and has staying power

Before the XFL (Version 2), football-starved fans had the Alliance of American Football as their go-to source for spring football.

For eight weeks, anyway.

Now, the brainchild of renowned businessman and megalomaniac Vince McMahon is back, and the XFL gave the impression in its first week that unlike its predecessors, it’s here to stay.

The first four games for the new XFL were awesome. Just one week removed from the Super Bowl it stands to reason that football fans may be fatigued and in need of a break. After all, it was a tremendous NFL season and an emotional, exciting Super Bowl. But the XFL challenged that notion, providing a product that was just different enough to peak our interest while maintaining most of the principles of the sport as we know it.

And, most importantly, it was good football.

Last year, the AAF broke on the scene with tremendous fanfare, outdoing the NBA in the ratings on its first night. Several ex-NFL players and college stars gave the teams a hint of name recognition, and a real TV deal gave the league some legitimacy.

The love affair didn’t last long, though. The play was mediocre, the business side of the whole operation was in shambles and the league only got through 80% of its inaugural season before shuttering.

After a disaster like that, it was hard to believe that a spring league could do well, even in a nation as obsessive over football as ours is.

McMahon is a better businessman than Charlie Ebersol, though. In fact, plans the XFL was announced before ones for the AAF, giving the former a far longer period to set up their business and to get it all right. Salaries were clear from the beginning and the TV contracts are better than those of the AAF (ESPN and Fox are better choices than CBS Sports Network and TNT).

McMahon has also failed in this arena before with the original XFL. The mistakes he and his partners made the first time around, however, are old news.

Again, a high-quality product will be the most important factor for the league going forward. If the play is no good, the offenses look inept and no defenses can tackle, then we’ll be talking about the demise of this spring league by the start of the summer, too. Thankfully for the XFL’s sake, returns for the Week 1 games are positive.

The first game of the new XFL featured one of the biggest names in the league, Cardale Jones, and a D.C. Defenders offense that pulled out some trick plays and won a generally entertaining game. Houston Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker, formerly a standout at Temple, could have genuine star potential if he continues to play like he did against L.A. to start the year. The New York Guardians look like a well-rounded team while their first opponents, the Tampa Bay Vipers, look bad but are at least giving us a potential quarterback controversy.

Then there was the final game of the weekend, which featured Bob Stoops losing at home to a St. Louis team.

What a bizarre sentence.

New rules were also a storyline from opening weekend, and you can argue that all of the ones that were on display were a success. The kickoff rule, which realigns players on kick coverage compared to what we’re used to, is intriguing if nothing else. The new point-after-touchdown system, with one-, two- and three-point plays, is intriguing at worst and thrilling at best. We even got to see the one-foot rule (as opposed to the NFL’s two feet for a catch rule) come into play with a nifty snag in the Houston/L.A. tilt.

It’s important to stand out. Giving viewers a reason to have renewed interest in the game when we generally are ready for a break from football is crucial. We only have a small sample size to work with, but they’ve succeeded in that regard so far.

There’s a long way to go for the XFL. One good week, and it was very good, does not make the entire endeavor an overall success. Again, last year’s AAF debut showing was lauded and praised. But it’s better to start out hot and with positive reviews than the alternative.

If you’re a football fan, the XFL is worth your time. Skepticism in regard to whether or not it will last is warranted, given recent history, but it showed on its first weekend that it’s giving us a product worth consuming.

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