The XFL Returns with Entertaining Week One Games

The XFL returned on Feb. 18-19 with four games kicking off around the country. The return marked three years since the league’s original comeback in 2020 that ended abruptly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The shutdown ultimately caused the XFL to file for bankruptcy. In Aug. 2020, actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and others purchased the XFL. Johnson continuously advertised the league and made his presence known in week one by attending all four games over the weekend.

The first game back between the Vegas Vipers and Arlington Renegades was the first of three one-possession games. The contest was a tale of two halves for the Vipers, who came out firing with a 14-3 lead at halftime only to turn the ball over multiple times in the second half and see their lead disappear.

The game came right down to the wire with the Vipers, now trailing, scoring a touchdown with 8 seconds left to make it 22-20. Still down by two, the Vipers attempted a two-point conversion to tie the game only to be sacked by defensive lineman T.J. Barnes. The game ended with the first fourth-and-fifteen attempt of the season, the XFL’s alternative to onside kicks. The attempt by the Vipers was unsuccessful and the game ended with a 22-20 win for the Renegades.

The only blowout win of the weekend came in the Houston Roughnecks’ 33-12 victory over the Orlando Guardians. The Roughnecks, coached by ex-NFL head coach Wade Phillips, dominated on both sides of the ball. They scored 24 unanswered points and finished with seven sacks and three interceptions as a team on defense. Former New York Giants defensive lineman Trent Harris was unstoppable for the Roughnecks, collecting four of the seven sacks.

After scoring a touchdown on their first drive, the Guardians struggled to get anything going on offense with former Denver Broncos quarterback, Paxton Lynch, eventually being benched in the third quarter. The game ended quietly with the last two drives for the Guardians ending in interceptions, both thrown by backup quarterback Quinten Dormady.

Sunday’s doubleheader began with the St. Louis Battlehawks and San Antonio Brahmas facing off in front of 24,245 fans at the Alamodome, nearly double the amount of any other game in week one. The first three quarters were a defensive battle with seven punts and the only points coming from three field goals.

The game changed in the blink of an eye in the fourth quarter as the Battlehawks staged a comeback after trailing 15-3 with three minutes remaining. Veteran NFL quarterback A.J. McCarron led the Battlehawks down the field in eight plays resulting in a touchdown.

After the touchdown, the Battlehawks attempted and converted a three-point conversion from the 10-yard line, an option that has been implemented by both the XFL and USFL. After attempting and completing an onside fourth-and-fifteen try, the Battlehawks maintained possession and drove down the field once again. The drive was capped off with a 14-yard touchdown pass to former Buffalo Bills seventh-round pick Austin Proehl, securing the victory for the Battlehawks with a final score of 18-15 over the Brahmas.

The final game of the XFL’s opening weekend was between the Seattle Sea Dragons and D.C. Defenders. The Sea Dragons started hot in both halves, with former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Ben DiNucci leading the team to touchdowns on both opening drives. However, these were the only touchdowns of the game for Seattle who were shut down by the Defender’s defense.

Former NFL wide receiver Josh Gordon had a solid game recording six receptions for 74 yards and a touchdown for Seattle. The Defenders scored the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter, and the game concluded with the last five drives ending in four turnovers and a punt.

The Defenders came away with a 22-18 win, yet the game will likely be remembered for one of the strangest crowd moments. D.C. fans formed a beer snake made of empty beer cups when security guards intervened and took it away. The angered D.C. fans began throwing lemons onto the field, pausing the game as the fans started a “free the snake” chant.

One cause for concern for the XFL will be the disappointing TV viewership numbers. Even though the games were broadcasted at the same times as in the 2020 debut, this year’s viewership was down at least 50% for every game. An attempt to bring back a historically unsuccessful league with a small market of fans has not gone as planned so far, but as the season goes along the league could start to see spikes in the total of fans that tune into the games.