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Then and Now: How Vince McMahon and the XFL have changed

Yesterday, after months of speculation and persistent rumors, Vince McMahon confirmed the return of the XFL. The NFL competitor is the WWE Chairman’s second attempt at starting up a pro football league, after 2001’s XFL went belly-up at the conclusion of its inaugural season.

The XFL is yet another supposed “NFL Killer” along the lines of the USFL and the UFL (and, if you want to go back far enough, the old AFL). Despite how easy it is to paint Vince’s football league as a “dismal failure” the fact is ratings were not bad and the league brought some worthwhile innovations to the sport, most notably the “skycam” and mic’d-up players.

Will the second try succeed where the first didn’t? I don’t know. I think, worst case scenario: Vince drops a couple hundred million clams on a failure that at least forces the NFL’s hand in implementing some much needed changes. In that case, I’ll give him the thumbs-up and tell him good luck.

He’s got the money to burn.

Before you quickly dismiss it, keep in mind the nostalgia trip our culture is on lately. Roseanne is coming back; The Office is coming back; Murphy Brown is coming back, for crying out loud. People are more willing to give a second chance to something they remember — whether fondly or otherwise — than they are to something brand new. The XFL 30 for 30 did huge numbers.

I’m just saying.

Vince stated in the unveiling/press conference that he’d been thinking about starting the league back up for years, but it’s interesting that many of the points of interest he focused on were related to complaints many NFL fans had in very recent history. Sure you can always find griping about the refs, but only recently has there been such a snowballing fervor about “what constitutes a catch” or complaints about the over-politicization of the league (in both political directions).

There were a lot of noteworthy things from the hype video, opening statement, and answers to press questions that media outlets have been touching on. Here are a few things that stood out to me:

1. A red, white and blue logo has replaced the old “black and red” scheme of XFL 1.0. That, plus a few of Vince’s statements gives a very “jingo all the way” vibe to the league, from a marketing standpoint.

2. Simpler rules is an easy sell.

3. An open, supportive stance on gambling was the big surprise to me, but it’s a bold difference from the NFL, which has long held a “no gambling” stance as its official policy. This might be tied to the hype video’s focus on fantasy football.

4. Concussion safety is, like a simplified rulebook, an easy thing to say, but it’ll be much harder to achieve. Hopefully they come up with innovative ideas that also preserve the nature of the game.

5. Fewer commercials makes sense, especially since advertisers will initially be wary anyway. Games might be sponsored the way WWE PPVs are.

6. A faster pace, coupled with the promise of a shorter game might point to a constantly running clock. Fewer penalties and (potentially) no halftime will speed things up too (though I’ll put money down on there being a halftime).

7. A January-February regular season (presumably ending in March with playoffs and championship games) means competing against the NFL Playoffs and Superbowl throughout the first half of the regular season. That seems crazy, especially since he’s said he wants Sunday games. How are you going to have an XFL football game at the same time as the NFL playoffs? Will every game be in Cleveland?

8. The promise of “no politics; no social issues” was in response to a question about his friend President Trump (no mention was made of his wife working for the Trump Administration). He followed that up by all but saying players would stand for the anthem by rule. I think he’ll find a lot of support from fans...and just as much backlash. Wouldn’t a better way to implement a “let’s just do football” policy be to have the national anthem before the players come out (if you must have it at all)? Wouldn’t that remove even the potential for controversy? I digress.

Those are eight big observations I had, but none of them are the biggest. The biggest takeaway I had was with Vince McMahon himself. Despite my longstanding belief that Vince McMahon is a near-immortal Istari — who’d been traveling the earth for ages, doing good deeds and helping people in minor and subtle ways before stumbling upon an obsessive interest in pretend combat — I couldn’t help but be taken aback by how much he’s aged.

Look how far we’ve come from the first XFL announcement...

to today

Life comes at you fast.

It’s not just his appearance either; let’s be fair, he was 55 in the first picture and is 72 today. Everything about his presentation was different. When he first announced the XFL in 2001 he was almost bursting with arrogance. And why not? He’d just overthrown (in his mind) Ted Turner. He’d eaten whole his greatest competitor and was about to dump it out in a long sustained turd throughout the rest of 2001. He was a victor, a conqueror, and now he was going to take down the NFL.


Yesterday’s presser was a more reserved, modest-toned Vince McMahon, cautioning everyone that they didn’t have a full plan yet, that smart people would be running things and he’d be hanging way in the backseat, etc. All I could think was that quote by the despicable Henry F. Potter, as George Bailey came begging for help:

Look at you; you used to be so cocky. You were going to go out and conquer the world...

He talked in his presser about a “family friendly” XFL, where safety would be priority and the atmosphere would be inviting to all.

Holy cow, what a change from 2001, when the TV-14 WWF maestro introduced an XFL featuring “the scrum” where players would basically engage in a bar-room brawl to determine who gets the opening possession, while scantily clad cheerleaders bounced in jubilation. Now the TV-PG WWE Chairman is speaking gravely about the dangers of concussions and offering coupon days to moms and kids without even a wink at how much things have changed.

In 2001, the WWF was still in the glow of the ratings domination of the Monday Night War, where superstars like The Rock and Steve Austin were fixtures in pop culture (as wrestlers, mind you). The XFL 1.0 was a regular attraction on WWF TV, with everyone from Undertaker to Steve Austin to Steve Blackman pimping XFL merch between matches. Today, Vince was adamant that WWE and XFL 2.0 would not intermingle, and that his new venture, Alpha Entertainment, would be and remain a separate entity from WWE inc. WWE today isn’t what the WWF was in 2001 and Vince seems honest about that.

After all, every question during the press conference that even mentioned the WWE was met with everything but an eye roll. As one Cagesider put it:

Vince is the only billionaire in the world that hates the very thing that made him rich.

Speaking of candor, the man stood in front of a world wide (web) audience and said “3-4 hours is too long to watch a football game. We want to get that down to 2 hours.”

something snarky something snarky something snarky

And, just for kicks and giggles he insulted the NFL for having too many commercial breaks and yet we get fifteen-minute matches with two commercial breaks horned-in in the meanwhile.

It’s like XFL Vince is this normal, reasonable, level headed manager who listens to wise counsel and makes clear, logical choices. Meanwhile WWE Vince is a capricious, myopic egomaniac, chasing crazy ideas with the attention span of a bumblebee and just YOLOing his way through life, cognitively dissonant about how much better his product was when it was delivered in two-hour chunks, with fewer commercial breaks interrupting the action.

If you want to see how much Vince has changed since the Attitude Era/Monday Night War ended, there it is. I can’t think of a better contrast than how the XFL was revealed in 2001 vs. how it was revealed yesterday.

Sound off, Cagesiders: Do you think the XFL will succeed where the first attempt did not? Will WWE be better or worse with Vince’s attention split between them? If you ask me, despite what he says about keeping WWE and the XFL separate, I can easily see him using his wrestling empire as a bargaining chip. Imagine him pushing a bidding war between Fox and Comcast/NBC for the rights to air XFL games, tossing in ownership of WWE as the cherry on top.

In other words, whoever buys, say, a three season commitment to the XFL gets ownership of WWE and the rights to air Raw and SmackDown, etc.

If you think that’s crazy, you don’t know Vince McMahon, a man whose “go big or go home” philosophy is legendary.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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