(Shenandoah) -- Can you feel it? Spring is in the air!
It's March 1st, people. Days are getting longer. The grass is getting greener. Trees are budding. Temperatures are rising. Birds are singing. Daylight Savings Time is one weekend away--which means all the complaints about Daylight Savings Time on Facebook are one week away.
And, Americans are excited about the pro football season.
WHHHAAAAAAAAAT? Didn't the pro football season end February 3rd, with the Kansas City Chiefs' triumphant victory in Super Bowl XIV (Congrats again, Chiefs!) No, I'm talking about the OTHER pro football league--the XFL, which started its season one week after the NFL's Super Bowl.
Surely, you've been following the XFL, haven't you? You haven't? Well, I'm going to write about them anyway. Besides, with the all the great coverage KMA's intrepid sports department has provided with the high school basketball and wrestling seasons, somebody needs to be irrelevant. It might as well be me!
For thus unaware, the XFL is brought to you by Vince McMahon's Alpha Entertainment--the same people responsible for World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE. It's actually the second incarnation of the XFL. Who could forget the first season back in 2001? Back then, McMahon and company tried to bring a professional wrestling atmosphere to pro football (minus the fakery found in pro rassling). Thus, you had cheerleaders on the sidelines with extra-skimpy costumes (Jennifer Lopez and Beyonce' had nothing to worry about). Rules were changed to make the XFL tougher than the weak NFL--like no fair catches on punts, for example. Cameras were placed on the field--with camera operators wearing helmets, praying they wouldn't get hit by a player.
Even the team names donated a tougher, glitzier brand of football. There was the New York-New Jersey Hitmen, the Chicago Enforcers, the Las Vegas Outlaws, the Orlando Rage, the San Francisco Demons, and the Memphis Maniax (that's not a typo--it was the correct spelling). These names sounded more like Mafia mobsters than football teams.
Perhaps the most entertaining aspect of the old XFL was allowing players to print nicknames on the back of their jerseys. Who could ever forget Las Vegas running back Rod Smart--a.k.a. "He Hate Me." Great sports history, there.
Apparently, not too many people liked the XFL. Ratings were terrible. In fact, NBC should have promoted the league as "don't see TV." After losing millions, McMahon wisely folded the XFL. But, miracle upon miracles, McMahon created a new XFL this winter, with the focus on--gasp--football!! No silly names on jerseys. No cheerleaders in revealing outfits (therefore, no Facebook uproar). Just pure football, featuring teams like the Los Angeles Wildcats, the New York Guardians, the Tampa Bay Vipers, the Houston Roughnecks, the DC Defenders, and of course, the St. Louis Battlehawks.
Okay, maybe the names still send shivers up your spine. And the XFL 2020 features its share of rule changes. But, with games airing on reputable networks as ABC, EPSN and FS1 on Saturdays and Sundays, maybe this league has a chance. At least it will go a full season. Hard-core football fans are still in mourning over the demise of Alliance of American Football, which didn't even make it through an entire first season before folding last year. Where are you, San Antonio Commandos, Orlando Apollos and San Diego Fleet?
In fact, the new XFL, and memories of the old XFL and AAF have conjured up memories of defunct sports leagues past. And, since this blog is a long read already, and its topic is, in fact, defunct sports leagues, let's recall some of the dear, departed sports ventures of the past:
---The United States Football League: From 1983-to-'85, this was the first to attempt to quench football fans' thirst for games in the spring and summer, with franchises placed in big TV markets. Boosted by ABC and ESPN, the league attempted to lure top-flight college players with huge contracts. Thus, Hershell Walker joined the New Jersey Generals, Steve Young played for the L.A. Express, Jim Kelly suited up for Houston Gamblers. But, spurred by New Jersey Generals' owner Donald Trump, the USFL planned moving to a fall season in 1986, and filed an anitrust suit against the NFL. While Trump and the USFL owners won the lawsuit, the league folded after receiving only $1 in damages.
---The World Football League: Take the WFL--please. Gary Davidson--the man who created the USFL, the ABA and other failed sports leagues--wanted to compete directly against the NFL by starting the league's season in the summer, airing games on TVS on Thursday nights, and signing big contracts with established players fed up with the other league. Despite a weird-colored football, even weirder-looking team uniforms (the Southern California Sun's magenta-colored jerseys were a sight to behold!), and overall a good brand of football, the league lacked one big thing--money, to be precise. Many teams ran out of cash, and either folded or moved to other cities. Players on some teams went weeks without paychecks. Launched in 1974, the WFL quit midway through its second season the following year.
---The American Basketball Association: Actually, the NBA owes a lot of debt to the ABA. Running from 1967-to-'76, the ABA gave us Julius "Dr.J" Erving, Moses Malone, George "The Ice Man" Gervin and Dan Issel among other future NBA greats. It gave pro basketball the three-point shot. And, there was the spectacular red, white and blue basketball. Moreover, four ABA teams migrated to the NBA: the San Antonio Spurs, the Denver Nuggets, the Indiana Pacers, and the New York/New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets. Despite being a failed business venture, the ABA's legacy is still strong in pro basketball lore.
---The World Hockey Association. One professional hockey league apparently wasn't enough in the 1970's. Fresh off his, uh, success with the ABA, Gary Davidson--yeah, that guy again--joined with other investors to form the World Hockey Association (French: Association mondiale de hockey), as direct competition to the National Hockey League. Launched in 1972, the league managed to attract some big-name players. For example, Bobby Hull jumped from the NHL to the WHA's Winnipeg Jets. Detroit Red Wings great Gordie Howe came out of retirement to play with his sons on the Houston Aeros. And, of course, Wayne Gretzky got his start with the Indianapolis Racers. But, teams struggled, and came and went. Four teams eventually moved to the NHL when the WHA finally called it quits in 1979: the Edmonton Oilers, Quebec Nordiques, Hartford Whalers and Winnipeg. (Some of those teams moved on to other markets, but I won't go into that here).
---The North American Soccer League: Remember when pro soccer was going to dominate U.S. professional sports? Yep, that was the prediction in 1968, when the NASL burst onto the scene. For a while, it gathered momentum--especially when Brazilian soccer superstar Pele' joined the New York Cosmos in 1975. But, interest in the league waned after Pele's retirement two years later. Burdened by over expansion in cities such as San Antonio, Memphis and Tulsa--Tulsa?--the NASL finally folded in 1984.
Those are just some of the most noteworthy failed sports leagues. Time prevents me from exploring other leagues--the Major Indoor Soccer League, the Arena Football League, World Team Tennis, the All-American Football Conference and World League of American Football, just to name a few. But, there are some alternative sports leagues that have been successful in recent years. Witness Major League Soccer, for example. Starting with 10 teams in 1995--and not given much of a success to survive--the MLS has blossomed to 30 teams, with rabid, dedicated fans. In the fact, the league is now celebrating its 25th, providing a niche for fans hungry for pro soccer in the U.S.
And, we'd be terribly remiss if we didn't mention how the American Football League changed pro football in the 1960's. Lamar Hunt and the so-called "fool's club" of AFL owners created an exciting brand of football. So threatened by the AFL, the NFL eventually lured the rival league into a merger in 1966. Thus, the modern era of pro football began with a new NFL in 1970 (which was the first year I followed the sport).
Yes, sports leagues have fallen by the wayside over the years. But who knows? With a spring sports world already saturated by college basketball, Major League Baseball's spring training, the NHL, the NBA, and, oh yeah, the NFL draft, maybe there's finally room for a spring football league.
I'll bet He Hate Me is loving it.
Mike Peterson is senior news anchor/reporter with KMA News. The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of this station, its management or its ownership.