ON FEBRUARY 8, MERE DAYS AFTER THE SUPER BOWL’S final whistle, a new football league will kick off in Clutch City. The XFL—created by World Wrestling Entertainment chairman and CEO Vince McMahon and, by the way, not short for anything whatsoever—will host one of its very first two games right here in Houston, with a contest between the Los Angeles Wildcats and our own Houston Roughnecks at UH’s TDECU Stadium. “We’re extending the football calendar,” says Roughnecks president Brian Michael Cooper, “and I think that spring football has a place in our sports landscape.” Do you have questions about all this? So did we...
Wait, wasn’t there an XFL already, like 20 years ago?
Yes. In 2001, in partnership with Dick Ebersol of NBC, McMahon launched the original XFL as an aggressive, WWE-style antidote to the NFL. Instead of a coin toss, the XFL featured a race to the football. During one of these races a player separated his shoulder. Famously, the league also allowed nicknames like “HE HATE ME” instead of last names on jerseys.
Are we going to see all those things this time around?
No. “It’s a totally different thing from the XFL of 2001,” says Cooper. “It focuses much more on football, and that’s from the top down.” And this time around, no nicknames.
So it’s an NFL copycat?
There will be differences. The XFL wants a faster pace, so the clock will last 25 seconds per play instead of the NFL’s 40. After touchdowns, teams will have the opportunity to score extra points, not by kicking but by lining up traditional plays 2, 5, or 10 yards away from the end zone. Meanwhile, during the final two minutes of each half, the XFL will stop the clock after every play, unlike the NFL, which lets it continue to run if the ball’s in bounds. That means a better opportunity to score.
What about player safety?
McMahon has said that the XFL will take concerns about concussions seriously. At least one new rule is meant to make the game safer: During kickoffs blockers will start just five yards apart, meaning fewer full-speed collisions. The league also has created a player-health advisory board. Still, it is football.
Why the Roughnecks?
“Oil workers get up in the morning and have that quiet resiliencyandworkhard,”says Cooper. “You look at Hurricane Harvey, for example, and the resiliency and ability to help each other out and roll up their sleeves and get things done—the residents here have qualities that separate Houston from other towns.” Team colors will be red, navy, and gray, with an oil derrick logo that both emphasizes the H shape and recalls the classic Oilers emblem.
Will politics come into play?
There won’t be even the faintest pretense of woke-ness on the league’s part. At its 2018 introductory press conference, McMahon stated that players will not be allowed to kneel during the “Star Spangled Banner” to protest racial injustice, as NFL players such as Colin Kaepernick have done. “People don’t want social and political issues coming into play when they are trying to be entertained,” he said.
Who will fans want to know?
The Roughnecks’ GM and head coach is June Jones, who Houstonians know from his time with the Oilers and the USFL’s Gamblers. Throughout his career Jones has been one of the champions of the game-changing run-and-shoot offense, so look for more of that in the XFL. Quarterback Connor Cook, who started a playoff game for the Raiders in 2016 (against the Texans), has signed on as a Roughneck, as has six-two, 330-pound defensive lineman Olive Sagapolu, who can do a standing backflip and plays ukulele. There’s even a couple of former Texans, wide receiver Sammie Coates and defensive back Robert Nelson. “We’re gonna have players that you’re gonna know,” says Cooper, “and players that you’re gonna want to know.”
How can fans watch?
You can get season tickets for the Roughnecks’ five home games at TDECU Stadium for as low as $100. Single-game tickets start at $24. Also, the team will be featured on ABC five times, on FS1 three times, and on Fox twice. Games are played on Saturdays and Sundays, except two late-season Thursday games.
Who else is in the XFL?
The East division has New York, Washington, DC, St. Louis, and Tampa Bay, while Houston is part of the West division, along with Los Angeles, Seattle, and—wait for it—Dallas. “You can’t be a Houstonian and not have a little animosity for Dallas,” says Cooper. That team, the Renegades, comes to Houston on April 2, for a Thursday-night game to be aired on Fox. Who’s ready for some football?