February 6, 2001

Give the XFL Another Shot

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Did the football suck? Yes. Were the interviews annoying? Yes. Was it a stupid, vapid, ill-fated attempt at making football more interesting? Mmm, well, kind of.

But let’s give the XFL another week to decide — it was only the first weekend after all.

Had fans not given the NFL more than a week before deciding whether or not to reject it back in 1920, we may never have had the Super Bowl. A whole winter season may have been left naked without any playoffs. Is that even imaginable? Where would the world be without a Super Bowl? Where would we be without football? The H-word comes to mind . . .

The first-ever NFL Sunday was pretty wild — uncannily similar to that of the XFL. In 1920, 14 teams had formed an American Professional Football Association (APFA), the direct ancestor to the NFL (in 1922, the league was renamed to NFL). On October 3, 1920, four teams — the Dayton Triangles and Columbus Panhandles, and the Rock Island Independents and Muncie Flyers — together forever changed the face of America’s Sunday afternoons.

No longer was the day left to throwing darts at stray cats. There was now something better: football.

Dayton and Columbus opened to a defensive struggle as neither team could muster points. The Panhandlers reached the Triangles’ three-yardline, but couldn’t punch the ball in. The crowd spurred its hometown team on as a 30-yard pass from Al Mahrt to Dutch Thiele brought Dayton to the Columbus five-yard line. Unfortunately for the Triangles, the clock expired, and the score hung at 0–0. At this point, the crowd must have had one thought: “Boy, football sucks, when’s baseball start?”

And then the fun began. The Triangles gained possession of the ball on their own 35-yard line. In a brilliant display of running, the team sustained a lengthy drive to score the first touchdown of the game. The Triangle defense remained solid in keeping Columbus out of its end zone, and the Dayton special teams put the game away as Frank Bacon fielded a punt and took it to the house to preserve a 14–0 win.

Meanwhile, in the later game, a crowd of 3,100 watched Rock Island dismantle Muncie in less time than it took the team to form. Arnie Wyman quickly staked his claim for the league MVP award, scoring three touchdowns with two coming off of blocked punts. In the first quarter alone, Rock Island blocked three of the first four punts, each one resulting in a touchdown — two by Wyman.

In the second quarter, Wyman caught a punt and took off like a polar bear in a shopping mall. Blasting through tackle after tackle, he sprinted 86 yards to give the team a 31–0 lead.

Muncie was so bad it gave up two touchdowns to the Independents’ scrubs. In the game, the Flyers could pick up only 33 yards on the ground and 13 through the air. The Flyers got only two first downs for the entire game, and one of those came when Rock Island was caught offsides.

But then, the image of Wyman completely dominating the field stuck in the crowd’s mind, and they came back the next week. And the week after. And before they knew it, they were glued to the new-fandangled televisions. The seeds for Fox NFL Sunday had been planted.

So while you well-deservedly ridicule the XFL for its overdone interviews, pansy no-fair catch punts and not-naked-enough cheerleaders, just hold that image of former Miami Dolphin John Avery racing in and out of defenders for his 64-yard touchdown, and give the guys another chance. Things can change. The NFL did.

Archived article by Sumeet Sarin