No bleep, plenty of buzz

De­but fea­tures F-bomb, punt block and en­ter­tain­ment

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - FOOTBALL -

WASH­ING­TON — The de­but of the new XFL had a punt blocked for a touch­down, a juiced-up crowd roar­ing for big plays and a player swear­ing dur­ing an ingame tele­vi­sion in­ter­view.

The ac­tual football was hit and miss. Na­tional cham­pi­onship­win­ning for­mer Ohio State quar­ter­back Cardale Jones was the big­gest star on the field and took the mi­cro­phone to ad­dress fans be­fore the start of the brand­new football league.

“This is for the love of football,” Jones said. “En­joy.”

Jones’ D.C. De­fend­ers beat the Seat­tle Dragons 31-19 on Satur­day af­ter­noon in the opener of the new XFL that pro­vided plenty of en­ter­tain­ment in per­son and on TV. It’s far too early to tell if the XFL can take a foothold where its pre­vi­ous in­car­na­tion and the re­cently un­suc­cess­ful Al­liance of Amer­i­can Football failed, but ex­ec­u­tives are will­ing to wait and see.

“For us, if the fans who at­tend and watch at home feel as though it was a good football game and they had a fun time ei­ther watch­ing or be­ing in this awe­some venue with us, that’s suc­cess,” XFL chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer Jef­frey Pol­lack said. “We’re tak­ing a long term view in this. Suc­cess ul­ti­mately will not be mea­sured in the first game or the first week­end or the first sea­son.”

The first week­end is a chance for football fans to catch a glimpse of some of the few play­ers they might rec­og­nize. There’s for­mer Oklahoma QB Landry Jones with Dal­las, for­mer NFL quar­ter­abck Josh John­son with San Diego and ex-Navy stand­out Keenan Reynolds play­ing for Seat­tle.

It’s not the star power of the NFL, but bil­lion­aire Vince McMahon’s lat­est ven­ture is an at­tempt to cap­ture the at­ten­tion of hard­core football fans in the af­ter­math of the Su­per Bowl.

“Our ex­pec­ta­tion for this first sea­son is for football fans to sim­ply give us a look, give us a chance, sam­ple us,” Pol­lack said. “We un­der­stand that fan­dom is earned. It’s not given. We think that if you love football, you’re go­ing to love the XFL.”

In the league opener, a crowd of 17,163 al­most filled up Audi Field, home of Ma­jor League Soc­cer’s D.C. United. There was a buzz around the sta­dium in the hours be­fore the XFL’s de­but, with cars lin­ing up to en­ter park­ing lots and fans check­ing out a league-spon­sored tail­gate. Fans were al­ready sport­ing Dragons and De­fend­ers gear and queued up in long con­ces­sion lines at half­time.

“I didn’t have real ex­pec­ta­tions go­ing into the game as far as what the ex­pe­ri­ence was go­ing to be like,” Cardale Jones said. “If I did they would’ve been blown away.”

The lo­ca­tion of the first game made sense in the neigh­bor­hood of the NFL’s Wash­ing­ton Red­skins, who haven’t won the Su­per Bowl since 1992 and have just one play­off vic­tory in the last 20 sea­sons. Fan-made signs mock­ing the “Hail to the Red­skins” slo­gan and ask­ing Red­skins owner Dan Sny­der to sell the team were draped from a bal­cony.

The broad­cast in­cluded ingame in­ter­views with a kicker sec­onds af­ter he missed a field­goal at­tempt and a de­fender in­volved in a scrum that led to a penalty. Seat­tle’s Dil­lon Day dropped an F-bomb that made it to the air­waves and went vi­ral.

On the field, the play was a mix of tra­di­tional col­lege and pro style with some twists. There was no coin toss, and when Reynolds fielded the open­ing kick­off, he did so with ev­ery­one else on the field stand­ing still as part of a rule im­ple­mented for safety. The clock ran ex­cept in­side each two minute warn­ing with some other tweaks.

SCOTT TAETSCH /GETTY PHO­TOS

D.C. De­fend­ers play­ers Tyree Kin­nel, right, and Rahim Moore cel­e­brate af­ter a play against the Seat­tle Dragons on Satur­day in Wash­ing­ton.

D.C. De­fend­ers fans cel­e­brate dur­ing the sec­ond half of an XFL game against the Seat­tle Dragons on Satur­day in Wash­ing­ton.

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