MORGANTOWN – On Friday, the XFL became the eXFL.
As in former.
As in gone …and, oh, we hardly got to know ye.
This was Vince McMahon’s latest venture into professional football. His first ended in folding after a year.
His second, the XFL, the league which he chose former West Virginia quarterback and athletic director Oliver Luck to run, ended in less than a year.
Mark it up as another victim of the COVID-19 pandemic, not a tragic victim like those who lost their lives but certainly a victim, for these people lost their livelihoods.
Was Luck a victim? No one knows yet.
Luck was not included on the conference call when the decision to suspend operations with no plans to begin again in 2021 was announced, and there was no announcement if he remains on the payroll.
While this came as a surprise, Luck surely knew. On Wednesday I spoke with him on the phone to inquire about the situation, but he begged out of talking about the league because of all the “uncertainty”, being willing instead to talk about WVU players who played in the league.
COO Jeff Pollock of the XFL spoke on the conference call and left no doubt, though, that the plug had been pulled, at least according to one staffer who spoke anonymously to the Associated Press and said “It’s done. It’s not coming back.”
What do they say, all good things must come to an end.
Well, this was a good thing.
True, with the NFL around it was always going to be a minor league, played in the off-season, but it had a place in an American sporting scene where the public will tune in to watch professional poker, hot dog eating contests and billiards. There’s always room for another professional football league.
And while this one didn’t have the superstars, it wasn’t taking people off the streets, either.
WVU, for example, sent five pretty good players to the first year of the XFL’s second existence in budding star safety Kenny Robinson, safety Dravor Askew-Henry, who has signed with the New York Giants; defensive end Will Clarke; linebacker Terence Garvin; offensive lineman Marquis Lucas; and defensive lineman Kenny Bigelow.
The truth of the matter is this league was issuing hopes to hundreds of college football players whose ambition had been burst by the NFL. The league allowed them to continue playing the game they loved while chasing the same dreams that started probably in their preteen years and were only stronger when they finished their college careers.
Go any season – but this one – to Pro Day on college campuses where there are 15 or 20 players taking one final swing at a professional career being put through the paces by NFL scouts and general managers, hoping to make one impression in one last workout.
How many would sign? Two? Three? Five?
With another league, a league that had gotten off to a solid start and that was taking a professional approach to offer a new look at what professional football can be, there were places for those who didn’t sign to go through a long evaluation period …and be paid for it.
Who among us hasn’t tried to cling to our dreams?
But there was more to it than the players. Coaches and their staffs had the rug pulled out from under them as well. Front office people, ticket sellers, vendors, PR people, TV technicians.
So many promises not fulfilled through no fault of anyone … just another sign of how all of this has taken every phase of American life and tossed it into the same quagmire of despair … football players to bartenders, the commissioner of a professional football league to the waitress at your favorite restaurant.
No more tips on whom to bet on, for there are no games to bet on, and no more tips for your waitress, for there are no restaurants to eat in.
For Oliver Luck, this just becomes another entry on one of the most interesting resumes in American sports.
Quarterback, West Virginia University
Quarterback, Houston Oilers
General Manager, Frankfurt Galaxy, World League of American Football
General Manager, Rhein Fire, World League of American Football
President, World League of American Football
President, NFL Europe
CEO, Houston Sports Authority
President and general manager, Houston Dynamo
Athletic director, WVU
Executive vice-president of regulatory affairs, NCAA
All that and he’s also the father of the former Stanford All-American and NFL star quarterback Andrew Luck.
All his life he’s been trying to push the traditional limits of American sports. He’s moved things and shook things up. He helped establish the game of football in Europe. He established professional soccer and built a stadium in Houston. He moved West Virginia into the Big 12. He tried to expand the horizons of professional football in the United States beyond the grasp of the NFL.
Oliver Luck may now be in a league of his own, but his fingerprint is all over the world of sports.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.