The first XFL consisted of eight teams from two divisions – The Eastern Division and The Western Division. The Eastern Division had four teams – The Birmingham Thunderbolts, The Chicago Enforcers, The New York/New Jersey Hitmen and The Orlando Rage. The Western Division also had four teams – The Las Vegas Outlaws, The Los Angeles Xtreme, The Memphis Maniax and The San Francisco Demons. The eventual champions of the inaugural season of the XFL were The Los Angeles Xtreme. Each one of these eight teams were unique in its own way and they have had success despite only one team becoming the eventual champions. You can check out the history of each of the teams below:
Below is the history of The Birmingham Thunderbolts:
The Birmingham Thunderbolts finished the inaugural season of the XFL in last place with the worst record in the league at 2-8. The Thunderbolts played their home games at Birmingham’s legendary Legion Field. They were coached by Brooklyn-native Gerry DiNardo, a former star player at the University of Notre Dame, and previously a head coach at Vanderbilt University and Louisiana State University. Following the collapse of the XFL, he went on to coach at Indiana University. One of DiNardo’s assistants with the Thunderbolts was his predecessor at LSU, Curley Hallman. The team’s colors were purple, yellow, and white. Their logo was a stylized ‘B’ with six lightning bolts extending from it. On the teams helmets, the logo was placed at the front, instead of the customary position on each side, with only the upper three lightning bolts visible. The team was frequently referred to by fans and the media as simply the Bolts. The team’s merchandise almost always used the shortened Bolts moniker.
Allegedly, the league had originally planned to name the team The Blast. The XFL had named all of its teams with references to insanity and criminal activity and the name “Birmingham Blast” likewise invoked images of the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church and of Eric Rudolph’s 1998 bombing of a local abortion clinic, two tragic events in Birmingham history. As the league soon realized that such a name would have been in extremely poor taste, at the last minute the league changed it to “Thunderbolts,” or “Bolts” for short. The team’s logo is said to be the same one originally designed for the Blast. The Thunderbolts were unusual in that their nickname was benign. While XFL players were encouraged to use nicknames instead of their last names on the backs of their jerseys, DiNardo banned Thunderbolts players from doing so. After losing the opening game to the Memphis Maniax, the Thunderbolts posted wins over the Chicago Enforcers and the New York/New Jersey Hitmen. These would ultimately become the only victories the Thunderbolts would ever see. The Bolts would finish with a 2-8 record.
Birmingham went through all 3 quarterbacks during the season. Former Florida State quarterback Casey Weldon was signed as the starter. Former University of Alabama quarterback Jay Barker was signed as the backup, despite the crowds (averaging only 17,000 fans a game, second-lowest in the league) chanting his name during the home games. Barker would become the starter after Weldon injured his shoulder. Barker suffered a concussion in Chicago when he collided with Enforcers’ cornerback Ray Austin while attempting a bootleg run on a broken play. He was replaced by third string QB Graham Leigh. After the league folded, head coach Gerry DiNardo joined the staff of Birmingham sports talk radio station WJOX 690, as did Jay Barker, who also did sports commentary on local CBS TV affiliate WIAT channel 42. Barker currently hosts “The Opening Drive” on WJOX 94.5 in Birmingham with Tony Kurre and former NFL kicker Al Del Greco. DiNardo returned to his college football coaching roots in 2002 as the head coach of the Indiana Hoosiers football team. The team was sometimes jokingly nicknamed “The Fighting DiNardos” in his honor. He was fired at the end of the 2004 season. He is currently a studio analyst for the Big Ten Network. Today, the logo lives on thanks to a youth softball team appropriately called the Birmingham Thunderbolts, who play their home games at the Shea Brothers Softball Complex in Birmingham.
Below is the history of The Chicago Enforcers:
The Chicago Enforcers’ team name was referenced to mob enforcers, alluding to Chicago’s history of mafia influence. Their fight song would later become famous as the entrance music for professional wrestler Brock Lesnar, who at the time had signed a contract with WWE but was yet to debut. The “Chicago Enforcers” name is currently used by the Chicago Police Department for their works team in the National Public Safety Football League. Originally, rumors swirled that former Chicago Bears defensive coordinator and Philadelphia Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan would be hired as the team’s coach. Ultimately, Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus was hired for the position. However, just before the season started, he resigned to take a position in the XFL office. He was replaced by Ron Meyer, a former NFL head coach from the 1980s who had not coached professional football since 1994 with the Las Vegas Posse.
Among their players was former NFL running back LeShon Johnson, who had played for the Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals and the New York Giants. He was the starting tailback for the Cardinals for most of 1996. He led the Enforcers with 6 rushing touchdowns, which was second in the league. They also had former NFL running back John Avery, who played for the Miami Dolphins. Their wide receiver/kick returner Roell Preston, who previously played for the Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers, and Tennessee Titans, held the distinction of being the only former Pro Bowler (1998 as a Packer) to play in the XFL. The team’s starting right guard, Bennie Anderson, went on to be a starter for the Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills, and last played professional football in 2006 for the Miami Dolphins.
The Enforcers got off to a slow start, losing their first four games with Tim Lester. At the time, Lester was working as a math teacher and assistant football coach at Wheaton Warrenville South High School in the suburbs of Chicago and played for the Enforcers effectively as a semi-professional player. In week 5, the team replaced Lester with the former Notre Dame Quarterback Kevin McDougal and the team went 5-1 in the rest of the season (winning their last four in a row), coming from behind to make the XFL playoffs at 2nd place in the Eastern Division. In addition to their potent rushing attack led by league leading running back John Avery, they were also known for their hard hitting defense. They lost to eventual XFL champion Los Angeles Xtreme in the crossover semifinals. The Enforcers’ radio flagship station was WMVP, ESPN Radio 1000. The team had serious problems as they have been having poor attendance and the pending renovation of Soldier Field at the time. This meant that, even if the league had continued, The Enforcers would have not. The league was exploring relocating the team to Milwaukee at the time of the league’s closure.
Below is the history of The New York/ New Jersey Hitmen:
The team’s general manager was former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver, and New Jersey native, Drew Pearson. The Hitmen finished in 3rd place with a 4-6 record. The head coach was former NFL assistant Rusty Tillman, who was not a fan of the league’s gimmicks or personalities – specifically commentator Jesse Ventura, who called him “Gutless Rusty” on a regular basis, as he felt that Tillman’s coaching style was too timid. Tillman, ever the professional, brushed off the jabs by Ventura and refused to respond. In the end, Ventura’s attempts to goad him failed.
The Hitmen were one of the teams to play in the XFL’s inaugural game. Tens of millions of viewers watched the Hitmen, who displayed a stunning lack of competence against the Las Vegas Outlaws in the contest (including a particularly ugly missed field goal and numerous miscues from starting quarterback and New York native Charles Puleri), lose 19–0. The Hitmen’s poor performance in that game was a major factor in fan backlash against the league in the weeks that followed and a prime example of the league’s failure to live up to expectations. The team benched Puleri in favor of Wally Richardson by Week 3 in hopes of salvaging the season.
Within the New York metro area, The Hitmen had a relatively strong fan following. Their average attendance of roughly 28,000 fans per game was second-highest in the league behind the San Francisco Demons and their attendance that seemed smaller since the cavernous Giants Stadium held over 79,000 fans at the time. The name “Hitmen,” which implies a hired criminal, was one of the icons of the XFL’s short life and the butt of many jokes about the league (quips of teams such as the fictional “Kansas City Shoplifters” coined by Saturday Night Live, for instance). The teams secondary logo features the head of a football player wearing an old style leather football helmet. The name was rumored to have been named after WWE Legend Bret “Hitman” Hart, but it was proved not to be true.
Below is the history of The Orlando Rage:
The Orlando Rage’s colors were scarlet, yellow, navy blue and white with jersey numbers in a unique jagged font. They played their home games at Orlando’s Florida Citrus Bowl, which was configured so that the upper deck was closed off and all fans were seated in the lower bowl to give a better appearance for television (a move that was effective, as the Rage had one of the stronger fan bases in the league, with average attendance at over two-thirds of the lower bowl’s capacity). The team sold out all 36,000 lower bowl seats for its home opener. The team’s General Manager was Tom Veit, a former Major League Soccer Vice President and were coached by former Florida Gators head coach Galen Hall.
The Rage were one of the two teams who opted not to don nicknames on the back of their jerseys. In the Rage’s case, the decision was made by a majority vote of the players (despite the objections of starting quarterback Jeff Brohm, who openly embraced the XFL’s approach to sports entertainment and wanted to wear “J Bro” on his jersey).
Jeff Brohm, at the time also under contract to the Cleveland Browns, was the quarterback of the Rage for most of the regular season, amassing a 6–0 record as starter during his first time at the helm. The team looked to be the league’s powerhouse franchise under Brohm and was on pace for a perfect season (coincidentally, Orlando’s next professional football team, the Florida Tuskers, would also win their first six games in a row before losing the seventh). He showed his toughness after he suffered an injury from a devastating hit by at the hands of Memphis Maniax defensive end Shante Carver in Week 5. Despite suffering a concussion in the hit and doctors’ advice not to play, Brohm came back a week later against Las Vegas, giving a rousing speech stating that he was returning because it was the XFL and he still had a pulse. The following week he suffered a shoulder injury against the Los Angeles Xtreme and his season (and playing career) was done for good. It led to him being replaced by Brian Kuklick after six games. While Kuklick filled in the role of quarterback acceptably, the team lost a valuable leader on offense. The team went 2–2 in Kuklick’s care. Kuklick, despite only starting four games, led the league in interceptions with 10.
The team finished their only regular season with an 8–2 record, the best in the league, but were upset in the first round of the playoffs by the 5–5 San Francisco Demons. Orlando had an early 16–0 advantage but allowed San Francisco to pull ahead and take a 26–16 lead by the fourth quarter. Using the XFL’s newly introduced three-point conversion rule on a subsequent touchdown, the Rage got within one point but the Demons successfully ran out the clock and won 26–25. San Francisco would go on to lose the XFL Championship Game versus Los Angeles 38–6. Many in the league were disappointed, hoping for a match-up against the two division champions.
Below is the history of The Las Vegas Outlaws:
The Las vegas Outlaws played their home games at Sam Boyd Stadium. On February 1, 2001, The Outlaws hosted the first nationally televised XFL game on NBC against the New York/New Jersey Hitmen.
Before the 2001 season began there was already a question if Las Vegas could support a professional sports team due to past failed attempts with: Las Vegas Americans (Soccer-MISL- 1984-85), Las Vegas Dustdevils (Soccer-CISL-1994-1995), Las Vegas Posse (Football-CFL-1994) Las Vegas Quicksilvers (Soccer-NASL-1976-1978), Las Vegas Seagulls (Soccer-ASL-1979), Las Vegas Sting (Football-Arena Football League-1994-1995) and Las Vegas Thunder (IHL-1993-1999).
The Outlaws were sponsored by Cox Communications, New York-New York Hotel & Casino, Station Casinos, PacifiCare Health Systems and Findlay Toyota. Just like the Posse (and the later Locomotives), the Outlaws had a difficult time selling tickets. For the home opener against the Hitmen 13,700 tickets were sold for a stadium that seats 36,000. There were only 7,000 estimated season ticket holders. Compared to the rest of the league, the Outlaws’ attendance was about average, at 22,000 fans per game. They were one of two teams (the league-leading San Francisco Demons being the other) to consistently play in a stadium that was more than half full.
Among the team’s players were the XFL’s most well-known, Rod Smart (later with the National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers, and the Oakland Raiders), who went by the nickname of “He Hate Me”, which appeared on the back of his jersey. He was originally going to put “They Hate Me”, but there wasn’t enough room. The Outlaws were coached by former Boise State and Scottish Claymores head coach Jim Criner. The team encouraged their fans to come up with a nickname. They selected the “Dealers of Doom Defense”. After a strong start, the Outlaws lost their last three games to finish in last place in the division with a record of 4-6-0, just one game out of a playoff spot. The team was the centerpiece of the 2003 book about the XFL, Long Bomb: How the XFL Became TV’s Biggest Fiasco. It was written by Brett Forrest of Details magazine.
Below is the history of The Los Angeles Xtreme:
The Los Angeles Xtreme played their home games in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The team had the league’s best passing offense and was nicknamed “L.A.X.” as a pun on the IATA code for Los Angeles International Airport. They finished the season in 1st place with a 7–3 record and defeated the Chicago Enforcers in the Playoffs and the San Francisco Demons in the Million Dollar Game with a score of 38–6 to win the league’s sole Championship.
The LA Xtreme were the only champions of the XFL because NBC dropped the XFL concept after the first season due to dismal ratings. Shortly after this, McMahon announced that the league would be dissolved. However, the Xtreme’s quarterback, Tommy Maddox, subsequently caught on with the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League, later leading them into the playoffs in 2002. Maddox also won the XFL’s Most Valuable Player award. Jeremaine Copeland has achieved success in the CFL with the Montreal Alouettes, the Calgary Stampeders, and the Toronto Argonauts.
Below is the history of The Memphis Maniax:
The Memphis Maniax’s name and logo were designed to lead the team’s fans into calling the team “The Ax”, a shortened form of the word “maniacs”. The Maniax Director of Player Personnel was Steve Ortmayer, who had become respected in the pro football world for helping to build the Super Bowl XVIII-champion Los Angeles Raiders. Steve Ehrhart, who had managed both the Memphis Showboats and Memphis Mad Dogs, returned as general manager for the Maniax. The head coach was Kippy Brown.
At slightly over 20,000 fans per game, the Maniax were in the lower half of league average attendance. This figure was higher than the Mad Dogs had drawn, and comparable to that of the NFL’s Tennessee Oilers during their lone season in Memphis, but lower than the Showboats.
They finished tied for second place at 5-5 with the Demons, but did not make the playoffs as the Demons had the better division record during the season. The Maniax were one of two teams to beat the eventual league champion Xtreme, and the only team to beat them twice, going 2-0 vs. their divisional rivals in the regular season; not coincidentally, they, along with the Xtreme and Demons, were the only three XFL teams to maintain the same starting quarterback through the entire season.
Below is the history of The San Francisco Demons:
The San Francisco Demons played in Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco, now AT&T Park, the home of Major League Baseball’s San Francisco Giants, despite having the smallest stadium in the league, they also had the highest average attendance (34,954). The fans had a cheering section nicknamed “The Hellhole”. The team was coached by Jim Skipper, former running backs coach for the NY Giants. In their only season of existence, the Demons went 5-5 to capture 2nd place in the regular season and qualified for post season play. In the first round, the Demons defeated the Orlando Rage, who had the best regular season record (8-2), by a score of 26-25. In the XFL’s Million Dollar Game, which was the league championship game and last game in its history, the Demons were defeated by the Los Angeles Xtreme 38-6.
The most notable Demons players were Mike Pawlawski and Pat Barnes. Both played quarterback for the Demons in 2001. Pawlawski and Barnes both played for the California Golden Bears. Pawlawski was signed by the Demons after playing Arena Football for the Albany Firebirds. Barnes had been invited to training camp by the Oakland Raiders.
Despite the XFL only having a single season so far, these teams really made an impact that up to this day their presence and their legacy is still being felt. It will be interesting to see what impact and legacies the new XFL teams will be leaving behind once the 2020 season comes to an end.
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