XFL: Dwayne Johnson มอบโอกาสให้ผู้มีความหวังใน NFL ประสบความสำเร็จในจุดที่เขาล้มเหลว
Choctaw Stadium falls silent as the hulking figure of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson takes to the field, microphone in hand.
The American football league is now owned by Johnson and his ex-wife Dany Garcia, who are both here for a “historic day”.
It has taken them three years to create an innovative, ground-breaking league, which has given 400 players a chance to succeed where Johnson failed – by making it to the NFL.
“I’ve been there when they told you that the dream is over,” Johnson tells the two teams. “But here’s the truth: your dream is just beginning.
“You’re going to show the world what it’s like to be truly hungry, with that chip on your shoulder. I know, because I’ve got that same chip.”
Three months on, Johnson will be at Saturday’s championship game (01:00 BST, Sunday), when this season’s best players get one last opportunity to show just how hungry they are.
‘Football was going to be our ticket out’
Johnson may have become a world-famous wrestling star and actor but before all that he wanted to be a professional football player.
Johnson played at the University of Miami, where he met Garcia, and helped them become national champions in 1991.
But after graduating in 1995, he was not selected in the NFL Draft. Despite then signing with a Canadian Football League team, Johnson was released two months into the 1995 season.
“This was our life, coming out of university,” he said. “It was the dream to play football and to make it.
“That was going to be the ticket out. But it never happened for me and for us.”
Instead, Johnson followed his father’s footsteps into professional wrestling while Garcia forged a successful career in finance. And despite separating in 2007, they remain friends and business partners.
Yet Johnson’s failure to make it to the NFL still rankles. In 2012 he and Garcia founded a TV and film production company called Seven Bucks – the amount of money Johnson had in his pocket when cut by the Calgary Stampeders.
It has also provided the inspiration for the latest iteration of the XFL.
Garcia makes history as first female owner
Until now, no second-tier US league has managed to establish itself beneath the NFL, although various spring leagues have attempted to fill the football void after the Super Bowl brings the curtain down on the NFL season each February.
The XFL initially tried in 2001, only to be abandoned after one season, and a revamped XFL filed for bankruptcy after the 2020 season was halted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Garcia put the idea of buying the league to her ex-husband and, when they completed a $15m deal for the XFL’s assets in August 2020, she became the first female owner of a professional US sports league.
“We were going after something we were so passionate about, we were grinding through to get this acquisition,” she said.
“All of a sudden it was done and I realised I’d made history. That wasn’t the intention, but it’s inspired me to make sure that it’s a moment that has meaning.”
She and Johnson then promised to deliver a diverse, fan-first, fast-paced league. They secured a five-year broadcast deal with ESPN and the Walt Disney Group, and a multi-year partnership with Under Armour, who are producing the uniforms for all eight teams.
How is the XFL different?
Johnson has said he wishes there was a league like the XFL around when he graduated as he “never got that shot to prove myself”.
After leaving college, many players who go undrafted never play again. The same goes for those who spend time on off-season and practice squads with NFL teams, without ever making their active roster.
But the XFL allows them to prolong their playing careers, with some leaving department store and food delivery jobs for another chance to showcase their talent to NFL scouts.
The league’s new owners vowed to tell the stories of those players and build their profiles via social media and a behind-the-scenes docuseries called Player 54, for which players and coaches have been mic’d up during games.
There are 53 players on an NFL roster and, like many of the XFL players, Johnson considered himself player 54 – good but not quite good enough.
He wore a jersey numbered 54 at the season opener and the XFL tryouts, one of which focused on players from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
The XFL has operated from a central hub in Arlington, Texas, giving all teams and players full-time access to training facilities and medical care, with the eight teams travelling to their host cities each weekend.
The rules are also slightly different to the NFL, in a bid to make American football both safer and more entertaining, and the XFL has agreed to share its data and insights with the NFL to improve the game.
‘If any league owners can do it well, it’s them’
The rule tweaks contributed to a thrilling finish to that season opener as the Vegas Vipers almost pulled off a late fightback at the Arlington Renegades.
Renegades coach Bob Stoops joked that “The Rock called me with a minute to go and said ‘if you let them score it sure would help our TV ratings’, so we decided to make it interesting”.
For the most part, games have continued to be competitive and entertaining. Crowds have averaged 14,176, with the St Louis Battlehawks having the biggest, averaging 35,104.
Led by quarterback Jordan Ta’amu and running back Abram Smith, the DC Defenders finished with the best record (9-1) before they and the Renegades won the two play-off games to reach the championship game in San Antonio.
Speaking this week, Johnson noted the XFL’s “steady growth” this season and said the owners are “committed to playing the long game”.
Perhaps their biggest success has been that more than 50 XFL players have already been invited to train with NFL teams and compete for a spot on next season’s roster.
“[The new owners] are wonderful people,” Stoops added. “You love the passion they have to continue to build this league and if anyone can do it well, it’s them.”