He Hate Me’s legacy is a strong one. The Xtreme Football League looks like a bad idea left out in the sun for too long. It was an ultra violent, hyper sexuliazed, version of modern day football. Everything the NFL did the XFL did by going much, much further than the NFL ever would. Where the NFL refused to change or adapt to hold onto tradition and fans, the XFL could change and adapt in hopes of winning over those fans. Fast forward two decades later and everything the XFL was is embarrassing, crass, and could totally work again.
Worse than ever before, the NFL is still a stale and stiff league. Few people can actually explain what a catch is or isn’t, individuality is all but absent on the field, and scandal after scandal follows a variety of players throughout the league. That’s not even mentioning the NFL’s recent collisions with national politics and the debate over kneeling. To put it mildly, despite being the nation’s favorite sport, the crown weighs heavy. To maintain its status the NFL has to maintain the status quo which, in our modern times, constantly seems to shift. The XFL wouldn’t be burdened by any of that.
In fact we’ve seen this before, and not just in 2001. In 1982 the USFL was founded and for four years this league alternative actually put some fear into the NFL. They provided an alternative for players who maybe didn’t want to play their seasons in frigid Buffalo or Minnesota, they played their games in spring when no professional football was on, and they made some key rule changes. The XFL, nearly two decades past, would make some of those same decisions. The opening XFL game was in February, the rule changes were focused on speeding up the game and making it more exciting to watch, and the technical changes were soon adapted into the NFL. Without the burden of decades old fans ready to complain when overtime or punting rules change, the XFL just choose how they would do things. And it worked.
However if a modern XFL wants to burst into the sports world again, it needs to learn the original’s lessons. Cameras in cheerleader locker rooms and encouraging on-field violence and aggression needs to be severely limited. 2001 didn’t have the same injury or concussion concerns that 2018 has, another area of concern the NFL struggles with. But if the XFL takes its time, creates a quick and exciting game, and keeps their ambitions in check then the XFL can really go places.
The tragedy of leagues like the USFL, XFL, or even AFL (RIP by hometown Tampa Bay Storm) isn’t one of small potatoes in a filet mignon league. They’re stories of ambition versus persistence. The USFL let Donald Trump’s ambitions take over the league and their persistence turned into pestering and failure. Arena football became content with it’s small time football feel in the handful of towns it still exists in. And the XFL rushed itself into existence providing a lackluster product on day one. Second time’s the charm though, and Vince hates to lose. Maybe the XFL won’t last long, but it won’t last one season again. Expect to see a lot of He Hates Me jerseys in your local mall.