The XFL is one of many professional leagues that have sought to capitalize on national and international excitement over American football. But before the latest revival, and before the previous revival, there was Year 1 — and with it, a collection of teams that formed the nucleus of a much-hyped start-up entity.
Here’s a brief breakdown of the original XFL teams from 2001.
Original XFL Teams From the 2001 Season
The first season of the XFL featured eight teams divided into two divisions: the Eastern and Western. Their names reflected the identity of a new league combining the basic tenets of football with the no-holds-barred attitude of professional wrestling. The following are some takeaways about each squad.
In any league, there has to be a “worst” team. Unfortunately for Birmingham, their beloved Thunderbolts finished at the bottom of the XFL’s standings in the league’s debut campaign, winding up 2-8. Even worse (perhaps), they lost their final seven contests by a combined score of 202-78.
The Enforcers nearly were helmed by Hall of Famer Dick Butkus. His presence on the sidelines could have bumped Nielsen ratings by 0.4 at minimum.
MORE: 2023 XFL Rosters
Regardless, Chicago’s XFL club might be remembered most for its bold midseason QB switch. They started 0-4 with high school coach/math teacher Tim Lester at quarterback. No, that’s not fair. Lester was a fantastic college player. But his skills didn’t translate at the professional level. The Enforcers then went 5-1 with Kevin McDougal under center.
Las Vegas Outlaws
With a defense known as the “Dealers of Doom,” the Outlaws’ identity aligned seamlessly with its home city and team name. The problem? A late-season slide that left them 4-6.
The club had some future NFL notables, including wideout Mike Furrey (98-1,086-6 NFL receiving line in 2006) and Rod Smart — the first XFL player to compete in a Super Bowl.
Los Angeles Xtreme
Twenty-one years after Extreme released “More Than Words,” Los Angeles released Xtreme. It’s difficult to say which was the bigger hit.
L.A.’s XFL team went 7-3 in the regular season and then swept through the playoffs to claim the league’s first title. Former (and future) NFL’er and eventual Super Bowl winner Tommy Maddox won the XFL’s Most Valuable Player award, throwing an astronomical 62 TD passes while rushing for five.
With an “Ax” logo that connoted maniacal horror film antagonists (at least to me), Memphis finished a lukewarm 5-5 behind the running of former Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam, as well as long-time NFL’er Jim Druckenmiller. Both were in their late 30’s, and yet both returned briefly to the NFL after the XFL folded.
New York / New Jersey Hitmen
Not sure this name would fly in 2023. It was a more innocent time back then, I guess.
Despite enjoying the league’s second-highest home attendance, the New York / New Jersey club struggled offensively, averaging only 11.0 points per contest. The rest of the league averaged 16.1. The 4-6 squad had a better record than their on-field play would have suggested — a reminder that fans don’t just want football . . . they want quality football.
The same year that filming began on the classic film “28 Days Later,” where people who became “infected with rage” were turned into fleet-footed zombies, the fleet-footed Orlando Rage dominated most of the season. They went 8-1 while averaging 22.3 points per game.
Then they lost their regular season finale before falling 26-25 in the opening round of the playoffs to the San Francisco Demons.
San Francisco Demons
Speaking of the Demons, their narrow victory over the Rage elevated them to the league’s first title game. This, despite going 5-5 during the regular season. They reached the postseason on the XFL’s first-ever tiebreaker, edging out the 5-5 Maniax, due to San Francisco beating them 13-6 in Week 3.
MORE: Current XFL Head Coaches
And how did they beat the Maniax? On a 22-yard touchdown strike from Mike Pawlawski to Terry Battle with 8:09 left in the game.
No matter the league, no matter the players, a team’s fate sometimes comes down to one big play.