“There can be only one.”
That famed tagline entered the pop culture lexicon courtesy of “The Highlander” — the cult classic 1980’s fantasy-adventure film series, and ensuing basic cable 1990’s TV series, about sword-wielding immortal warriors. Like those fictionalized warriors who obtained powers by beheading other immortals, the National Football League has once again proven that “there can only be one” when it comes to professional football.
Hell, the NFL is so powerful that the league doesn’t even need to slay its competition as the other leagues self-guillotine themselves before a battle begins.
The latest to do that was the XFL, which is owned by WWE CEO Vince McMahon and Alpha Entertainment, who after suspending the season after five games due to the COVID-19 pandemic made the announcement to suspend operations, and sources told media outlets that the league has also laid off most of its staff and is not planning on returning in 2021.
In a statement, “Given the uncertainty of the current environment, the XFL has suspended operations and is evaluating next steps.”
The next step being possibly melting down the league’s equipment to help construct a cage match for a pay per view event. It could be a submission match between Dallas Renegades head coach Bob Stoops and Houston Roughnecks head coach June Jones. Or better yet, make Stoops take on his Renegades quarterback, and supposed face of the league, Landry Jones. Stoops can body slam Jones for every turnover he committed in five weeks. That would be a lot of slams.
But I digress, the XFL shutting down operations marks the second consecutive year in which an upstart pro league has folded before completing its first season.
The Alliance of American Football (AAF) last year ran out of money and was forced to shut down after eight weeks of play. Not even a sudden $250 million investment by Tom Dundon (owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes) during the season could save the startup league from folding.
The demise of the XFL (for a second time) and then AAF once again shows just how much a juggernaut the NFL is in this football-crazed country of ours but also how we as a sports society really only have room in our collective hearts, and wallets, for one professional team.
There has been only one successful pro football league not named the NFL to succeed in this country since World War II — the American Football Conference that went head-to-head with the NFL back in the 1960s. Not only did the AFL stand its ground, but it won the battle and forced a legendary merger between the leagues that would go on and create the Super Bowl.
Every start-up league since the famed merger has foolishly believed they would create a product that would be successful and quickly be merged into the NFL or at least become some sort of a feeder system for the NFL — neither has happened.
Anyone remember the resounding success of the FXFL (Fall Experimental Football League) or UFL (United Football League)? If success is measured in having more than one season, then yes, they were huge hits.
The World League of American Football-NFL Europe had moderate success and even helped jumpstart the careers of Kurt Warner, James Harrison and former Ragin’ Cajuns star Jake Delhomme. Even with having the support and backing of the NFL, and talented players, the league folded in 2007.
The one that came the closest to not having its head chopped off was of course the USFL (United State Football League). The USFL was an initial hit in the early to mid-1980s as it provided fans with quality spring football and did so with immense NFL talent as the league poached college stars before the NFL could get their hands on them.
Future Pro Football Hall of Famers Jim Kelly, Steve Young, Reggie White, Fred Dean and Gary Zimmerman all starred in the league. As did former Heisman Trophy winners Herschel Walker, Doug Flutie and Mike Rozier and Saints Hall of Famers Sam Mills, Vaughn Johnson, Bobby Hebert and coach Jim Mora Sr.
The league suffered a painful and not so quick death after billionaire real estate developer Donald Trump purchased the New Jersey Generals and convinced the other owners to go head-to-head with the NFL by moving the league to the fall and sued the NFL.
The USFL was awarded a whopping $1 in damages and the league folded as Trump proved to be no match for NFL commish Pete Rozelle and his army of attorneys. Trump, as we know, survived the beheading of the USFL and now is the highlander of another league.
Not even indoor football has been able to survive.
The Arena Football League had a good run from 1987 until 2019 and had as many as 16 teams at one point (including the New Orleans VooDoo), and even its own developmental league (which included the Bossier-Shreveport Battle Wings). Due to dwindling attendance and ongoing financial issues, the league folded the first time in 2009, before coming back in 2010 and then closing up again in 2019.
Fun fact. One-time Philadelphia Soul minority owner Jon Bon Jovi had at one-time in the 1980s a hairstyle that looked like something out of “The Highlander.”
So why can’t other pro football leagues survive?
For one, the NFL has become such a massive corporation that it is nearly impossible to compete with. The league has the best players, coaches, front-office personnel, marketing, merchandise and wisely hitched its wagon early on to fantasy sports. Even when the league appears to be weakened by scandals (concussions, off-the-field arrests and on-the-field protests), it still dominates the ratings.
The other undeniable fact is that the majority of the sports fans only love the NFL and to a lesser degree college football. Yes, there will always be some out there that can’t enough football but that is too small of a percentage of the public. If people were really craving pro football then the ratings would be far better for any of the fly-by-night leagues that have come and gone over the past three-plus decades.
This is another reason why supposed rival has fallen by the way side as the NFL stands alone — with its sword still firmly in its sheathe.