Football is back in Seattle after a brief month off, and it’s quite a spectacle.
The Seattle Dragons hosted their first XFL game against the Tampa Bay Vipers in an intense, defensive battle.
It’s relevant here at Field Gulls for a number of reasons. For starters, there are former Seattle Seahawks on both rosters. Most notably, Keenan Reynolds, who recently played for the Seahawks all the way into September, and had himself a big game.
It’s also the first opportunity in a long time to have something resembling a developmental league. If the XFL persists, it could be invaluable for learning about both players and rule experiments for the NFL.
But perhaps the biggest takeaway I had was that this is (mostly) good football being played in the same stadium, CenturyLink, and the fans are absolutely here for it.
If you think about it, there are only eight XFL teams across the country, and the fact that they chose the Seattle market to begin says a lot about the sports culture of the Northwest.
Pete Tenney, Director of Content for the Dragons, told me that they opened up additional seating for this game based on the response in-stadium and on TV to the Dragons’ first game in D.C. In fact, Seattle absolutely shattered the attendance of the other inaugural XFL games thus far. 29,172 people showed up in Green, Navy, Orange, and retro-Seattle blue in honor of Steve Largent. Average attendance across the rest of the league has been 17.5k.
The crowd received 20,000 orange towels (which felt noticeably un-Seahawk-like) and were dialed in the entire game.
Which was pretty good and hilariously very-Seahawk-like. Basically everything except the QB play reminded me of recent Seahawks teams.
You sure it’s not a Seahawks game?— depressed suns fan (@sportsisaac) February 15, 2020
For those who thought the XFL might fall into cheap, gimmicky, antics, I think you can put that fear to rest. None of the significant rule changes feel cheesy, and the in-game production and coverage is quite professional.
The change that has the biggest impact on the game seems to be the introduction of the 25 second play clock, as it affects every play*. Both teams ran out of time at least once, and it serves to speed the game along nicely.
*After further consideration, I’ve decided the extra-point changes make the biggest difference by far. Tampa Bay failed their extra point, while Seattle missed on their one point and converted their two-pointer. It’s going to make it so there are no more predictably familiar scores in a football game, which is kind of fun.
I was very proud to be both a Seahawks fan and a member of the Seattle area throughout the game. No, the offense isn’t very good. Mostly because of the inconsistency of QB Brandon Silvers, and the fans know it.
But this defense is good, and the fans know that even more. The 3rd down volume, the sack celebrations, getting up for a first-and-ten after a turnover, all of it spoke to a fanbase that is both knowledgeable and excited for this team. The energy throughout the game is absolutely enough to draw you in, even without the third deck of CenturyLink in use.
It also felt like a perfect fit for this fanbase, because a strong defensive line is what the Dragons have, the Seahawks do not, but Seattle fans are desperate for. Sure, this won’t get Russell Wilson to the Super Bowl, but for a moment, nobody cared.
Marcell Frazier, Stansly Maponga, Will Sutton, and Jeremy Clark are good names to know on this defense going forward. Clark has his INT in the first half but also got in on some tackles for loss. This line was aggressive, fast, and in the backfield frequently.
Back to the league: I think the XFL has some staying power. Director of content Tenney told me that the TV contracts are huge for this league in more ways than one. Obviously the revenue is better, and comes with increased production value for the viewers.
But he said the players are not here for the money. The fact that every single game will be in sports bars across the country is huge for these athletes. They’re primarily grateful for another opportunity to play for a national audience. Obviously, they all want the chance to see an NFL offer, though Tenney told me that officially the XFL simply wants players to elevate their own play to make its own game internally. It will be interesting to see if the XFL ever makes it difficult for players to leave, though that does not seem like the right move for them.
Because of that, this is not a cheap product. Might not be as good, but it’s not cheap. It’s a game meant to watched and enjoyed, and the primary rule changes (for now at least) make you want to watch, if for no other reason than we have no idea how you’re supposed to return a kick with all 20 dudes standing 15 feet away from you.
Lastly, I was very skeptical heading into the season, but I have to admit, that Dragon Orange pops real nice.
Fourth quarter, time to get #ForTheLoveOfFootball | #BreathingFire pic.twitter.com/IC317KDF8e— Seattle Dragons (@XFLDragons) February 16, 2020
Weird to have a team that’s not only blue or green, but at least we get to flip through the channels and wonder why the Denver Broncos are playing in Seattle in February, so there’s just another way the XFL makes our lives more interesting.