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XFL and Lent

David Cowles

Mar 30, 2023

“The XFL is just what a patient in withdrawal needs to ease the transition.”

Riddle: How is Super Bowl Sunday like Fat Tuesday? 

Well, both usually fall in the month of February, but I’m guessing you’re looking for a deeper connection than that. How about this? Each is a final ‘blowout’ before an ‘implosion’: a celebration before a deprivation!  

Mardi Gras is Biblical: seven ‘fat’ hours before seven ‘thin’ weeks. The streets are barely clear of revelers when the first rays of sun tell us that it’s Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent and its 40 days of penance (i.e., fasting), starting with a major hangover on Day One. Ugh! 

Who doesn’t hate the month of March? It’s supposed to be spring, but it isn’t. In New England, March 21st is keenly anticipated, not as the vernal equinox but as the anniversary of mega-blizzards past. And to top it off, you’re starving!

This is bad, but not nearly as bad as when the referee blows the final whistle, ending the final play of the Super Bowl. Normally, when you’re watching a game, you turn the TV off the minute the game is over; not tonight. On Super Sunday, you remain in front of the TV for hours, hypnotized by the final broadcast of yet another spectacular season of College and Professional football.

The winning coach has been doused in Gatorade, the final touchdown has been replayed for the two-dozenth time, the trophy has been awarded, the darn credits have even started to roll. You still can’t quite bring yourself to push the Power button to off

How come? Because this is day one of the winter of your discontent…and the spring, and the summer. Now begins the endless hiatus between Super Bowl and Training Camp. 5 horrible months – the butt-end of the calendar. 

Millennia ago, Celtic Druids anticipated today’s NFL calendar. Instead of the 4 calendar quarters we’re used to, they divided the year into 8 periods – one beginning 2/2 (Groundhog Day), another beginning c. 8/1 (Lamb Day) – one marking the end of one season, the other celebrating the beginning of the next.

Our society is finally starting to pay long-overdue attention to mental health; and the NFL is determined to do its part. Traditionally, after the Super Bowl, 100,000,000 fans were forced to manage their addiction ‘cold turkey’: no maintenance doses, no Methadone, no counselling, no support groups! The consequences are well documented…and not pretty! 

Enter the XFL – the NFL’s answer to the crisis of withdrawal. 8 teams, 4 games per week for 10 weeks, followed by play-offs. By the time the XFL season ends (mid-May), the opening of NFL training camps is at least in sight.

And the quality? Top-notch! These are not a bunch of NFL rejects. Many were drafted by NFL teams, and many have played on NFL teams, some for years. Some of these players are hoping to ‘get a second look’, some are undrafted ‘walk-ons’ who never got a full try-out, some are in the process of rehabbing prior to an expected return to the NFL. 

Others, like All-Pro receiver, Josh Gordon, are just looking for a ‘second chance’. Finally, there are a few skilled veterans, Tom Brady types, hoping to extend their playing lives by a season or two. All this and A-list coaches (Wade Phillips) as well.

The XFL is just what a patient in withdrawal needs to ease the transition. But as any lifestyle coach will tell you, sobriety is not just about giving up (Lent); it’s also about rebuilding (Easter). Again, the XFL plays a role.

Like a Broadway-bound play opening in Boston, the XFL season is an opportunity for Professional Football to showcase rules changes that might someday make their way into the NFL’s regular season. For example, this season we’re getting familiar with…

  • A running clock that speeds up play.

  • A super abbreviated half-time.

  • New rules re kick-offs and punts, designed to foster more runbacks.

  • College rules (one foot in) for pass receivers.

  • The right of each coach to challenge any one play.

By far the biggest change, however, is regarding the Point After Touchdown (PAT). Traditionally, teams have had an opportunity to add another point to their score by converting a chip shot kick. It’s almost automatic. 

The XFL rules eliminate the option to kick for a PAT. Instead, teams have a chance to add one, two or three points to a 6 point touchdown…but they must run or pass to get it. Score from the 2-yard line, get one point; score from the 5-yard line, 2 points; from the 10-yard line, 3 points.

Now, a touchdown can be worth as much as 9 points; but the likelihood of having to settle for just 6 points is greatly increased. So, how are teams dealing with this extended palette? Poorly in my estimation. 

The new rules should have created a fascinating web of strategic considerations. In fact, some teams just routinely go for 2 points, almost regardless of the circumstances. It would be like playing Rock-Paper-Scissors and always throwing Rock. Others mix it up, but not always according to any transparent logic. 

Looking back at history from my vantage, we’d likely all agree that “something’s lost, but something’s gained.” Put XFL on the “gain” side of the cosmic ledger.

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