“This is great!” he shouted.
David Susan is 32 years old. He is a government consultant from Northern Virginia. And this first game of a fledgling winter-spring football league made him feel like a kid. It was actually a good time.
The sunny weather with temperatures in the 40s probably helped, as did the fact nearly all of Audi Field’s 20,000 seats were filled with people having as good a time as himself. And it was nice that the home team was about to beat the Seattle Dragons, 31-19. But there was something else that boomed as people watched professional football inside a stadium built for soccer. The XFL is fast and filled with offense and crazy new rules that keep games interesting. And it’s also professional football in Washington, D.C.
“Oh, no, you don’t want to go to FedEx,” Susan said, nodding his head in the vague direction of the Washington Redskins’ stadium in Landover, Md.
Last fall, he went to watch the Redskins at FedEx Field. It was a game against the Detroit Lions, a game the Redskins actually won, probably their most exciting home game of the year. And he didn’t have anywhere near as much fun that day as he did standing toward the bottom of Section 115 at Audi Field, watching a league he had never seen, watching players most people didn’t know.
And, well, he only paid about $25 for his seat, which seemed like the best deal of all.
“I’ll be back,” he said.
If the first game of D.C.’s new football team is any indication, the average Defenders fan is a male in his 20s or 30s with enough money to buy an $89.99 Defenders jersey and $13 beers who wants to watch some entertaining professional football that’s an easy Metro ride away in the District. In other words, exactly the fan the Washington Redskins once owned and have lost in recent years. Again and again, 20- and 30-something bros at Audi Field lamented the drives to FedEx and the astounding cost of the NFL. At least for a day, they found football fun again.
Who knows what the XFL will become. There was once another XFL, started like this one by WWE owner Vince McMahon. That league, which lasted for only the winter and spring months of 2001, was about proving the NFL was a boring, overwrought league that needed to be more like professional wrestling. The first XFL game was played in Las Vegas and had cheerleaders in leather outfits dancing on platforms and a running back with the nickname “He Hate Me” on the back of his jersey. McMahon wanted to give a television audience full access and famously shouted “Let us be the voyeur!” on the eve of his league’s debut.
The XFL 2.0 is supposed to be about everything the first XFL wasn’t. In a way, that’s probably why the first game was in staid Washington. Rather than cheerleaders in leather, the new XFL doesn’t have cheerleaders at all. The gimmicks Saturday had nothing to do with skin or sex but everything to do with the game on the field — new rules that include an odd kickoff formation designed to encourage returns and the demand that after touchdowns teams must go for one, two or three points with tries from the 2-, 5- or 10-yard line.
“You can’t fundamentally change the game,” XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck (father of former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck) said as he stood on the field before the game. “If you change it too much, it won’t be football.”
On Saturday it felt like football. Football, in fact, with a fight, touchdowns, MVP chants for DC quarterback Cardale Jones (he threw for 291 yards and two touchdowns) and the XFL’s first Super Fan — Van Hurst — a former oil rig moving coordinator who lives outside Seattle and paid $112,000 to buy season tickets in all eight XFL stadiums.
Hurst, a Seattle Seahawks fan who has become weary at the cost of NFL tickets, came to Saturday’s game with a small group, including Lorin “Big Lo” Sandretzky, a 300-plus-pound man famous for being “Seattle’s biggest sports fan,” because Hurst wants to be at the start of something big. He thinks there is a yearning in America for more football, “a religion” Luck called it, and he believes the XFL will satisfy that thirst.
Time will tell how the XFL will play out. Players and coaches said they were still getting accustomed to the new rules. Former Redskins coach Jim Zorn, who coaches the Dragons, said he was looking forward to going for three if Seattle had scored late, hoping to draw within a field goal of tying the game. Dragons center Dillon Day blurted a word that begins with “F” and is not appropriate for network television during a midgame ESPN interview that immediately became the league’s first viral moment.
Day didn’t seem to realize just how viral his moment was until he looked at his phone after the game and saw the flood of messages and mentions. Asked how many of those messages and mentions he got, Day flicked back his long blond hair and said: “I’m still looking.”
Then he walked down an Audi Field concourse, heading for the bus, left to contemplate the fine line between fame and infamy, much the way the new version of the second XFL’s wrestling owner must confront the same question.
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