After months of speculation, skepticism and anticipation, we now have two weeks of the XFL season under our belt. While the first week’s games showed promising attendance and viewership among fans, the true first test for the XFL would be maintaining that momentum moving into the week two games.
After watching bits and pieces of the week one games, I made the trip to Washington, D.C. last Saturday for the D.C. Defenders versus New York Guardians game to check out the XFL for myself. From a football standpoint, I didn’t know what to expect going into the game. That being said, I think it’s fair to say that the level of play was on par with my expectations: solid football that was a few steps below National Football League (NFL) quality.
The Defenders dominated the Guardians both offensively and defensively, and while Cardale Jones was clearly the best player on the field (throwing for 276 yards and 2 touchdowns), there weren’t many plays that really stood out throughout the course of the game.
The play calling for both teams was a balanced mix of ground and air attack, but some of the lackluster rushes and missed passes and catches left me feeling impatient and waiting for a big play to break loose. Witnessing the kickoffs under the new rules was interesting the first few times, but throughout the whole game they mainly ended up with the returning team making it to about the 30-yard line before being tackled.
Late in the game, the Defenders attempted the first three-point conversion in football history. While the new conversion rule is a nice change of pace from the standard extra point, it seems relatively insignificant unless it’s late in a close game where teams are trying to stage a comeback. Overall, I’d say the football itself was watchable but didn’t jump off the page in any facet of the game as I waited for some more exciting plays to happen.
As for my experience from the perspective of a fan, I’m glad to say that I had a blast at the game. It was absolutely freezing for the entirety of the game and the concessions were just as overpriced as any other professional sports game, but the enthusiasm, antics and general atmosphere in the stadium made my viewing experience quite enjoyable.
Even after a slight dip in attendance from the week one numbers, the Defenders’ home stadium Audi Field still felt crowded and alive. I like the decision by some of the XFL teams to try and fill up smaller stadiums rather than having huge numbers of empty seats in an NFL stadium.
Audi Field’s maximum capacity is around 20,000, and with attendance for the game coming in just north of 15,000, the stadium felt much more energized as a result. Compare that to some of the XFL teams, like the Guardians, who are playing in NFL stadiums with massive capacities. In their home game last week at MetLife Stadium, the Guardians drew a little less than 18,000 to their 82,500 seat venue.
In what I believe was a combination of D.C.’s love for sports and finally being able to watch a winning football team, the D.C. locals showed out and were particularly rowdy. After each Defender score, I found myself viciously high-fiving the hands of the Defender faithfuls in the row in front of me. Every few minutes or so, a “New York sucks” chant could be heard echoing throughout the stadium as well as an “MVP” chant whenever Cardale Jones made a play.
The game of football and its players are known to be a little unpredictable, but this game took that unpredictability to a whole new level. There was a brawl early in the game after a Guardians fumble, and you could hear the players exchanging fiery words with one another. It was also a pretty cool experience to see Matt McGloin have a dismal first half as quarterback, call out his whole team on live television during an interview before halftime and promptly get benched for the rest of the game.
I even got to see one of the players up close and personal in a pretty hilarious moment. Right before the first half ended, I went to the restroom and heard some loud clacking on the cement floor. I turned to see Defenders’ wide receiver Rashad Ross running out of the public men’s room as he yelled out, “If you gotta go, you gotta go.”
Though it felt like a bit of a joke at times, both fans and players still cared about the game, and the Defenders fans were truly invested in the outcome. At the end of the day, I think the XFL serves its purpose. They know they don’t have the talent to compete with the NFL, but they’ve embraced the idea that sports are meant to entertain.
I left the stadium feeling satisfied with my viewing experience, and I can definitely see myself going to another Defender home game when they return to Audi Field.
For the average fan, it may not be a bad idea to get in on the XFL excitement early before tickets become pricier. While not quite as expensive as an average NFL ticket (which usually cost more than $150 and can reach heights of more than $300), the successful first week of the XFL caused ticket prices to jump 17 percent from the week before. In fact, average ticket prices for this week’s Defenders’ game were higher than the NFL’s Washington Redskins’ were this season.
I’m not sure how the XFL will fare long-term and how the viewership and attendance figures will fare in the coming weeks, but after witnessing the Defenders play the Guardians last Saturday, I can safely say that going to an XFL game is not a bad way to spend an afternoon.