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5 reasons to watch the XFL: Hines Ward, Josh Gordon, Texas rivalries highlight 2023 return

“Ladies and gentlemen … this is the X-F-L!!!” 

For the third time, it’s OK to scream it out loud in your best Vince McMahon voice now that the XFL is back again. 

The original XFL lasted one season in 2001. The reboot in 2020 was suspended midseason because of COVID-19. Now, the XFL is back for the 2023 season with co-owner Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

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Opening weekend features doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday: 

Saturday, Feb. 18 

Vegas Vipers vs. Arlington Renegades 3 p.m. ABC
Orlando Guardians vs. Houston Roughnecks 8:30 p.m. ESPN/FX

Sunday, Feb. 19

St. Louis Battlehawks vs. San Antonio Brahmas 3 p.m. ABC
Seattle Sea Dragons vs. D.C. Defenders 8 p.m. ESPN

The league features eight teams in two divisions. The North Division gets the D.C. Defenders, St. Louis Battlehawks, Seattle Dragons and Vegas Vipers. The South Division features the Arlington Renegades, Houston Roughnecks, Orlando Guardians and San Antonio Brahmas. The 10-game schedule starts Saturday. 

So, what is the difference between this and the USFL? It doesn’t matter. It fills the football fix on the weekends, and there are a few intriguing reasons to watch this new iteration of the XFL. Each team has at least one good reason to watch. 

The XFL will have the same rule changes it featured in 2020. Extra points will be tiered – you can “go for three” from the 10-yard line. Teams are five yards apart on kickoffs, and overtime consists of alternate attempts from the 5-yard line. 

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Diversity in coaching

A pair of Steelers legends are head coaches for the first time. 

Woodson will coach Vegas, and he has former NFL quarterback Brett Hundley and Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant on the roster. Woodson last coached in the NFL in 2017.

Ward, a two-time Super Bowl champion with Pittsburgh, is the head coach for San Antonio. Former Wisconsin and Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan will be the quarterback. 

Ward, Woodson, Orlando’s Terrell Buckley, St. Louis Anthony Becht and D.C.’s Reggie Barlow give the XFL five minority head coaches. Of those five, Barlow is the only one with previous head coaching experience – and that was with Alabama State and Virginia State in college. Ward will get the most attention, but this is a tremendous opportunity for all five coaches. 

Flash Gordon sighting 

Seattle coach Jim Haslett is taking a chance on Josh Gordon, a receiver who has been in and out of the NFL since 2012. Gordon played two games with the Tennessee Titans in 2022. He’s arguably the most-recognizable in the XFL, and at 31 years old this could be his last chance to be on the NFL radar. 

Gordon is nowhere near the player who had 1,646 yards and nine TDs with the Browns, but we’ll see if he can still beat the defense over the top. 

MORE: Explaining the XFL rules differences vs. NFL

Three-way battle for Texas 

The XFL has three Texas markets that should generate interest. Ward is coaching San Antonio, and we’ll all be searching for what a Brahma is. 

Bob Stoops is back with the Arlington Renegades. Stoops’ name remains popular when major college football jobs pop open, and he was 2-3 with Dallas before the 2020 XFL season was canceled. Kyle Sloter, who passed for 1,798 yards in the USFL last season, will be the Renegades quarterback. 

Former Cowboys coach Wade Phillips is coaching the Houston Roughnecks. Will this be his final stop? Max Borghi, a former Washington State running back who averaged 5.8 yards per carry in college, could be an interesting fit in this league. Phillips also has four cornerbacks who played at Maryland on the roster. 

The XFL clearly is all-in on the Lone Star State. What will the television ratings be like in those markets? San Antonio, always an interesting candidate for NFL expansion or relocation, is one worth watching. 

The Crash Davis of quarterbacks 

The Week 1 ratings will always be there, but maintaining that interest in March always hinges on quarterback play. St. Louis has A.J. McCarron and Seattle has Ben DiNucci, who made one start with the Cowboys. Yes, Paxton Lynch is back, too, this time in Orlando. 

The standard at the position heading into the season, however, is Jordan Ta’amu, who is with the D.C. Defenders now. 

Ta’amu led the USFL with 2,014 passing yards and 14 TDs last season. He was third in the XFL in passing yards with 1,050 before it was canceled in 2020. The top two quarterbacks in the XFL that season were P.J. Walker and Josh Johnson. Both played in the NFL this season, and Johnson made a brief appearance in the NFC championship game before being injured. 

A look at the quarterbacks on each roster: 

XFL QBs by roster

Arlington Kyle Sloter, Drew Plitt, Kyle Anderson 
D.C. Jordan Ta’amu, D’Eriq King, Eric Dungey
Houston Kaleb Eleby, Cole McDonald, Brandon Silvers
Orlando Quinten Dormady, Deondre Francois, Paxton Lynch
San Antonio Jack Coan, Jawon Pass, Reid Sinnett
Seattle Ben DiNucci, Steven Montez, Harrison Frost
St. Louis A.J. McCarron, Nick Tiano, Manny Wilkins
Vegas Brett Hundley, Jalen McClendon, Luis Perez

Will they hold your interest? 

What else will ‘The Rock’ be cooking? 

With Johnson involved, the XFL should be entertaining. The 2020 version was more football and less gimmicks, and that steady product made the USFL successful last season (it’s back in 2023). The XFL will do a good job of bringing viewers into the huddle, but the trick is keeping viewers there after the first-week curiosity. ESPN is invested in the product, and play-by-play commentator Tom Hart and analyst Greg McElroy will be among the names in the booth. 

How will the league experiment to benefit the NFL? WIll the quarterback play hold up? WIll we see guest appearances from other names that still occasionally go viral such as Johnny Manziel and Terrell Owens? Nothing will top the over-the-top original XFL version, but “The Rock” knows what he’s doing. 

This league should be good enough for a second season.


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