The XFL is something that you'll find less information about in a WWE history book than Chris Benoit. Bad-tasting joke aside, the XFL was almost doomed from the start because of its WWF/WWE connection. But, based on what I remember, and a slew of oral histories, I can say this much on it: In 2001, Vince McMahon thought it'd be smart to fuck around and go up against the NFL, head-to-head.
He would do so with a mix of sports, sports-entertainment, and sports "entertainment" tropes, add in actual football, add in some "xtra fun" to counteract the "no fun," and run with it. Also, lots of NFL slandering (on a network which hoped to, at some point, get the NFL back on its airwaves). Vince, however, had about as much experience running a (legit) sports league as I have running a wrestling promotion. It was akin to me, after playing a bunch of WWE Universe Mode, saying "hey, holy shit, I can manage WWE. Let me go get a couple
The set-up was easy. This is due to the fact that Vince, NBC, UPN, and TNN smartly chose to launch right after the NFL season and before the Arena Football season. The execution, however, was shit. It was unmitigated, debauchery-filled, silly shit. For instance, let's look at the second game.
Since this was the X-fucking-FL we're talking about, we don't believe in pussy-ass coin tosses. "That was that fuckboy NFL shit," announcers et al uttered in so many words. The XFL had players scrounge and fight for the opening possessions and whatnot, kind of like rugby scrums. But, to make it "eXtra fun," the players were in full pads and helmets and usually didn't/never would do rugby scrums.
With that said, the first injury of the XFL happened during the opening scramble of the second ever game of the damn league.
Orlando Rage CB Hassan Shamsid-Deen suffered what pretty much amounted to a career-ending injury by separating his shoulder. What's worse is this: the XFL, much like its parent WWF/WWE, didn't provide health insurance for its participants. And they say the NFL is lower than dirt when it comes to protecting its players.
The games themselves were a mix of sports-entertainment fuckheadedness (including having Jerry Lawler call games, Vince sending in a cameraman to perv on the cheerleaders--which led to said cameraman knocking himself out and having a PG-14 sex fantasy about said cheerleaders, the cheerleaders looking like Trish Stratus circa No Way Out 2001, and mic'd up players, coaches, etc.) and sheer stupidity. The players were mostly NFL, CFL, and Arena League rejects who wanted one last taste of glory (and were paid about as much as a semi-pro-leaguer would be). The camera didn't really allow for viewers to comprehend what was going on. And the rules changed--or seemed to change--as they went along.
It was like Any Given Sunday meets The Replacements meets Sunday Night Heat, but no Jamie Foxx or Keanu Reeves to (somewhat) save the day.
After the first game, ratings and appeal dropped--and hard. People within NBC were distancing themselves from it. By the time we got to the final game, everyone was pissed at the end result in some way or another, and the league died a quick death.
So, was it really that bad? Yes and no.
The XFL itself was a horrible experiment by VKM to expand his empire. It was potentially, aside from his steroids debacles, the biggest blunder he and his team have undertaken. The league cost WWE and NBC at least $35 million--each.
However, we got some long-standing standards that have been integrated into the NFL, potentially because of it. The use of sky cams and "wired" teams have become norms and added to the authenticity of the NFL. Players such as Rod Smart (a/k/a "He Hate Me") were able to make a mainstream splash due to their unique, sports-entertainment-esque personas. Smart himself went on to play in a Super Bowl. We got the resurgence of Tommy Maddox, who helped lead Pittsburgh to a Super Bowl victory (somewhat) and to playoff wins. And, we got Ricky Ortiz out of the deal. That's something, right?