SPRINGFIELD, Va. — Roughly 100 players worked out at the XFL D.C. Summer Showcase on Saturday, and in many ways, the lineup had a geographical tilt toward the DMV.
The group included former Baltimore Ravens running back Bernard Pierce; wide receiver Vinny Papale, son of famed Philadelphia Eagles receiver Vince Papale, who recently attended the Washington Redskins’ rookie minicamp; and many others who starred at Maryland, Virginia Tech, Howard and other local colleges.
Several invitees had something else in common: They played until recently in the now-defunct Alliance of American Football.
As the XFL prepares to launch its own barnd of spring football next year, neither executives like commissioner Oliver Luck nor players pursuing their pro dreams seemed deterred by the Alliance’s failure.
Cornerback Dexter McDougle, a Maryland alumnus who bounced around five NFL teams and the AAF’s Arizona Hotshots, grabbed an interception in his first rep of a one-on-one drill opposite a receiver. His explanation for coming out to the XFL showcase was simple.
“I just love the game of football,” he said. “Any opportunity I have to play football, I’m gonna take it.”
McDougle said XFL officials did not explicitly make a case for why or how the league will differ from the AAF, which folded in April before the end of its first season due to financial turmoil. But he believes the XFL will be more stable.
“I feel like this league will learn from other leagues’ mistakes. Plus, they’ve already had this league before,” McDougle said, referring to Vince McMahon’s first iteration of the XFL that lasted one season in 2001. “I always learn from my mistakes and sometimes that’s the best teacher, going through experiences. This is a league that’s been here once before. I feel like they’re gonna come back and be even better.”
The XFL is destined to draw comparisons with the Alliance until it kicks off its first season in February. That might seem disadvantageous, but Luck understands that “spring football gets lumped together.”
“It’s a very fair question,” Luck said. “We’ll be very sort of patient as we methodically build our league. But we think we’ve got as good of a chance if not a better chance than any other attempt at a spring league in the last whatever 30, 40 years.”
Luck’s pitch is that the XFL is working with more time, more resources and a broadcast package with ESPN and Fox that will provide major visibility.
“We’ve got the time to plan, and with all due respect I’m not sure the Alliance had anywhere near enough time to plan these things,” Luck said.
The father of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, and once an NFL quarterback, West Virginia athletic director and a College Football Playoff committee member, Luck has been XFL commissioner for more than a year now. Much is wrapped into the job, from promoting the league to tinkering with the sport’s rulebook.
Both were on display Saturday at the St. James sports complex when Luck gave a free “chalk talk” about where the league was in testing new rule ideas and concepts such as a double forward pass, “tiered” values of the point-after-touchdown and a revamped overtime format. Addressing a small assembly of fans, Luck resembled a candidate stumping at an Iowa diner, explaining why his policies would be right for the country.
“I am the ‘competition committee,’ basically,” Luck said. “I don’t have to worry about any owners except one — Vince.”
On the field at The St. James sports complex, the showcase was part-combine, part-practice for coach Pep Hamilton and his staff to start evaluating the league’s potential talent pool. Players both ran individual drills like the 40-yard dash and took part in some 7-on-7s. Former AAF quarterbacks Marquise Williams and Phillip Nelson were the most experienced signal-callers present, and Papale made a few catches that drew his peers’ approval.
Papale just finished his collegiate career at Delaware; he did not play in the Alliance, but watched the league like many football fans. Count him among those not concerned the XFL could have a similarly short shelf life.
“No, I’ve done my research on this league,” Papale said. “I think they’re gonna do pretty well based on what they’re doing … I think it’s gonna stay for a while. That’s my gut feeling. Everyone at the head of the XFL has that plan of it going far, so I believe that.”