- The Washington Times - Monday, February 17, 2020

It wasn’t a leaping touchdown that had people talking about the XFL this weekend, nor a vicious sack or incredible run making the rounds of the highlight shows.

No, what went viral for the upstart league was none other than DC Defenders defensive end Anthony Johnson’s take on whether passengers should be allowed to recline their seats on airplanes.

Unorthodox, sure. Unexpected, yes. But Johnson’s interview was another hit for a league trying to keep the attention of football fans now that the NFL season is over.

“I have no problem with nobody reclining their seat, but I’m a little too tall for y’all to be leaning back on my knee,” said the 6-foot-3 Johnson, staring directly at the camera.

Before Saturday’s game, Johnson weighed in on the hot-button issue in a clip that generated more than 300,000 views on Twitter.

Ratings and attendance were down slightly in the District, but overall, the fledgling football league continued to build upon the buzz of its debut a week earlier.

According to Nielsen data, the Defenders’ local rating peaked at 3.8, down from 4.0 from Week 1. That still outperformed other sporting events, like track and field on NBC.

In St. Louis, Sunday’s game between the St. Louis BattleHawks and the Houston Roughnecks actually drew a local rating of 6.0 — far surpassing a hockey game between the defending-champion St. Louis Blues and the Nashville Predators on at the same time, according to sports anchor Frank Cusumano, from St. Louis’ NBC affiliate. The Blues’ game drew a 3.1 rating.

Television ratings figure to be important to the XFL because they’re a way to measure interest. Last year, the now-defunct Alliance of American Football enjoyed a strong debut before fading until the season folded in April.

The XFL, though, outpaced the AAF’s debut, drawing 3.3 million viewers for its first game compared to 2.9 million viewers for the AAF. The league has broadcasting deals with ESPN, ABC and Fox.

It should help if the XFL can also sustain and put forth an entertaining product. On Saturday, the Defenders (2-0) shut out the New York Guardians in 27-0 win, grabbing a pick-six for the second consecutive game. The game was another solid draw, bringing 15,031 fans to Audi Field. That number, however, was a 12% drop from the Defenders’ debut.

On the field, the XFL did have a series of eye-popping plays to capture people’s attention.

In the XFL, quarterbacks are allowed to keep playing after their own fumble — leading to a stunning recovery and throw from Defenders quarterback Cardale Jones. Houston’s P.J.Walker also dazzled with three touchdowns, including a Patrick Mahomes-like sidearm completion.

Elsewhere, the Los Angeles Wildcats completed the league’s first-ever three-point completion. In the fourth quarter, former Redskins quarterback Josh Johnson, now with the Wildcats, found his receiver in the back of the end zone for the successful conversion from the 10-yard line.

Of the four games over the weekend, only the Defenders were part of a blowout. The Seattle Dragons and Dallas Renegades each won their respective games by no more than eight points, while the Roughnecks held on against the BattleHawks in a 28-24 win.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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