To say that I was upset when the eight XFL teams were announced would be an understatement.
Philadelphia, one of the most hardcore sports towns in the entire world, was passed over for New York, DC, St. Louis, and… Tampa? Not to mention Dallas got a squad in the West division. I, along with every other Philly sports fan, am subject to watch New York, DC and Dallas compete for a pro football championship. I imagine this is how my uncles felt in the late ’80s and ’90s, watching the Cowboys, Giants, and Washington beat up on the AFC for Super Bowl after Super Bowl.
Make no mistake about it: Philadelphia is a football city. We bleed green all year round, arguing about everything from draft picks to practice squad guys and the third string quarterback. We bring the noise when they play well, and, more than any other fan base, we’re not afraid to let them know when we think they’re not. The Phillies, 76ers and Flyers all have a place here, but nothing makes us more rabid as fans than that green football team. In that regard, when you remember that Philadelphia is a bigger market population-wise than DC and Tampa put together, it’s more than a little disappointing to me that we weren’t granted an XFL team.
To add insult to injury, a map made its rounds on social media showing each team’s “territory” based on where the closest team was to you. The entire Philadelphia area was engulfed in New York Guardians black.
Vince McMahon is no dummy. His dealings with ECW had to have given him some indication of the Philly sports psyche. We’re very set in our ways. I really, REALLY hope he doesn’t actually expect Philly viewers to root for NEW YORK. Would you ask a Broncos fan to root for the Raiders? Would you ask Bears fans to root for Green Bay? Heck, would you ask a Lakers fan to root for the Clippers?
In the end, I chose the least of the evils, the DC Defenders. Between the two former Eagles (Donnell Pumphrey and Elijah Qualls) and their statement on Twitter that they are, in fact, a pro-Wawa team, they made it easier for them to endear themselves.
Week 1, I walked into a bar around the corner from my house and sheepishly asked the bartender to turn on ABC. My heart sank as I noticed it was the only one not broadcasting college basketball; I was convinced I’d be the one idiot in the bar watching the XFL. As 2pm rolled around, however, a few guys across the bar asked for the same thing, also keeping quiet about it. Inevitably, I got a few drinks in me, and when DC blocked a punt for a touchdown, I raised my arms and said “Oh, let’s go!”
The guys across the bar asked, “You rooting for DC?”
I’m sure I was grinning like a buffoon. Other fans! Oh, the elation! We would proceed to drink many more beers and discuss how no one around here was ever going to root for New York. We celebrated an exciting first win for our shiny, new, bright-red football team.
For Week 2, I decided to turn it up a notch. In an effort to find other XFL fans, I researched any watch parties or bars in the city running specials for the XFL games. I found one on Philly’s famous South Street, once the city’s heartbeat, now a go-to for hipsters and drinkers with more and more bars to be found as you get closer to the Delaware river. I walked into Woolly Mammoth and immediately realized I was the only person there wearing an XFL shirt. On the other hand, the Defenders/Guardians game was on the central TV and there was about a dozen people watching. I didn’t even have to ask this time.
The bartender took one look at me and said, “Hey, this guy’s got the shirt!”
This got quite a few laughs as I sat down and got my beer, but it also spurned conversation. I explained my reasoning: If Philadelphia is going to get a team, we need to support the league. This really got the cogs turning with people. Could we go in on a team publicly, like the Green Bay Packers? Maybe Ron Jaworski could avenge our fallen AFL team, the Soul, and bring a squad in. What if Nick Foles found his way into the XFL? Would the whole city just get behind his team?
Where would they play? Talen Energy stadium, where the Union plays, would be good, but who wants to go to Chester? Pro football at Penn’s Franklin Field, for the first time in nearly 50 years? That would be insane. We all agreed on one thing, however: If the XFL gave Philadelphia a team wearing Kelly Green, half of the tri-state area would want into the games.
I was glad everyone enjoyed the football, even with its fledgling flaws, and I was glad I didn’t have to feel like a moron and ask for the game to be turned out. We enjoyed the absolute beat-down of the Guardians at the hands of “our” Defenders, and most of us stuck around for the second game.
I can only imagine how many scenes played out like this over the last two weekends, in places like Chicago, Cleveland, Kansas City and Baltimore. Places where the football love is strong, and runs in their veins like the cars in the streets. Each share’s the Philly mindset: if it’s outdoor football, we’ll watch it. Give us a team, and we’ll watch it forever.