Roughnecks ready for spring football

Toned-down XFL taking the field in February

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Welcome to the XFL version 2.0.

This new year brings with it a new (or renewed) spring football league, this time featuring a team in Houston called the Roughnecks. The XFL, which lived and died in a single season in 2001, is being reborn and stripped of all the glitz and glamor that the elder version was known for. Although both incarnations are birthed by Vince McMahon of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) fame, the 2020 edition promises to be more conservative and family friendly than its predecessor.

Speaking at a panel discussion last October at Fandemic Comic Con in Houston, Roughnecks President Brian Cooper talked at length about how the rebranded XFL will be different than the 2001 version and all the other spring football leagues that have come and gone over the years.

“It’s fundamental fun, it’s a fast league,” he said. “What we’ve done in this iteration is we’ve made it fan-centric a little bit more. The look and the feel of the game is going to be like a typical football game. I shy away from making comparisons to the NFL because our product is our product. What we’re going to do with the product is it’s going to be a better and faster game.”

Cooper said rules changes will make the game faster and more exciting. One of the most notable changes will be in extra points after touchdown.

“There will be an opportunity to expand your extra points where you get to go one, two or three extra points,” he said. “I think it will be exciting because it will allow a team to come back. There won’t be a kick, you’ll run it, you will be able to get one point from the two (yard line), two points from the five (yard line), and three points from the 10 (yard line). I think that’s going to make it pretty exciting. If you’re down by nine obviously you’re still in it and there is an opportunity to come back.”

Teams will line up for kickoffs just five yards apart and there will be no fair catches. Opposing teams will have to allow a five-yard space for the receiver to catch the ball. Kickoffs will also be moved back to reduce the number of kicks into the endzone.

Cooper said the rule changes are designed to make the game more interesting to fans and to help speed up the game. The goal is to bring game time under three hours with a 2.5-hour objective.

The Houston Roughnecks will play all five of their home games at the University of Houston’s TDECU Stadium. There are eight teams in the league and a 10-game season, followed by a playoff week and a championship. Houston’s first game is Feb. 8 at home against the Los Angeles Wildcats. The team colors are red, blue and silver and the mascot pays tribute to Texas’ oilfield workers.

“We’ve got a name we think the whole city can be proud of and rally around,” Cooper said.

When asked by panel host Sharron Melton why Houston needed another league, Cooper said people in Texas love football and there is plenty of room in the market for a spring league.

“As I’m talking to fans … the one team that comes up more than any other is the Houston Gamblers (of the United States Football League). That heartens me because what they’re recalling is spring football. We want to extend that talent. There is a need here for it; there’s a place for us.

“I don’t think we’re displacing anybody. We don’t feel like we’re competing with anyone. People are saying, you know, the Rockets and Astros are going to be tipping off, the Rockets are going to be in the middle of their season, the Astros are going to be just about ready to start. We’ve wanted to support all the teams. We’re hoping everyone wins championships. We’re hoping everyone’s season does well. We think there’s a spot for this league to succeed as well,” Cooper said.

When asked why he thinks this league will survive where every other spring football league as failed, Cooper pointed out that the USFL was successful until it moved to the fall to try and compete with the NFL.

“If you remember the USFL, it moved to the fall. It wasn’t the issue of them playing in the spring,” he said. “They did very well in the spring… If you look at the guys who played in that league, if you had an all-star team of USFL players, you have two hall-of-famers. You’d have to pick between two starting quarterbacks between Jim Kelly and Steve Young. You have Doug Williams also in the USFL. You had incredible guys. Reggie White came out of the USFL.

“We had incredible players coming out of that league and the league itself had a good product and it continued on and then they went to the fall up against the NFL and the NFL had television. I don’t think there was anything related to the product that hurt the USFL. I think the USFL was great in the spring … I think that spring football has a home in the United States,” he said.

When the XFL held its inaugural draft, the Roughnecks drafted 71 players. Only 52 will make the final roster.

“We’ve got two incredible quarterbacks right now … We’ve got P.J. Walker … he spent three years in the NFL with the Colts… We were able to get Conner Cook out of Michigan State. He spent some time with the Raiders,” Cooper said.

The team is coached by June Jones.

“How many people know the run-and-shoot offense? You know what we’re going to do, right? We’re going to score points,” Cooper said.

Cooper said the focus of the league is on the fans.

“The league’s motto is fans above all,” he said.

Gone in the new XFL are the scantily clad cheerleaders that the original version was well known for.

“We will not have cheerleaders this year, but it’s something we’re thinking about for the fan experience. This year it’s fundamental. We’re trying to keep it as basic as possible,” Cooper said.

He said fans can expect tailgating, kids zone, and concerts.

“We want to have as much output to engage fans as well as the product on the field,” he said.

To help keep the experience family friendly, it has also been made affordable. “Our season tickets start at $100 for five games,” he said.

From the inaugural game on Feb. 8 to the championship game on April 26, Cooper feels confident that Houston fans will enjoy every minute of Roughneck football.

“Football in Texas, it doesn’t get much better than that,” he said.

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