When the XFL kicked off its first and only season since 2001 in February, signs were pointing towards a successful and sustainable model.
[Visit KHON’s storm preparation page here.]
But as COVID-19 put the season to an abrupt end after five weeks of action, it seemed likely that the league’s run would last for just one year again. Things seemed especially bleak when the XFL filed for bankruptcy after shutting down in April. However, on Monday it was announced that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, his ex-wife Dany Garcia and RedBird Captial were purchasing the league for $15 million with eyes on a 2021 season in the spring.
The news certainly comes as a relief to many of the league’s players and staff who were suddenly jobless but still hanging on to their professional football dreams.
“It’s very exciting and I’m most excited for the players,” former University of Hawaii quarterbacks coach and current Houston Roughnecks QB coach Dan Morrison told KHON2 sports director Rob DeMello. “Being with them all last year, all through training camp and the season, they’re very excited about this opportunity, to see that it is that — an opportunity for them to possibly get back into the NFL.
“As much as the XFL was trying to disintegrate itself as a completely separate entity, the honesty of the players was that they were there trying to return to the NFL. This means that hopefully there will be another opportunity for players to do that.”
The Roughnecks featured plenty of Hawaii ties on their coaching staff, led by head coach and general manager June Jones. Also on the sidelines were former UH assistant coaches Wes Suan, Dennis McKnight, Tom Mason and Mel de Laura, as well as former players turned coaches in Michael Brewster and John Estes.
“We’ve had that long connection going back to 1999, our first year in Manoa with Dan Robinson and those guys,” Morrison said. “There’s always that feel and it’s amazing how many people who you meet in Houston and on this team want to talk about those years. Some of them were kids, some of them were coaching. It always was amazing to us how fascinated the country was to what was going on in Hawaii at the time.”
Houston was 5-0 and all alone atop the league standings when the league shut down.
“Like always, anytime in coaching, a lot of the fun comes from the fact that we had really good kids. They were really good players and they were really good people as well,” Robinson said. “The city of Houston embraced us, which was really nice. It was a fun experience based on everything around you. It was good.”
One of the biggest success stories of the 2020 XFL season was Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker, who led the league in touchdown passes (15) and passing yards (1,338) and signed with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers shortly after the season ended.
Another XFL quarterback that signed an NFL deal following the conclusion of the season was former Pearl City and St. Louis BattleHawks quarterback Jordan Ta’amu, who is competing to be the backup signal caller for the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs. During his five XFL games, Ta’amu led the league in completion percentage at 72.3 percent after completing 97 of his 134 passes for five touchdowns and two interceptions.
As the XFL hopes to funnel more of its players into the NFL, another thing it hoped to accomplish before the pandemic-shortened season was an expansion of teams to different locales. Given Johnson’s Hawaii ties, which includes spending part of his childhood in the state in addition to frequent visits, Morrison would certainly welcome bringing a pro football team to the islands.
“It’d be wonderful to bring it back to Hawaii and make part of the Hawaii team a little bit more reflective of that,” Morrison said. “Not just on the staff, but on the team itself, because there’s some great players that are coming out of Hawaii that are on the same bubble as everyone else. They’re released, they’re looking to get back in, and they’re really good players.
“I think they would be a wonderful attraction for the people in Hawaii and for the players in Hawaii.”