Choctaw Stadium fell silent with the huge figure Dwayne Johnson Walk onto the field with a microphone in hand.
The NFL is now owned by Johnson and his ex-wife Dany Garcia, who both had a “historic day” here.
It took them three years to create an innovative, groundbreaking league that gave 400 players the chance to succeed where Johnson had failed — in the NFL.
“I was there when they told you the dream was over,” Johnson told both teams. “But it’s true: your dream has only just begun.
“You’re going to show the world what it’s like to be really hungry and have chips on your shoulders. I know because I have the same chips.”
Three months later, Johnson will play Saturday’s Championship game (01:00 BST, Sunday), when the best players of the season will get one last chance to show just how hungry they are.
‘Football will be our ticket’
johnson may have become World Famous Wrestling Stars and Actors But before that, he wanted to be a professional football player.
Johnson played at the University of Miami, where he met Garcia and helped them become national champions in 1991.
But after graduating in 1995, he wasn’t selected NFL draft. Despite subsequently signing with a Canadian Football League team, Johnson was released two months into the 1995 season.
“This is our life, graduating from college,” he said. “Playing football and being successful is my dream.
“That would be a ticket out. But that never happened to me and us.”
Instead, Johnson followed in his father’s footsteps into professional wrestling, while Garcia built a successful career in finance. Despite separating in 2007, they remain friends and business partners.
Still, Johnson’s failure to make it to the NFL is irritating. In 2012, he and Garcia founded a television and film production company called Seven Dollars — the money Johnson had in his pocket when he was cut by the Calgary Cowboys.
It also provided inspiration for the latest iteration of the XFL.
Garcia makes history as first female boss
Until now, no American secondary league has managed to gain a foothold under the NFL, despite various spring leagues trying to fill the football void after the Super Bowl each February brings the NFL season to a close.
The XFL initially tried it in 2001, but it was dropped after one season, and the revamped XFL filed for bankruptcy after the 2020 season was halted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Garcia told her ex-husband about buying the league, and when they closed a $15 million deal for XFL assets in August 2020, she became the first female owner of an American professional sports league.
“We’ve been pursuing things we’re so passionate about, and we’re working hard on this acquisition,” she said.
“Suddenly it was done and I realized I had made history. It wasn’t my intention, but it motivated me to make sure it was a meaningful moment.”
She and Johnson then pledged to create a diverse, fan-first, fast-paced league. They have five-year broadcast deals with ESPN and The Walt Disney Company and a multi-year partnership with Under Armor, which makes uniforms for all eight teams.
How is XFL different?
Johnson has said he hopes to have a league like the XFL when he graduates because he “never got a chance to prove himself.”
After leaving college, many undrafted players never played again. The same goes for guys who spent time in the offseason training with NFL teams but never made the active roster.
But the XFL allowed them to extend their careers, and some left department store and food delivery jobs for another opportunity to showcase their talents to NFL scouts.
The league’s new owners have vowed to tell the players’ stories and build their profiles through social media and a behind-the-scenes documentary series called Player 54, in which players and coaches are interviewed during games.
There are 53 players on the NFL roster, and like many XFL players, Johnson considers himself No. 54 — good but not good enough.
He wore No. 54 in the season opener and in an XFL tryout, one of which focused on players from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
Operating from its central hub in Arlington, Texas, the XFL provides 24/7 practice facilities and medical services to all teams and players, with eight teams traveling to their host cities each weekend.
The rules are also slightly different from the NFL, designed to make American football safe and fun, and The XFL has agreed to share its data and insights with the NFL to improve the game.
‘If any league owner can do a good job, it’s them’
The rule change provided an exciting end to the season opener as the Vegas Vipers nearly fought back against the Arlington Renegades in the final moments.
Renegades coach Bob Stoops joked: “The Rock called me with a minute left in the game and said, ‘If you let them score, that’s sure to boost our TV ratings,’ so we decided to make it fun. “.
For the most part, games are still competitive and entertaining. Attendance averaged 14,176, led by the St. Louis Warriors with an average of 35,104.
Led by quarterback Jordan Ta’amu and running back Abram Smith, the DC Defenders finished with the best record (9-1) before they and the Renegades won two playoff games to play in the title game in San Antonio.
In remarks this week, Johnson pointed to the XFL’s “steady growth” this season and said owners are “committed to playing the long game.”
Perhaps their greatest success has been the fact that more than 50 XFL players have been invited to train with NFL teams and compete for a spot on next season’s roster.
“[The new owners] Great guys,” Stoops added. “You love their passion to keep building this league, and if anyone can do a good job, it’s them.
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