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The First Dallas Renegades Game At Globe Life Park Was Rife With Hilarious Gaffs. But, Weirdly, We Look Forward To Experiencing It All Again.

The year is 2020. The former head football coach of the University of Oklahoma, Bob Stoops, is coaching a former Dallas Cowboy, Lance Dunbar, in a football game that is being played in a baseball stadium in Arlington. The WWE’s Vince McMahon owns the league.

This is not a storyline from Idiocracy 2. This is not an alternate universe. This is the XFL — and, maybe weirdly, I’m here for it.

I should preface all this with the following: I love the game of football, and I am keenly aware that the XFL is not the NFL. But I also happen to produce events for a living, and I can appreciate a bright-eyed and budget-conscious approach to a risky, first-time endeavor. And let’s be honest: There is nothing riskier than trying to revive a product like Vince McMahon’s XFL — that in its first go, nearly two full decades ago, died a very quick and unceremonious death — as an off-brand attempt at earning the attention of the football-obsessed masses.

But this isn’t 2001 XFL. This is the 2020 XFL.

It’s a different effort in a few notable regards. There’s a shorter play clock, a creative approach to special teams plays and an exciting departure from the NFL’s oft-debated (and undoubtedly antiquated) overtime format. The hope is that it’ll produce a faster-paced, higher-scoring, fan-centric experience. According to our hometown Dallas Renegades’ own preseason social media blitz: “THIS IS FAST-ON-ITS FEET, EDGE-OF-YOUR-SEAT ACTION. THIS IS FOR THE LOVE OF FOOTBALL.”

Fast-paced football in February? The return of Bob Stoops? All for the fairly reasonable, fan-focused price of $43 per seat?

Fuck yeah. I’m in. I’m gonna be a day one #HELLRAISER, as the Renegades are hoping to call their fanbase.

My Sunday afternoon taking in the Renegades’ opening XFL game at the Globe Life Park in Arlington began as so many other afternoons in Arlington have begun. A quick drive down westbound I-30 was followed by $20 parking, and capped off by a brisk walk to the the third base gate, where I enjoyed a short wait before having my ticket scanned by a sweet old lady donning a well-traveled Texas Rangers T-shirt and ballcap.

Thing is, the Texas Rangers don’t play here anymore. Hell, after the renovations made to the spot in the wake of the Rangers’ plans to move to a new stadium across the street this coming season, it isn’t even possible for baseball to be played in this stadium. This facility is now, without a doubt, the home of the Dallas Renegades. On opening day — ground zero for DFW’s newest and most buzzworthy “professional” sports team — shouldn’t the staff be sporting the merch that the Renegades’ social media accounts have been shoving down our throats over the last few weeks?

That was just the first sign that things were slightly amiss on Sunday afternoon. The second was a clear miscalculation by the concession stands about the number of attendees that would be on hand for the game. Laughable lines plagued the entire stadium concourse.

Even inside at our seat, other issues abounded — some pretty rough sight lines, some aesthetically questionable production kills and the inexplicable realization that the green seats in the newly erected visitor’s grandstand were a starkly different shade of green than the rest of the seats in the stadium.

All things considered, though, the field looked great. It looked like a football field. And that was enough for me.

When I made my way to the sixth row, aisle seat in the north endzone — an area that once served as the section closest to the Rangers bullpen in the right field home run porch — more surprises reared their ugly heads. Specifically, I was immediately met with the realization that my view of the field was to be terribly obstructed by two large, black poles. These poles were designed to hold the net that catches the ball after field goal attempts at any costs — even the sight-lines of a few thousand ticket buyers, it turns out. I’d say these poles managed to eliminate at least 20 percent of my view of the action on Sunday. I spent most of the game that would soon ensue bobbing my head left and right just to see what was happening outside my field of vision.

Making matters worse, I found myself staring at a replay board that appeared to be an afterthought — a quick-fix and insultingly small LED video wall that was maligned by defects all game long. Throughout the day, entire rows of the video board would go blank, alternating black-out points almost as quickly as the St. Louis Battlehawks were trading punts with the hometown Dallas Renegades.

I should’ve seen that coming. After a lengthy battle with an out-of-the-box inflatable tunnel, the stars of the pregame show took their position. You’re probably imagining a new batch of cheerleaders, maybe a funny-looking mascot and perhaps a few cheap-thrill pyrotechnics. Nope. None of that. What we got was a two-minute montage of cell-phone videos from C-List footballers welcoming coach Stoops back to the game. No offense to former Cowboy Roy Williams, Mississippi State’s new coach Mike Leach or University of Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin, but their onscreen appearances incited absolutely no emotion from the crowd. The five very loud but otherwise unremarkable motorcycles on the field that were supposed to rev up the crowd right before kickoff didn’t fare much better.

I don’t think the Renegades’ game-day production team was necessarily going for laughs with this introduction they’d put together, but — for better or worse — laughs are exactly what they got from the stands. Same goes for the malfunctioning stat lines that ran stuck on the scoreboard through the first quarter and a half of the game itself, falsely reporting 374 total yards gained for Dallas and 253 total yards for St. Louis. This was also the case with the utterly bizarre halftime show that included an overzealous live painter with some nightmare-version of a spin art machine and completely unneeded access to a live microphone.

Jarring as all of those were — and I haven’t even mentioned the audio glitches that persisted throughout the afternoon — nothing compared to what should henceforth be referred to as “The Ball Incident.” That came after a successful field goal attempt sailed over the top of the net —  the very net held up by the poles blocking my view — and landed in the arms of an excited fan. A ball on opening day? Hell yeah. That’s, like, the ultimate souvenir.  Only, it wouldn’t be that: Amidst chants of “Keep! The! Ball!” (and a subsequent chorus of boos), that lucky fan was forced by stadium and team officials to return the ball to the field.

I’ve never seen anything like it. A league that is “dedicated to the fan experience” spent five minutes of its debut production arguing with a fan over who gets to keep a football that flew into the stands.

Listen, I’m familiar with ballin’ on a budget, but this was wild. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this: If you don’t have the budget for a fan to keep a ball that flies into the stands, you probably don’t have the budget to  keep an entire new football league around for very long.

That was just one of many bad signs, actually. Need more? OK.

  • They promised that the game would be fast-paced — but it wasn’t. It was still a three-hour ordeal, although perhaps some experience at running these games can fix that moving forward.
  • They promised a high-scoring brand of football — but it wasn’t. The final score of this game was 15-9, although perhaps that can be somewhat blamed on the fact that starting Renegades QB Landry Jones was hurt and unable to play on Sunday.
  • They promised new rules in place — and, OK, there was some of that, but most kickoffs still ended in a touchback.

By the end of it all, the hilarity of the situation had taken over the chatter among the fans in the stands — and, worse, started seeping onto the field. As the fourth quarter wound down, the comedy of errors finally peaked when a Battlehawk performed a celebratory pelvic thrust as a downed Renegade completed a set of self-induced punishment push-ups beneath him.

Ah, yes. This was the XFL I remembered!

So: Did I get what I signed up for? Absolutely not.

But did I get a wildly entertaining afternoon? Um, yes. I actually did.

In a world full of “fake it ‘til you make it” types, the XFL has stumbled upon a bizarre charm by doubling down on the paradox that its own Opening Day mistakes created. As the final seconds of the game ticked away, it had become apparent that the league was neither trying to fool us nor themselves into believing that this was just a low-rent version of the Dallas Cowboys experience.

Walking out of the stadium, I realized I was no longer laughing at the Renegades, but with them. And that was enough for me.

Because, by God, this wasn’t the NFL — this was the XFL. Sure, it might’ve been pretty bush league. But, on the other hand, it was still February football in Arlington. And I can’t wait to go back and experience it again.

The big difference? Next week, we’ll all know what we’re dealing with in advance.

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