STAMFORD, February 15, 2001 - It didn't take long, only two weeks into the season, for the XFL's "No Fair Catch" rule to pay handsome dividends. The first to take full advantage of the rule were the Birmingham Thunderbolts and their fleet-footed punt return man Stepfret Williams.
Fielding a New York/New Jersey Hitmen punt on his own five yard line midway through the third period in his team's game in Giants Stadium last Sunday, Williams found a seam in the Hitmen's defense and sped 95 yards for a touchdown. The return turned a 6-6 tie into a 12-6 Bolts' lead and was crucial in the team's 19-12 first-ever victory.
"In any other league I would not have fielded the ball on the five," said Williams, "but since all punts in the XFL are live balls and the other team can get them if you don't catch them, I had no choice. Once I caught it I just tried to get whatever I could out of it. My teammates made some great blocks and I found an opening."
William's sentiments were echoed by Bolts head coach Gerry DiNardo.
"Step's return is an example of how the live ball and the no fair catch has had an impact on the game. It's also an example of how the fourth-down play in the XFL has become an exciting and huge part of the game. In most instances punt returners are instructed to plant their feet on the 10-yard line and not field anything over their heads. You can't get away with that in this league."
Stepfret's punt return for a TD was the first in league history, but with the XFL's fourth-down rules it certainly won't be the last.