When is a game more than just a game? When an entire league’s reputation and perception are potentially at stake. Superbowl III was more than just a game. The truth is that while talks were on-going and probably inevitable, of a merger between the NFL and AFL back in the late sixties, the two league experiment wasn’t going very well. The NFL was the superior football league and the first two non-NFL championship game “Superbowls” were noncompetitive and just glorified exhibitions. They didn’t draw very well and lacked credibility in the football world. The AFL didn’t appear as if it really belonged. As heavy underdogs, the Jets carried the burden of an entire league on their shoulders when they upset the Baltimore Colts. A year later, the Chiefs would go to win the Superbowl and solidify the now AFC forever.
On Saturday, February 8th, 2020. The XFL is actually going to get a second chance to make a first impression. The original XFL’s first chance to make an impression failed in spectacular fashion. The league debuted in front of a sold-out crowd in Las Vegas on primetime network television. For a first-year league playing its first-ever game, the expectations and ratings were through the roof. Unfortunately, the game and the entire league crashed through the basement floor. The league wasn’t ready for primetime and it never really recovered from the premiere game in the public’s eyes. The play and product did get better as the season progressed but it was too little, too late. This time around, the league is debuting on ABC and Fox, in a back to back network doubleheader in the afternoon but the same stakes are in place. The question leading into the XFL 2020 schedule reveal was, “How would the current XFL go about scheduling their first and arguably most important game of the season?” In terms of the mainstream public, none of the games have more importance than the first impression that the XFL makes. How the premiere game plays out will have an effect on football fans who are on the fence about watching the XFL, and whether they will decide to continue watching the league.
The choice for the premiere game could have been in Dallas. After all, Texas is football country. Globe Life Park is being retrofitted and reimagined for pro football. Bob Stoops is making his return to the sidelines, with the Innovator of the Air Raid Offense, Hal Mumme calling plays for Stoops former Quarterback Landry Jones. While Dallas Cowboys legend Daryl “Moose” Johnston watches the Renegades team he constructed along with Stoops.
The kickoff game for the XFL could have been St. Louis in The Dome. The return of pro football to the River City. It could also have been in Los Angeles, with the Wildcats kicking off the season from the city where LA’s last pro football champions played. The premiere game could have been on the biggest stage possible with New York at Metlife Stadium. What’s old is new again could have been the theme with June Jones and his legendary run and shoot offense making a spring pro football comeback to the city of Houston. Decades after lighting up scoreboards with the Houston Gamblers in the USFL. The XFL season could have started in Tampa, six days after the Superbowl is played in the very same venue. One of the best and most passionate sports cities in the world in Seattle could have also played host to the XFL’s return.
The DC Defenders are getting the honor and distinction of being the team that kicks off the XFL season at home. Arguably the most important game of the entire XFL season and league is the first one. At the start of any season, there is always pressure to win and get off on the right foot. This opening game goes beyond just the normal pressures of winning and losing. The DC Defenders and Seattle Dragons share in the same pressure of being the game that sets the tone and creates a new first impression for the league.
WEEK 1- HOME VS THE SEATTLE DRAGONS- SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 8th, 2PM ET/11AM PT, AUDI FIELD, ABC
A lot of firsts in this game. This will be Pep Hamilton’s first-ever game as a pro football head coach. It could be Cardale Jones first-ever start as a pro football quarterback. Both the Head Coach and Quarterback are finally getting their chance to shine in roles they have waited quite some time for. Legendary Seattle Seahawks Quarterback Jim Zorn brings his Seattle Dragons, to the scene of his previous crimes in DC. At least that’s the way, DC football fans feel about Jim Zorn and his time coaching there. This is a very early game for Seattle, so it’s possible that the Dragons come out to DC a day or two earlier just to get adjusted. The setting is a unique one. While XFL teams like Seattle, play in tradition football stadiums, the Defenders will be playing their home games at the home of Major League Soccer’s DC United. A beautiful smaller-sized stadium that is designed to make the fans feel like they are on the field with the players. Early returns on ticket sales have been positive and this game has the potential to be at or near capacity come February. If you are a fan of football weather in the winter, this game has a chance to fill that need. Two of the teams playing in the coldest weather environments will be playing at home in week one in NY and DC, and it would make for an interesting style of play if this game ends up with snowy conditions.
WEEK 2- HOME VS THE NEW YORK GUARDIANS- SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 15TH, 2PM/ET, AUDI FIELD, ABC
DC has 4 games currently scheduled on ABC, with a potential 5th in the final week of the season. This is the Defenders’ first divisional game on their schedule. The two markets have pro football history going back between one another for many years now. They are natural rivals. DC has 4 of their first 6 games at home. So these home divisional games are going to be very important for the Defenders.
WEEK 3- AT THE LOS ANGELES WILDCATS- SUNDAY FEBRUARY 23rd, 6 PM ET/9 PM PT, DIGNITY HEALTH SPORTS PARK, FS1
Much like the Defenders, the Wildcats play in a soccer stadium that the Chargers and MLS’s LA Galaxy share. This is DC’s longest road trip of the season after starting off the first two weeks at home. To their benefit, it is a later game and they do have an extra day to prep for it. The weather can be a complete contrast from what DC has seen up until this point. Cardale Jones returns to LA, the place he has been in the NFL since 2017.
WEEK 4- AT THE TAMPA BAY VIPERS- SUNDAY MARCH 1ST, 7PM ET, RAYMOND JAMES STADIUM, ESPN 2
The second straight road and night game for the Defenders. This can technically be considered the league’s first prime time game. This is also the first game where the Defenders will be playing in a traditional pro football stadium.
WEEK 5- HOME VS THE ST. LOUIS BATTLEHAWKS- SUNDAY MARCH 8TH, 3PM ET/2 PM CT, AUDI FIELD, FS1
The Defenders return home after a 2 game road trip. This will be their second straight divisional matchup. The game features a battle of two first time head coaches in Hamilton and Jonathan Hayes. Hamilton, Hayes and Winston Moss are the three coaches in the league who all share the same distinction. FS1 is a frequent home for Defender games during the season. This is also the third of five straight Sunday games for the Defenders.
WEEK 6- HOME VS THE THE DALLAS RENEGADES- SUNDAY MARCH 15TH, 4 PM ET, AUDI FIELD, FS1
This could be a preview of the XFL Championship game. Two of the more accomplished Quarterbacks in the entire league face off in Cardale Jones and Landry Jones. This is a crucial stretch for the Defenders before they close the regular season playing 3 of their last 4 games on the road. The Renegades are projected and rightfully so to be one of the league’s best teams. This is another market in Dallas, that DC has a long-standing natural rivalry with.
WEEK 7- AT THE HOUSTON ROUGHNECKS- SUNDAY MARCH 22ND, 6PM ET, TDECU STADIUM, FS1
In a wide-open fast-paced league that the XFL figures to be, this matchup is one of the reasons that DC went so corner heavy in their DB draft, taking 7 corners in total. You need them all against June Jones and the Run and Shoot offense.
WEEK 8- HOME VS THE TAMPA BAY VIPERS- SATURDAY MARCH 28TH, 2P ET, AUDI FIELD, ABC
The final home game of the season at Audi Field for the DC Defenders. If the Defenders win the Eastern Division, they will not be able to host a playoff game at Audi Field, as the venue will not be available. It’s unfortunate but the drawback to not being a primary tenant. DC hopes to be in that position by the end of the season. The league would have to set up potential alternate sites. RFK is not in the cards and FedEx may not be either. So it’s possible that in the DMV, Navy or Maryland’s football stadiums could be alternate sites. Since the league’s championship game figures to be at a neutral site. This would only be a 1-week issue. The Defenders are going to have to win this game to keep any home game playoff scenarios a reality. They are finally back playing on ABC and on Saturday afternoon.
WEEK 9- AT THE NEW YORK GUARDIANS- SATURDAY APRIL 4TH, 2 PM ET, METLIFE STADIUM, ABC
Huge divisional matchup. The Defenders close out their season with two straight divisional games on the road. If DC makes the playoffs, they will have earned it.
WEEK 10- AT THE ST. LOUIS BATTLEHAWKS- SUNDAY APRIL 12TH, GAME TIME TBD, THE DOME AT AMERICA’S CENTER, ABC/FS1
The time and channel that this game will air are yet to be determined. Disney and Fox are supposed to make that decision in March. The western division playoff teams could be decided on Saturday. It’s all about the East on Sunday. Depending on where the Defenders and BattleHawks stand by seasons end. This could end be the toughest road game for any team in the XFL. If the playoffs are on the line in this game. St. Louis is going to be electric. New York and Tampa play on this final day of the regular season as well. So all 4 division teams play each other in the final weekend. Only two of them are going to the playoffs. There’s a chance that DC could be headed right back here in the following week or that St. Louis could be headed to play DC. Rather fitting that DC could be in the position of starting and finishing the XFL regular season.
Mike Mitchell is a freelance sports writer, analyst, and a general lover of all football. Mike was one of the original XFLBoard.com Team Reporters in 2001, reporting on the New York/New Jersey Hitmen. We have welcomed him back to the XFLBoard and love his ongoing insightful contributions.