How XFL 3.0 can (finally) work in New York

Third time’s the charm? Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s new endeavor could bring the XFL back to the metropolitan area…again.

Fans of the prematurely axed XFL are loving the smell of what The Rock is cooking.

On Monday, Dwayne Johnson announced that he and businesswoman and film producer Dany Garcia have united with RedBird Capital LLC to purchase the XFL, the football brainchild of WWE chairman Vince McMahon. Johnson, a WWE wrestler, and star of several blockbuster films and franchises, is set to oversee the third attempt of the star-crossed league. He made several guest appearances during the league’s first, professional wrestling-styled incarnation that ran for a single season in 2001.

McMahon later revived the league, aiming for a more traditional football experience. The reboot’s 12-week season kicked off in February but was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic. Bankruptcy and employee layoffs followed, and Johnson, Garcia, and their partners made their $15 million purchase shortly before a bankruptcy auction was set to be held.

With gratitude & passion, I’ve built a career with my own two hands and will apply these callouses to our (XFL) brand,” Johnson said in a statement on Twitter. “Excited to create something special for the fans!”

The more recent attempt at the XFL had little in common with the previous incarnation, though a franchise in the New York City metropolitan area was rare middle ground in the Venn diagram. East Rutherford, NJ has played host to both versions, with the New York/New Jersey Hitmen at Giants Stadium in 2001 and the New York Guardians residing at MetLife Stadium for two games. The fate of the XFL’s eight active teams is ambiguous, but it stands to reason that Johnson’s version would also include New York in the proceedings, either through the Guardians or a replacement.

How can the XFL and New York survive in yet another relationship? ESM investigates…

Red Bulls Give You Wings

It’s fair to say that the cathedrals of New York football are disappearing. Giants Stadium stood for over three decades, hosting the Giants, Jets, and plenty of startups in between (i.e. the Hitmen, the New Jersey Generals, the New York Sentinels). Fallen baseball locales in The Bronx and Queens likewise hosted the NFL. Giants, Jets, and their garish recent ledgers aside, the biggest football event in the metropolitan area would probably be the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. It’s safe to say that the annual matchup between mid-tier invitees from the ACC and Big Ten pales in comparison to the games hosted at its predecessor, which often hosted games of utmost national importance.

The Guardians were the first non-NFL team to call MetLife Stadium home. Setting up headquarters on Route 3 was understandable. It’s the New York area’s current hub of pigskin activity. But side effects included the optics of a mostly empty stadium. The last XFL incarnation drew its share of fans, but backdrops of empty seats are never ideal, even by necessity (which is why you see modern MLB games play with cardboard cutouts. That’s why any potential metropolitan reboot of XFL football should stay in North Jersey but migrate to Harrison.

Red Bull Arena has played host to the titular New York Red Bulls of MLS since 2010 and was set to welcome the NWSL’s Sky Blue FC this year before their season was shortened to a Utah-based tournament earlier this summer. The stadium has earned mostly positive reviews from MLS supporters and media. In a 2018 ranking of the league’s stadiums (then numbered at 21), Jamie Goldberg of The Oregonian placed RBA in sixth place, remarking that there “is no bad view in the house and the proximity to the field creates an amazing experience for fans in the lower bowl”. A report from Ben Fischer of Sports Business Journal indicated that the Guardians were looking into playing at RBA in 2021, though sources with the team denied this was the case while the season was ongoing.

The perfect case study for a different kind of football in Harrison comes in the case of the DC Defenders. Though several larger outdoor venues were available in the capital area, the Defenders played their home games at Audi Field, the newly formed home of the D.C. United soccer club.  The Defenders were able to create a decent homefield advantage in the confined settings of about 20,000, earning one of the most loyal fan followings in the XFL, perhaps evidenced by the massive “beer snake” created during their final showing in March. New York can create a similar advantage in the more confined settings out in Harrison.

Jersey Core

One thing that could truly make this potential incarnation of New York XFL football standout is perhaps focusing on a new aspect of the metropolitan area: New Jersey. If one were to simply say “New York”, you’re presented with a plethora of teams, several of whom (including the two football teams that bear the title) play in the Garden, not Empire, State.

Embracing the team’s Jersey roots, should they make a return to play, would truly work in the XFL’s favor and help them work the best of both worlds: they could make an impact in an essential media market while also standing out in cramped sports scene. A “New York” squad not only had to compete with their NFL counterparts but also the ongoing seasons of the area’s NBA and NHL squads. Meanwhile, only one Jersey-branded remains in the four major sports, the struggling Devils of the NHL. It’s perhaps a small thing, but could a long way in terms of marketing and outreach. The Alliance of American Football appeared to have the right idea, particularly in the form of the San Antonio Commanders and Orlando Apollos. The short-lived league saw was able to situate two of their most successful teams in well-populated states that adore football and were packed to the brim with NFL squads (Texas and Florida).

The state has previously produced some of the more popular and successful attempts at alternate professional football. Antics of the USFL’s New Jersey Generals are still fondly spoken of to this day (the exploits of owner and future U.S. President Donald Trump notwithstanding). Former Giants Joe Morris, Harry Carson, and Carl Banks oversaw the New Jersey Red Dogs at the height of the Arena Football League’s popularity at the turn of the century.

Dwayne Johnson
(Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)

Don’t Be Afraid to Think Beyond the Metropolitan Box and Embrace the Fun

One thing the powers that be at the new XFL tried to do was try to establish some local connections among the new personnel. The Guardians, for example, made longtime Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride their head coach. The Dallas Renegades went with a coach known for his victories in the area, former Oklahoma boss Bob Stoops.

But if another metropolitan squad wants to give hope to its pigskin faithful, they should focus more on building a winning team instead of turning things into a local tribute band.

At the same time, the New York XFL squad should certainly embrace the inherent sense of fun when it comes to spring football. Their predecessors in alternate professional pigskin certainly knew how to do so. This doesn’t mean you have to try and “poach” elite talent from the NFL, but the door is certainly open to hiring some new, interesting talents that can build a winning football team. If you want to truly start fresh, perhaps we could see yet another new name in New York football.

With a man like Johnson at the helm…New Jersey Scorpions, anyone?

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Yankees Recap: Gerrit Cole wins third game in a row – Yankees 6 Phillies 3

The New York Yankees maintained their number one standing in all of baseball again last night with a 6-3 win over Joe Girardi’s Philadelphia Phillies.  It was also Yankee ace Gerrit Cole’s third straight win. Again last night, it was obvious that Cole struggled a bit.  With the premium pitcher that he is, he still managed to give up just one run in six innings.

We are being supercritical; Cole’s performance last night would be welcomed by any other team.  But knowing the type of dominant pitcher Cole can be, you don’t expect to see him struggle, but that was the case last night for the third time while still winning all of those games.

After nearly a week’s delay, the Phillies finally met up with the Yankees at Yankee Stadium in a game that featured a nearly one-hour rain delay. The heavy rain moved through quickly and the game resumed in the seventh inning. It was Joe Girardi’s first game back at the Stadium since he was the manager of the New York Yankees.

The Phillies faced the Yankee ace Gerrit Cole in his first start of the season at Yankee Stadium.  The Phillies, due to the coronavirus scare by the Marlins, hadn’t played in eight days.  Cole had a quick one-two-three innings in the first before DJ LeMahieu smashed his first homer in the bottom of the frame.  At the top of the third, Cole gave up his only run of the game a homer to Jay Bruce that tied the game at one.

But again at the bottom of the frame, the Yankee retook the lead when Brett Gardner’s bat powered a homer into the stands just right of the left-field foul pole. Aaron Judge in his second hit of the night doubled, and Aaron Hicks drove him in for the Yankees 3-1 lead.

Moving on the to bottom of the six-inning and just before the rain delay, the Yankees exploded for three runs in the inning led off with two men aboard by the amazing Gio Urshala who had a bomb into the visitor’s bullpen for the Yankees 6-1 lead.  Then came the rain, fast and heavy as the tarp was quickly rolled out, ending Gerrit Cole’s night. It was Gio Urshela’s third home run in his last four games.

When play resumed the New York Yankee bullpen struggled a bit, Brooks Kriske gave up a run in the seventh, and Luis Avilan gave up one in the eighth. Between them, Chad Green looked sharp, pitching a clean two-thirds of an inning.  The night was capped off by Zack Britton, shutting down the Phillies in the ninth for his fourth straight save.

The final score was the Yankees 6 and the Philadelphia Phillies 3.  Gerrit Cole was the winner, and Jake Arrieta took the loss for the Phils.  Britton with the save.

With the tropical storm on the horizon, the game today has been postponed and will be played as a doubleheader tomorrow with 4 and 7 o’clock scheduled starting times in Philadelphia with the final game on Thursday. The Yankees will then take their first plane flight of the season moving on to play the Tampa Bay Rays. Because Thursday’s game was supposed to be with the Rays, that will cause another doubleheader at Tropicana Field in Tampa.

 

New York Giants: 3 play-makers who could have great 2020 season’s

New York Giants, Sterling Shepard, Xavier McKinney, Evan Engram

Training camp is underway for the New York Giants and the veterans have taken the football field. With plenty of opt-outs across the league still expected, the Giants have only lost two players thus far –Nate Solder and Da’Mari Scott.

The current roster is a product of a complete overhaul, institutionalized by general manager Dave Gettleman. New head coach Joe Judge has certainly made his impact known early on in his career with the Giants, spending the fourth overall pick on a tackle, Andrew Thomas. Prior to this off-season, Gettleman had never spent a first-round selection let alone a top-five pick on an offensive lineman.

The Giants have struggled in recent years to put any sort of success together. Offensively in 2019, they ranked 18th of 32 in points for and 30th of 32 in points against. They allowed nearly 30 points per game, a number that must decrease moving forward.

Since both sides of the ball need to witness vast improvements, let’s take a look at some of the Giants’ playmakers and what to expect from them in 2020.

Three New York Giants players who could have big 2020 seasons:

1.) Jabrill Peppers

When the Giants originally traded Odell Beckham Jr., they didn’t anticipate Jabrill Peppers becoming a focal point on defense. Since joining Big Blue, he has left his mark.

Despite missing five games in 2019 with an injured hip, Peppers posted very similar stats to his 2018 campaign.

For comparison sake:

2018: 79 combined tackles, five tackles for a loss, four quarterback hits, 1.0 sacks, three fumble recoveries, five passes defended, 1 INT

2019: 76 combined tackles, five tackles for a loss, two quarterback hits, three forced fumbles, five passes defended, one INT, one TD

As you can see, he had a very similar year but posted three additional turnovers on defense. He took a significant step forward at strong safety with the Giants, and having leaned out and added more muscle mass, he looks to be in perfect shape. Considering his development last year, I fully expect him to take a step forward and produce at a high-level.

New York Yankees: Good news and bad news following destruction of Phillies

New York Yankees, Giovanny Urshela

The New York Yankees faced off against the Philadelphia Phillies in the first game of a four-game series on Monday evening. With star pitcher Gerrit Cole taking the mound, the Yankees were looking to extend their winning streak to eight games in a row. Luckily, their offense started off strong, as lead-off hitter DJ LeMahieu smashed an opposite-field home run in the first inning.

The Yankees’ victory is only another testament to their dominance, despite the Phillies having a few days off due to COVID-19 concerns. After playing the Miami Marlins last weekend, the Phillies had been quarantining and testing their players to ensure they experienced multiple negative results.

Final result: 6-3 Yankees

Nonetheless, let’s take a look at the good and bad news for the New York Yankees following the victory:

GOOD NEWS:

The good news is that Gerrit Cole continues to impress. He lasted six innings, allowing five hits and just one earned run. While he only struck out four batters, he utilized all of his pitches to get out of trouble and work around the Phillies’ more dangerous batters.

Aside from his impressive performance, giving him his third win of the season, Giovanni Urshela had another amazing outing. Striking out just once, Gio hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning. He is hitting .300 with a .667 slugging percentage. He currently has two 3-run homers and one grand slam on the season. I would be remiss not to mention his defensive qualities and how well he’s looked on the hot corner.

Aaron Judge had another stellar night, earning two hits and scoring one run. He is currently hitting .314 with a .886 slugging percentage. He had hit home runs in the previous five games but didn’t manage to take the Phillies to the bleachers, but his impressive stature at the plate remains.

BAD NEWS:

There wasn’t much bad news from the Yankees’ victory over the Phillies, but if we had to pick something, it would be Gary Sanchez at the plate. Over three at-bats, Sanchez struck out twice, as he currently hosts a .080 batting average. It is clear that he has not seen the ball well and has struggled to get anything going offensively.

Hopefully, he can be a bit more patient in the future and take more pitches. He has been striking out on 3–4 pitches and needs to see more of the ball. Once he has a rhythm and is performing at the plate, the Yankees’ lineup will be borderline impossible to contain.