The MMQB presents NFL 95, a special project running through mid-July detailing 95 artifacts that tell the story of the NFL, as the league prepares to enter its 95th season. See the entire series here.
In case it wasn’t obvious that a Vince McMahon-led, WWE-influenced pro football league would be different from the NFL, there was the guy with “He Hate Me” on his jersey.
Rod Smart was the poster child for the XFL, the ill-fated extreme football venture that valued the outrageous. Teams had monikers like the “Hitmen” and “Maniax,” while Smart—a running back for the Las Vegas Outlaws—drew plenty of attention with the moniker he decided to wear on his back for the league’s lone season in 2001. (Smart would go on to play six seasons in the NFL, including a Super Bowl appearance with the Panthers in ’04.)
With trash-talking stadium announcers, cameras in the huddle and no penalties for roughness, the XFL was mostly about entertainment. Instead of starting the game with a coin toss, a ball was placed on the ground and one player on each team was sent to grapple for it. The league opened with great buzz, and the February-April schedule smartly complemented the NFL calendar, but the novelty quickly wore off. When the league folded, dozens of XFL alums went on to NFL careers, from Tommy Maddox to Steve Gleason to Paris Lenon, who last season was the last XFLer still playing. Both the WWE and NBC lost millions on the league—the cost of challenging the almighty shield.
— Jenny Vrentas