Last weekend, the XFL Kool-Aid-Manned itself into our lives, bringing with it the rare occasion for Americans to opt into fandom. Besides the XFL’s first and failed incarnation 20 years ago, new professional sports leagues don’t spring up often. Yes, the Alliance of American Football (may it rest in peace) briefly got off the ground last year, but it came to a screeching halt when it straight-up ran out of money. And sure, the Premiere Lacrosse League started up last year, too, but lax (as referred to by those of us who went to small Division III colleges where guys named Brad wore fishing shirts to class) isn’t as popular as football.
This version of the XFL seems like it has a great chance to stick around; taking the time to choose a team is probably worth it. Last week’s broadcasts on ABC and Fox Sports were absolutely wild. We were blessed with cameras in locker rooms, reporters interviewing kickers immediately after missed field goals, and one player who let an F-bomb fly on live television. It was raw, intimate, chaotic, and fun, as though the NFL’s little brother showed up to college homecoming, slammed back some Fireball shots, and fell asleep in the dorm’s bike closet. The XFL isn’t trashy. The league dropped the gimmicks that made it a spectacle two decades ago in favor of real football—just a version that knows how to let loose a little. Like an accountant at a trade show in Vegas who says, “You know what? I deserve to feel,” and rents a Mustang to do donuts in the parking lot of a Marriott with the interns.
So let’s talk about how to decide which team to support. I had no idea who to root for last week, and I wasn’t feeling the need to rush into a decision. I’ve broken down the process of picking a team—a new one, mind you, one that has never existed before—into five strategies, because fandom is as significant as marriage. Both your team and your spouse reflect on you, and both are capable of inflicting great joy and great pain; you must think carefully before you jump in.
I’m not a doctor, but I think it’s safe to say that most Americans come into fandom based on historical family geography or by geographical osmosis. For example: My mother is from Baltimore, so she grew up loving the Orioles. My parents raised me in Massachusetts, but because of my mom, I liked the Orioles, too. At least until I got to elementary school, when the tide of obnoxious Boston sports became too strong to resist and I ended up going as Nomar Garciaparra for three Halloweens in a row.
People who aren’t born in this country and choose a sports affiliation when they arrive here also commonly fall into this geographical category. The reason my mother is an Orioles fan is because her family landed in Baltimore when they came to America from Europe. Easy, simple, logical.
But if you’re an adult, choosing a team by location gets a little trickier. Do you choose the team from where you live now, or where you grew up? I love living in New York City, but I could never root for the Giants. Since New England doesn’t have an XFL team, can I root for the Guardians without betraying my other sports allegiances? It’s a question I’ve been wrestling with but still haven’t answered.
Family placement isn’t the only way to choose your fighter, of course. There are plenty of people who like teams that have nothing to do with where they grew up. I know someone from the Bay Area who simply liked Dan Marino in the 90s, got attached to the Dolphins, and bang, that’s how you end up with a 30-something Miami fan from San Francisco living in New York City.
I get how that kind of fandom happens, because when I looked at the list of XFL teams and saw the Tampa Bay Vipers, they just spoke to me. Something about a tough snake from Florida meant to be intimidating seemed inherently funny—like a toddler dressed up as lawyer in a courtroom asking you to take its objections seriously. But the thing that really sold me on the Vipers was when defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville wore two headsets at once on the sidelines last weekend. As someone who’s put on a pair of sunglasses because she forgot she already had one on top of her head, I related deeply.
Here’s my take on the other XFL teams in a few words, in case you want to choose using the General Vibe method. None of this is scientific. It mostly comes from logos, uniforms, and whatever part of my brain has been broken by writing about sports on the internet.
D.C. Defenders: Way more fun that most people in D.C., but that’s not saying much, so still pretty business-like (at last, the district has a football team lol).
Dallas Renegades: Most likely to rob a bank.
Houston Roughnecks: I’m getting Oilers-under-Jeff-Fisher vibes here, which I don’t hate at all.
Los Angeles Wildcats: Lean, healthy, very fit, could probably beat you up but would rather do yoga.
New York Guardians: Pretty standard sports vibes here, honestly. Reminds me of the Mannings: dependable, talented, normal in a corporate kind of way.
St. Louis BattleHawks: Their logo looks a lot like the NBA’s Wizards, so I’m honestly not sure. This team mystifies me the most. I can’t get a good handle on it yet.
Seattle Dragons: Very much getting the “kid who played Dungeons and Dragons in middle school but grew up to be hot” energy from this team. Into it.
Actual Strength of the Team and Quality of the Players and Coaches
This strategy is boring and makes too much sense, don’t do it.
Pick out of a Hat
If you have trouble deciding what to order at a restaurant, have a tendency to date several people at once because you’re not sure who you like the most, and change five times before leaving the house, this might be your best bet.
That Indescribable Click That Just Happens. Let’s Call it “Sports at First Sight”
Look, maybe you just turned the TV on, saw the Defenders, and thought: Those are my guys. That’s O.K., too. None of this actually matters, and the amount of time you spend agonizing over choosing a team says way more about your own specific brand of crazy than it does anything else. So if the way you decided is based on an indescribable gut feeling, a total je ne sais quoi (French for “choosing a football team”), that’s as good a method as any.
As for me? My brand of crazy is writing an entire article about how to choose an XFL team to root for and still not being able to decide which one I should support. I think I’m between the New York Guardians and the Tampa Bay Vipers, but if you have any strong feelings one way or another (or have a different team to suggest!) please let me know on Twitter or send me a carrier pigeon.
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