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Birmingham Thunderbolts logo Legion Field

Team and League History


May 26, 2000
     XFL logo
   
Basil DeVito, president of the XFL, announces that Birmingham is in contention for a charter franchise in the planned spring football league that will begin play in 2001.

The XFL is owned and operated by the World Wrestling Federation and is the creation of the WWF's chairman Vince McMahon. The league is also heavily financed by a $30 million investment from the television network NBC.

Each team will play 10 regular season games. A two week, four team playoff and a championship game will close out the season sometime in April.

Salaries will be limited to $50,000 per player.

NBC will air games on Saturday nights and the UPN network will televise games on Sunday nights.

Plans call for the league to own all eight teams and only New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Orlando have been guaranteed franchises. Memphis, Las Vegas, Houston, Washington DC, Miami, and Birmingham are all in contention for one of the three remaining franchises. DeVito said the final decision on franchise locations will be made in early June.

     Photograph
  WWF owner Vince McMahon and
NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol
   
The XFL's interest in Birmingham grew after league organizers discussed the city with Dr. Larry Lemak, president of the Alabama Sports Foundation and the XFL's medical director. Gene Hallman, executive director of the Alabama Sports Foundation, said Lemak didn't initially jump at the chance to bring another football league to the city. "They approached him about Birmingham being one of the eight franchise cities. He didn't take them seriously at first, but they kept pursuing it. Being the president of the Alabama Sports Foundation, he put them in touch with the right people. It's now to the point where it looks as if Birmingham will be the eighth and final city selected. Our thoughts parallel with the Washington Post in that, if (the XFL) named their eight cities right now, Birmingham would be one of them."

Hallman went on to say that Birmingham and Miami are the final choices to fill the eighth spot, but Birmingham has certain advantages. The local NBC affiliate, WVTM-13, is owned and operated by NBC, which makes it more economical for the broadcasting company to produce and air games here as opposed to Miami. "I think the lack of professional team competition helps. In Miami you have the Dolphins, the Marlins and the Heat. In Birmingham, you obviously don't have that."

DeVito said the league is encouraged by Birmingham. "Birmingham has always been a good football market - the college level, the professional level. It is one of the best cities without an NFL franchise. We have talked to some local people and interviewed them and they seem to feel that there would be a great deal of support and we feel it has a strong possibility of success."

The XFL will try to lure fans in using the same flashy style the WWF uses. The league has said it will put microphones on all players and coaches. They also plan to install cameras in selected helmets as well as the locker rooms and sidelines. Some rule changes such as no television timeouts or fair catches, adjusting the clock rules to speed up the action, allowing receivers and running backs to be in motion on the snap, bringing back the bump-and-run, and the head slap have been mentioned. 

McMahon announced the formation of the league in February saying, "The appetite for professional football continues long past the Super Bowl. The XFL is more than just an extension of the football season, it is a completely new product that not only fills a void for football fans, but will give the casual fan an all-access pass to a football experience unlike any other to date. The action will feature the best football players available and will be highly competitive, hard-hitting, and most importantly, fan friendly. Guaranteed."

Some feel that this league is the result of the failed Turner/NBC league that was planned back in 1999.

June 1, 2000
The XFL announces that its executive committee has met and has decided to place a hold on deciding franchise locations until mid-June.

Steve Griffith, the XFL's vice president of corporate communications, said the three remaining franchise spots would be selected from a list of six finalists, which still includes Birmingham.

June 15, 2000
Officials from the XFL tour Birmingham and meet with city leaders in a fact-finding visit.

The XFL has reportedly signed a contract for use of Legion Field for five home games. However, the deal must be approved by mayor Kincaid, the City Council, and the Birmingham Park Board.

A formal announcement has been postponed until the league finalizes plans with the mayor and the City Council.

According to Legion Field stadium manager Walter Garrett, the facility has spoken with the XFL several times over the last two months.

June 22, 2000
The Birmingham Park and Recreation Board votes unanimously its approval for the city to make final negotiations with the XFL.

August 1, 2000
Vince McMahon holds a press conference in Birmingham to formally announce the city as one of the charter franchises in the XFL. Joining Birmingham in the new league will be teams in Orlando, Las Vegas, New York/New Jersey, Chicago, Memphis, San Jose, and Los Angeles.

In talking about the new league's major competitor, McMahon said, "It's that corporate mentality the NFL has gone to where, quite frankly, they've forgotten who plays the game and they've forgotten who comes to the games. NFL is all about corporate America and not middle-class America."

In response to questions on Birmingham's checkered professional sports history, McMahon said, "I thrive on challenges and thrive on people doubting whether we can do certain things. I would suggest that Birmingham has never failed in terms of football; it's been the pro leagues that have failed Birmingham. This league is not going to fail Birmingham. It has too much going for it. We know what we're up against and carrying the burden of prior leagues that have failed. This type of football is different than other football that has been here. We're not looking for this to be a flash in the pan. We are looking to carve out a niche, and we certainly will. I don't mind if you doubt us. That's logical; that's OK."

     Photograph
  Head coach Gerry DiNardo
   
Also announced was the selection of Gerry DiNardo as head coach. This will be DiNardo's first job in professional football.

Previously, DiNardo was the head coach at Louisiana State University for five years before he was fired 10 games into the 1999 season. In 1990 he was offensive coordinator for Colorado when they won the national championship. His first head coaching job came in 1991 when he went to Vanderbilt. He stayed there for four years before moving to LSU. DiNardo said the league offered him the head coaching position at Birmingham, New York, and Memphis but chose Birmingham because he had visited here many times through the years and had come to love the city. "Fans are tough on coaches and players in the South and maybe all over the country. If we look like we know what we're doing and we win some games in Legion Field, we're going to be fine. If we don't, then I think it's pretty predictable how people are going to perceive you."

August 17, 2000
Gene Hallman says the XFL will hold a press conference next week to unveil the nicknames, logos, and colors for all the teams in the league.

Hallman is president of the Bruno Event Team, which is working with the Birmingham franchise's marketing and promotions.

Hallman said that the team nickname would not be 'Beavers' as had been rumored.  He also went on to report that the league had briefly considered beginning the team's name with 'Alabama' instead of 'Birmingham'. "We've settled on calling it Birmingham because it's Birmingham's team."

August 22, 2000
Rumors are circulating that the local team nickname will be Birmingham Blast. A press conference to announce the names, logos, and colors for each team is scheduled for August 24th.

Late in the day, the XFL announces that they have reconsidered the name 'Blast' and will not use the name for Birmingham. The league scratched the name after officials with the team and the league were told of the negative image the name had to blacks because of a church bombing in 1963 and an abortion clinic bombing in 1998. However, using a focus group of Birmingham males age 12 to 24, the league presented over 96 names to the group and Blast received the most favorable reception.

Tim Berryman, Birmingham's general manager, said, "The fact that the name leaked out turned out to be a positive. Why should we introduce a name that makes anyone cringe? My job was to relay this concern to the league office, and to their credit they dropped everything today to work on a provisional plan." 

August 24, 2000
The XFL announces the local franchise will be called the Birmingham Thunderbolts. Their colors will be purple, gold, and silver. Berryman said the logo and colors didn't change as a result of the last-minute name change. The last major change was a few weeks ago when the color scheme was altered from a bluish-purple and orange.

August 31, 2000
It is reported that the Canadian Football League has approached the XFL about allowing players that are under contract with CFL teams to also play in the XFL.

Jeff Giles, president and chief operating officer of the CFL, said he has spoken with the XFL's director of football operations, Mike Keller. The CFL's season ends in late November, giving players at least a month to rest before the start of XFL training camps in January. The XFL's season ends in April, which gives players roughly two months to rest before CFL training camps begin.

"The XFL has issued a statement that any players that play with them in the 2001 season would be free after that season to play with another league. Really, they have thrown it open. Now it's up to us to figure out what we're going to do with that," Giles said.

February 2001
 
2001
XFL
Western Conference Eastern Conference
  Las Vegas Outlaws   Birmingham Thunderbolts   
  Los Angeles Xtreme   Chicago Enforcers
  Memphis Maniax   New York/New Jersey Hitmen   
  San Francisco Demons      Orlando Rage
  xxx   xxx   xxx   xxx  
                 
Birmingham Thunderbolts logo    Chicago Enforcers logo    Las Vegas Outlaws logo    Los Angeles Xtreme logo   Memphis Maniax logo
Birmingham Thunderbolts   Chicago Enforcers   Las Vegas Outlaws   Los Angeles Xtreme   Memphis Maniax
                  
New York/New Jersey Hitmen logo   Orlando Rage logo   San Francisco Demons logo        
New York/New Jersey Hitmen   Orlando Rage   San Francisco Demons        
                 
March 4, 2001
     Photograph
  One of the strangest rule changes by the XFL was "the scramble". Instead of an opening kickoff,
 a player from each team would line up and race to the ball at midfield. The player that gained
possession of the ball also gave his team the ball first on offense.
   
The XFL announces a plan to sign players as young as 19. According to the league, they would only target players who have not qualified academically for college.

Not surprisingly, the plan is met with sharp criticism from the American Football Coaches Association. Their contention is that the XFL would be too much of an enticement for players who failed college admission tests. If players sign with the XFL, they would then be ineligible to play at the collegiate level in the future.

May 10, 2001
McMahon announces that the WWF and NBC have decided to fold the XFL after only one season.

NBC has been unhappy with the television ratings, which have steadily declined from the first game of the season. Roughly 75% fewer people watched the XFL's championship game than watched the first game.

NBC had already decided not to televise any games next year, but McMahon said the death blow was UPN's decision not to televise the league next year.

TNN, the XFL's cable partner, was committed to continuing but the league determined they could not continue on cable alone.

"Despite where our heart was, we just couldn't make it work from a financial standpoint. We tried to figure out every conceivable way to make this work," McMahon said.

"We were an instant success the first week, but we made a lot of mistakes. Then the national media picked up, and pounded us pretty hard. From then on, we were fighting this uphill battle," Berryman said.

In response to questions of creditors and payroll due the players, McMahon said, "You won't find anyone associated with this enterprise who won't be taken care of in every conceivable way." The city of Birmingham received $30,000 in rent each game and all of the concession and parking revenue. The head of Legion Field, Walter Garrett, said, "Frankly, we made pretty good money on it."

Quarterback Casey Weldon was so sure the Thunderbolts would return next year he had began trying to organize local football camps. "I was disappointed. I was sure we'd be around a couple of years. It was a great experience. If I had to do it all over again, I'd do it again. I just want to thank the fans that did come out. I really fell in love with Birmingham. I'm just sorry I won't be back."

McMahon said that the WWF and NBC would each lose around $35 million after taxes. "The buck stops with me principally. This was my vision. It did not work, for whatever reason."

Epilogue
The XFL may have been a bust on the field but it certainly made impact on televised football. Shortly after the league folding, college and NFL production teams began to utilize a few ideas from the XFL; the Skycam, players introducing themselves, and in-game sideline interviews to name a few.

     New XFL logo
   
In January 2018, Vince McMahon announced that he is preparing a return of the XFL.

Slated to begin play in 2020, the new XFL will be owned solely by one of McMahon's companies, Alpha Entertainment.

The league will begin with eight teams, each with a 40 man roster.

McMahon says that this time there would be no crossover of WWE talent nor would he be the front-man of the new league as he was with the original.

New XFL games would have a faster pace and their goal is to get them to conclude in two hours.
 
 
 
Contact Gene Crowley
Last update: October 12, 2018