This series of articles will celebrate (or laugh at) some of the worst professional sports teams of all time. I will focus on teams within my lifetime so expect the worst from the 1970s to present day.
Let’s clear up one thing right now. The XFL was the worst professional sports league ever! This is how bad the XFL was. The highlight of its only season was this gem from XFL founder, and World Wrestling Federation chairman Vince McMahon.
It was all downhill after that. The XFL debuted one week after the Super Bowl, in February 2001. It lasted until spring 2001, when the league died a merciful death. The league was the brainchild of McMahon, who was offering an “alternative” to the “pansy league” known as the NFL. McMahon was hoping to capitalize on the popularity the WWF was enjoying in 2001, thanks to stars like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock and The Undertaker. The league did have some interesting rules. Instead of a coin toss, each team would choose a player to compete in a scramble to decide who gets the ball first. There were no fair catches on punts. Returners got a 5 yard halo to receive the punt. Similar to the CFL. Roughing the passer was encouraged so to speak. Bump and run was allowed down the field. They had to change that to the 5 yard rule because of a lack of offence.
So yes, it was a different take. But the action on the field was horrendous. McMahon should have just used his wrestlers to make up the teams, and it would produce better football than the drivel that was the XFL. Fans turned away big time. NBC, who had the TV rights, recorded the lowest television ratings for any primetime series in the history of television for XFL games. Not even cheerleaders who looked like strippers could grow the ratings.
Through all this, the one team that stood out as the worst, were the Birmingham Thunderbolts. Named after former wrestler Thunderbolt Patterson, (all teams had nicknames with a wrestling connection) the team was coached by former LSU head coach Gerry DiNardo, who was hoping his tenure in SEC country would help draw fans in college football mad Alabama. It didn’t work.
The Thunderbolts barely drew 15,ooo fans a game inside the cavernous Legion Field, which seats over 70,000. When Alabama played home games at “The Old Gray Lady,” they routinely played in front of capacity and raucous crowds. Thunderbolts fans could be raucous, but scarce.
The Bolts started with some promise, winning two out of their first 3 games. Then quarterback Casey Weldon went down with a season ending shoulder injury, and everything fell apart. Despite the presence of hometown hero Jay Barker, who led Alabama to the National Championship in 1992, the Bolts lost their last 7 games of the season, to finish with a league worst 2-8 record.
The Bolts were last in defence in the XFL, giving up 21.7 points per game in the low scoring league. The fans just didn’t care for minor league football and basically abandoned the team, when Barker went down with a concussion.
The lone bright spot for the Bolts, was receiver Stepfret Williams. The former Dallas Cowboys pass catcher, led the XFL with 827 receiving yards, and was named top receiver in the XFL. After that, their wasn’t much to cheer about except for the cheerleaders.
The XFL folded after just one season. The Thunderbolts faded into obscurity. DiNardo took over as football coach at Indiana University in 2002. He lasted just 2 seasons before getting the axe. No players on the Bolts played an NFL regular season game after their stint in Birmingham. Vince McMahon is still the chairman of the newly named WWE. His wrestling product has seen a decline in popularity over the years, but still has a very loyal audience. Meanwhile the NFL remains the most popular sports league in America by a landslide. It is one thing to conquer pro wrestling. It it an entirely different story, to conquer pro football.
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