XFL games, in The Year of our Lord 2023, are total slobber knockers. They’re cheap, dirty, messy, rowdy, ratty, raunchy clusterf*cks.
And that’s just the crowds.
The games are fine, with these Player 54s fighting it out for a second chance at a pro-football career. There’s no fame or fortune involved – it’s all famine, players hungry to become pros. As a result, they play hard. Sometimes they fight hard, sometimes they win hard, and sometimes they lose hard. But their game is exciting (league rules about extra points and kickoffs make it so that a team down 15-3 with just 3 minutes to go can still come back and win), and it rivals the excitement of games played in the fall.
The crowds, however, are another story.
I genuinely believe that the list of Most Maniacal Sporting Events to Attend as a Spectator probably goes:
- Ten Cent Beer Night
- The Malice at the Palace
- XFL 2023 Week 3: St. Louis Battlehawks at D.C. Defenders
I was at that game, an experience akin to attending a match of gladiatorial combat at the Roman Coliseum.
Before I arrived, I only knew one thing about the quickly forming habits of the home crowd: the formation of the beer snake (in the general admission section) is serious business. So much so that when the beer snake was confiscated in Week 1, fans retaliated to the point where the team had to not only reverse their decision to ban future snakes, but encourage them with certain rules that can be summed up as:
- keep it to the cheap seats
- drink responsibly
- clean up your mess when you’re done
Although we couldn’t get tickets in those cheap seats, (they were sold out!) we went with the intention of adding to the snake. Drink a few, enjoy some spring football, and walk over our cups when we had formed our own snakelet.
So that’s what we did.
The game itself is largely in-name-only when compared to the original incarnation from 2001. Except, of course, in the utter debauchery on display.
From the stands.
The game is really secondary to the miscreanting. In fact, it would probably rank much lower when it comes to the fan’s priorities.
- Trashing the field
- Canned beer
- Draft beer
- Taking your shirt off
- Laughing at the absurdity of it all
- One more beer before the stands close
- The game
The NFL, with its season tickets and seat licenses and absurd parking prices and tailgating fees and almost-unbelievable single-game ticket prices, has priced out the average fan. The XFL (my ticket was $41 after fees) is now the league for us plebeians. The expensive seats, those around the 50-yard line, were almost entirely empty. Meanwhile, the seats on the periphery were rocking with excitement.
The row in front of me was occupied by a group of college-aged boys who rooted for St. Louis, the away team, just because they thought it would be funny. They had homemade jerseys (“McCarron,” the quarterback, written in black sharpie on a white tee) and shirts (“CAW CAW” for the Battlehawks). These shirts didn’t last long, however, as they were looking for just about any reason to take them off. “If we convert this third-down,” said one of the frat boys, “I’m taking my shirt off!”
They converted the third down.
The row behind me was filled with a group of similarly aged folks who had pre-gamed for hours. For a game that started at one in the afternoon. When lemons rained down on the field, they told me that they stole a bunch from the bar for the purpose of throwing them.
The lemons, a feared-new D.C. sports tradition, were a result of the beer snake confiscation in Week 1. The folks still wanted their fun, so they reached into the stadium’s vodka lemonades and tossed them on the field in protest. They no longer put lemons in the lemonade, but fans have taken it upon themselves to bring their own. Anytime the crowd disagreed with a call from the referees, hated a play by St. Louis or, hell, just felt like it, the field was covered in lemons.
When life gives you lemons, sneak them into the stadium and throw them on the field.
Every time this happened, the folks at Audi Field would flash a sign on the Jumbotron that said something along the lines of “Please, PLEASE, stop throwing sh*t. If you do, we’ll have to arrest you and we really don’t want to do that.”
After one of these warnings, the police showed up in our section, a section that smelled particularly of citrus. They targeted a gentleman a few rows behind me, who argued his arrest with phrases like, “Me? Lemons? Who has lemons?” and then proceeded to pull half a dozen lemons out of his windbreaker. The crowd erupted in a cheer that was unmatched by the cheers of the football game.
At this point, we had finished our beer snake contributions and thought it might be a good time to sneak away from our seats. When we went to deliver them on the opposite side of the stadium, we realized that our 16 oz. cups weren’t going to make a dent. In the concourse behind the GA section, they exclusively sell 24 oz cans that drunkards have to pour themselves into disposable 24 oz cups.
The beer snake has its own infrastructure.
We were promised by a respectable-looking fellow that our contributions would not go to waste, as they have a mini snake of 16 oz. cups that follow the main snake, waiting to be added on the end. He told me, “Don’t worry, size isn’t everything.”
From this point on, we watched the main snake grow larger as two or three smaller, but still respectable, snakes appeared. As lemons were flung over our heads. As shirts became less and less common.
This must have been what it was like at the first Olympics.
With a minute left on the clock, I left my group to beat the bathroom line. When I got down to the concourse, I saw four different people getting arrested for what I can only assume were lemon-related charges.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Madness. Crowd mentality at its worst. Women and children running to the lifeboats while the rest of us feared for our lives.
I loved it.
I can’t wait for my next XFL game. There’s nothing like it in professional sports.