Former New York Jets and Dragons wide receiver Kevin Swayne joins Schwartz on Sports to discuss the return of the XFL, the league Swayne is recognized as scoring the first touchdown.
A professional football season can be a grind, as most players don’t get through a whole season without some kind of bumps or bruises. But what if you went from one football season directly to another … and then another?
It seems crazy right?
Well that’s exactly what Kevin Swayne did in 2001. In late January, he reported to training camp with the Orlando Rage of the XFL. Then after the season, he joined the Arena Football League’s New York Dragons. When that season was done, Swayne was signed by the New York Jets.
The Jets went to the playoffs that year so Swayne played 53 straight weeks of professional football, one week more than the calendar year.
For Swayne, the run started with the XFL and he was one of many people involved with the league that was happy to hear the news that Vince McMahon is going to bring the league back in 2020.
“I was pretty excited actually,” Swayne told me during a phone conversation from his home in California for my “Schwartz On Sports” podcast. “I always had that in the back of my mind because the league just abruptly ended. It was kind of cool to just know that the legacy could possibly continue on. They’ve got two years to get things in order, but it was just kind of nice to know that the XFL is still alive.”
The original XFL kicked off on Saturday Feb. 3, 2001 with a pair of games. Most of the country saw the NY/NJ Hitmen took on the Las Vegas Outlaws at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas. But NBC also had a “B” game that night between the Chicago Enforcers and the Orlando Rage at what then called the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando. Swayne played for the Rage and he actually scored the first touchdown in XFL history.
“It was an electric night,” said the former star receiver for Wayne State in Nebraska. “It was a Mardi Gras atmosphere and to be a part of something that special and to have the opportunity was amazing. I still have the ball to this day and it’s one of those things that I can show off a little bit.”
Swayne and the Rage made the playoffs, but the Los Angeles Extreme beat the San Francisco Demons in the Championship Game. And then, as they say, it was history … for the XFL as a league folded after just one season. Even though NBC pulled out initially, the feeling was that the league would continue. The players were under two year contracts so they believed there would be a 2002 season.
“I was really shocked,” said Swayne who had the ball from the first XFL touchdown and also kept his helmet. “But I never got a chance to even contact any staff about possibly getting my jersey so I don’t know where any of that stuff ended up.”
Swayne didn’t have much time to worry about the jersey because his journey took him to the AFL’s New York Dragons where he combined with quarterback Aaron Garcia to light up scoreboards all over the league. Garcia threw 104 touchdown passes and Swayne caught 43 of them. After that season, Swayne stayed in town to join the Jets.
Even though the XFL folded after one season, Swayne still had a year to remember.
“It ended up working out for me,” said Swayne whose three year run with the Jets was highlighted by a pair of playoff appearances and a touchdown catch in 2003 against the Titans on Monday Night Football. “I probably wouldn’t have ended up back in the XFL either way but had I not had those other opportunities, I would have missed out on the XFL.”
This time around, Vince McMahon is taking his time to get the league off the ground. He announced the original league one year before kickoff but that led to some poor football, especially at the beginning of the season. It got better, but by that point the ratings had plummeted and the gimmicks weren’t working either. The XFL was a whole lot of fun, but in 2020 the new league should have a better quality of football on the field.
“I think things were rushed (in 2001),” recalled Swayne. “Not necessarily starting right away will help out. It will allow the talent scouting piece to mature a little bit and also give teams an opportunity to actually put a good product out on the field. Not that we didn’t have a good product, but we really only had a few weeks to practice.”
For players like Swayne and for others like myself who worked for the original league, the return of the XFL is a welcomed sight. It will provide opportunities for players, coaches, executives, staff and broadcasters to get that all important experience in professional football.
Now maybe Kevin Swayne can make a few calls to find out where his Orlando Rage jerseys are hiding.