Vipers ready to bring XFL hopes to life

“More ball, less stall” is what the second iteration of the XFL promises. 

It is an uptempo style of football, combined with a fan-friendly atmosphere at family-friendly prices, that has Tampa Bay Vipers president Josh Bullock feeling good about the upstart league’s upcoming season, which kicks off Feb. 8. 

“We are excited to see the team come to life at Raymond James Stadium in February,” says Bullock, who joined the Vipers in October. “We feel that the ability for us to get fans into the stadium at an affordable price, to be outdoors in the lower seating bowl during the springtime in Tampa will resonate well with fans and make them excited to see a new professional football product.”

After spending the season’s first two weeks on the road, the Vipers make their home debut against the Houston Roughnecks on Feb. 22—the first of five home games this season. Individual tickets are $20 and season packages are available for $100.

For diehard football fans, the Vipers represent an opportunity to feed a demand for the sport through the middle of April—and perhaps longer—if they make the postseason. As for the average fan, there is something for them as well.

“Football is America’s most popular sport, and we are giving fans more of what they love and doing it at a time when there is no other football being played,” Bullock says, referring to the National Football League, whose season ends with the Feb. 2 Super Bowl, and the college game, whose season ended with the national championship game in January. “We do have something for everyone. I think we will appeal to the avid football fan, who has told us that they want more. I think the casual fan will have a reason to attend.”

The eight-team league, which will have its games broadcast on ESPN, ABC and Fox, will not resemble the gimmicky brand of football that dominated the league’s first iteration in 2001. While WWE chairman Vince McMahon is behind the current version of the XFL, just as he was 19 years ago, it will have a different look and feel—and rules designed to keep action moving.

“It is a startup that has the backing of Vince McMahon, [CEO] Oliver Luck and [president and chief operating officer] Jeffrey Pollock, who have really given us the time and resources to plan appropriately, to build a staff here and in the seven other markets,” Bullock says. “We want to work the plan the way it needs to be and to make sure we are focusing on building a quality football product, with fan engagement first, and not worry about the gimmicks and the shows that the first version had.”

Fan engagement kicked off in August with the unveiling of the team’s uniform and logo, things that Bullock says debuted favorably and continued to build steam as the season neared.

“We have had an outpouring of positive support for the name, the logo and the color schemes,” says the former Tampa Bay Rays executive and University of South Florida athletics administrator. “They have been supported by our players, who are going to be excited to put on these new uniforms.”  

The Vipers will be coached by Marc Trestman, 64, who has spent four decades as either a head coach or assistant in the college ranks, the NFL and the Canadian Football League.

It is Trestman’s experience as head coach of the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes (2008-12) that Bullock found particularly intriguing. The CFL, with its 110-yard field and three downs to make a first down, make for a more-open style of play that’s more in line with what the XFL wants.

“His leadership and his experience, especially during his time in the CFL, where the rules are slightly different than traditional [American] professional football, I think have given him a leg up with regard to being able to adapt to coaching and teaching in the XFL,” Bullock says.  

Among the players under Bullock’s charge are former Tampa Plant High School and University of Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, the Southeastern Conference’s all-time leader in career passing yards.

One player familiar with the Vipers’ home turf is running back Quinton Flowers. As a quarterback at USF, Flowers rewrote the school’s record book, including most total yards and touchdown passes in a career. Murray and Flowers are among many Sunshine State players on the roster, and the latter is among a handful of players who played collegiately within the state. 

“Taking at least one player from all the major [football-playing universities] in the state of Florida is really fun for us,” Bullock says. “It allows us to connect with those schools, and alumni bases, and really help tell the Vipers’ story across the state in a real tangible way.”

The story Bullock and Vipers hope to author is one of a memorable 2020 season. “It has been a lot of fun and we are excited to see this come to life,” he says. ♦

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